Boxing fans who went to Madison Square Garden for the Félix Trinidad-- Ricardo Mayorga middleweight fight this month also got a glimpse of coming hoops attractions. They saw Stephon Marbury, the Knicks' prize acquisition last January, and Jamal Crawford, their big pickup over the summer, out on the town together for the first time. "A lot of people came up and said, 'I see you and your man are starting to bond,'" Marbury says. "I want to teach him that whenever he has a question, he should come and ask."
Besides Marbury, the 24-year-old Crawford also can turn to a longtime admirer, team president Isiah Thomas, for answers. Thomas acquired the 6'5" guard from the Bulls in a six-player deal in August and will pay him $56 million over seven years. "When I was a rookie in the Chicago camp, we talked for three hours," says Crawford of meeting Thomas. "He told me he liked my game a lot. In this business you meet a lot of people who tell you anything you want to hear. But he backed it up. When free agency started, at 12:01 a.m. he was on the phone with my agent." Crawford is paying tribute to his new boss by wearing Thomas's old number, 11.
Though Crawford led the Bulls in scoring last season, he shot poorly from the floor (38.6%) and from beyond the arc (31.7%). He believes that those numbers will rise now that defenses won't be able to key on him, while coach Lenny Wilkens is confident that he can keep all three guards--Crawford, Marbury and Allan Houston--happy and productive. "Good players want to be part of a winning tradition," Wilkens says. "And once you establish that, then everybody buys into it."
That attitude would at least give New York a fighting chance. --B.S.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Knicks
You look at their talent and they should win their division. In reality they're going to be at their best in one-on-one situations, which opponents can defend with zone help. Then you factor in that they won't play defense--Lenny Wilkens doesn't even have an assistant who will emphasize it--and you've got another Stephon Marbury--led team that will underachieve.... It would be a mistake to let Jamal Crawford take over some of the point-guard duties, though. Crawford has always been me-first, pass-second. He will be at his best as a slashing scorer alongside Marbury, who--contrary to most opinions--wants to move the ball and will pass it if he thinks another guy has a better shot.... Marbury can get in the paint whenever he wants, but last year his teammates didn't do a good job of positioning themselves to cash in on the open shots he created. His other big strength is the pick-and-roll: The Knicks have guys who can hit the 14-footer, but nobody to set the screen, then roll to the basket and intimidate you.... Allan Houston is a class act who sets a good example by practicing and playing hard. But if he comes back from his knee injuries and cuts into Crawford's minutes, you can bet that Crawford isn't going to take it well.... Tim Thomas doesn't know how to play, and it's obvious he's never been part of a system that forced him to adapt his game to fit the bigger puzzle.... Nazr Mohammed can't protect the rim, but he's a decent offensive player. He's also mobile enough for them to make him part of a high-energy defensive unit with Jerome Williams, Mike Sweetney and even Crawford. A unit like that could help stir up the game as well as the Garden crowd.
Stephon Marbury has averaged more than 15 points and seven assists in each of his eight years. No other active player has a streak of two such years.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 39-43 (7th in East)
Points scored: 92.0 (16th in NBA)
Points allowed: 93.5 (13th)
Coach: Lenny Wilkens
(second season with the Knicks)
NEW ACQUISITION *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES