The Knicks realized Marcus Camby's importance last April in a
most horrible way. The night after he controlled the boards with
18 rebounds in a playoff-opening win over Toronto, Camby was
called to the South Windsor, Conn., home of his 21-year-old
sister, Monica, where she was being held hostage by a former
boyfriend. Camby made a personal appeal that helped persuade the
attacker to release his sister. But the distraught center was of
no help to the Knicks for the remainder of the series, sitting
out Game 3 and scoring just 11 points before fouling out with
6:15 left in the decisive Game 5 at home as New York failed to
reach the second round for the first time in 10 years.
The attack on his sister remains too painful for the 27-year-old
Camby to discuss, but it marked the beginning of an off-season
devoted to helping all kinds of people--including the Knicks. The
injury-prone Camby put on 15 pounds of muscle over the summer in
hopes of playing more than 63 games for the first time in his
six-year career. The Knicks will go as far as he can lead them.
Hence the concern when a flare-up of the plantar fasciitis in his
left foot limited Camby to a total of six minutes in New York's
first six preseason games.
"You could make the point that he is our MVP because his effort
and energy are so hard to duplicate," says coach Jeff Van Gundy,
who was not a Camby fan when New York acquired him for Charles
Oakley before the 1998-99 lockout season. "Marcus has a huge
impact on the game when he doesn't have the ball."
Yet it's Camby's desire for the ball--to rebound it, block it or
otherwise disrupt the opposition's possession of it--that has
prevented the Knicks from crumbling since the departure of
Patrick Ewing. With their payroll of better than $83 million,
second highest in the league, New York has little flexibility to
bolster its thin front line. The best it could do was sign 6'7"
Clarence Weatherspoon as a second-string power forward behind
6'9" Kurt Thomas, who takes over for the retired Larry Johnson.
The Knicks maintain hope that the energy of Camby and Latrell
Sprewell will inspire their less gifted teammates. Sprewell
openly admits that the Knicks' talent doesn't even rank among the
top five teams in the East. Yet New York ranked No. 1 in
defensive field goal percentage (41.7%) and No. 2 in defensive
rebounding--both high-effort categories--during the regular season.
"Everybody wants [us] to concede that we're not good enough or
we're not big enough anymore," Van Gundy says. "I don't want to
concede anything. This is a team that can overachieve, that can
play harder than a lot of teams. We are good enough."
When Sprewell accused his teammates of not playing hard during
the postseason, it was thought that he was referring not only to
Glen Rice (now departed) but also to Allan Houston--an implication
that Sprewell denies. The Knicks made the 30-year-old Houston
their highest-paid player by giving him a six-year, $100.4
million contract this summer, which means he will be held more
accountable than ever for the team's results. "I want to really
set myself apart from where I've been," says Houston, whose
shooting percentage fell 34 points to .449 last season. Newly
acquired Shandon Anderson will have to fight for the minutes that
Rice had to settle for last season.
Though Camby faces no such internal competition, he still plays
like a guy desperately trying to make the team. As a year-round
resident of New York, he has deep-rooted feelings for the city.
He sponsors P.S. 194, a Harlem elementary school, and in
September he continued his tradition of walking with the children
to their first day of class. This year the NBA turned Camby's
idea into a leaguewide program and made him its spokesman. Now
the Knicks need him to play as prominent a role for them.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN PAYOFF TIME The pressure is squarely on Houston, who signed a nine-figure contract this summer after a subpar season.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Knicks
"Clarence Weatherspoon and Kurt Thomas are going to be animals
inside. New York was the worst offensive-rebounding team in the
league last season, but Weatherspoon is good in that area. He and
Marcus Camby are going to get some easy baskets off the boards.
People aren't going to miss Larry Johnson after they see how
Weatherspoon plays....The Knicks are living on the edge with
their lack of depth around Camby. They're one injury away from
being not too good....The new rules are going to make them even
tougher defensively. I bet there are going to be some games in
the 60s now that Camby--who was already a great off-the-ball
defender--will be able to take an additional step or two away from
his man....They're going to miss Glen Rice because scoring is
their weakness. I know they're thinking that Shandon Anderson is
an upgrade defensively, but they were already the best defensive
team in the league....Charlie Ward is their best point guard,
but he's dragging his knee. So the question becomes, How many
minutes can Mark Jackson give them at his age?...Allan Houston
has become a little inconsistent. He's one of those guys you wish
could play with Sam Cassell's emotions, or Michael Jordan's, and
at his age I don't see that changing.... It's amazing how Latrell
Sprewell has become a cornerstone of the Knicks. The incident
with P.J. Carlesimo four years ago made him tougher and gave him
something to prove, and Jeff Van Gundy has given him the
opportunity to prove it."
2000-01 record: 48-34 (third in Atlantic)
Coach: Jeff Van Gundy (seventh season with Knicks)
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS
SF Latrell Sprewell 17.7 ppg 4.5 rpg 3.5 apg 1.38 spg 43.0 FG%
PF Kurt Thomas 10.4 ppg 6.7 rpg 0.90 bpg 0.79 spg 51.1 FG%
C Marcus Camby 12.0 ppg 11.5 rpg 2.16 bpg 1.05 spg 52.4 FG%
SG Allan Houston 18.7 ppg 2.2 apg 3.6 rpg 44.9 FG% 38.1 3FG%
PG Mark Jackson 7.6 ppg 8.0 apg 3.7 rpg 41.9 FG% 33.8 3FG%
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS
F Clarence Weatherspoon
140 11.3 ppg 9.7 rpg 1.04 spg 1.28 bpg 50.1 FG%
G-F Shandon Anderson 8.7 ppg 4.1 rpg 2.3 apg 1.00 spg 44.6 FG%
G Howard Eisley 9.0 ppg 3.6 apg 2.4 rpg 1.21 spg 39.3 FG%
F-C Othella Harrington
252 9.0 ppg 5.2 rpg 0.63 bpg 0.50 spg 48.7 FG%
G Charlie Ward 7.1 ppg 4.5 apg 2.6 rpg 1.15 spg 41.6 FG%
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)
"People aren't going to miss Johnson after they see Weatherspoon."