Ball Don't Lie - NBA

The odd thing about this rebuilding team is that this — the Knicks working just a half game out of the last playoff spot in the East — was exactly what the rebuilding team wanted.

You see, due to the fine personnel work of Isiah Thomas, the Knicks will be without their first round pick this summer. Utah has it, and will need it. The Jazz dearly need some talent at a rookie deal price.

The Knicks are rebuilding. Most rebuilding teams take in a few years of self-immolation to play out nasty contracts, work in young talent, and earn the high draft picks needed to start over. New York is in that boat, but without the pick. So while other rebuilding teams would prefer to compete and lose at the same time - hoping to lose enough to grab a stud in the draft - the Knicks actually want to compete and win, because the draft ain't helping.

The problem here is that the Knicks want, oh, about none of these players back next year. They're trying to shed space for a bit of free agency fun; and while their quartet of youngsters (Danilo Gallinari(notes), Toney Douglas(notes), Jordan Hill(notes), Wilson Chandler(notes)) will be under contract and a welcome sight on the 2010-11 roster to coach Mike D'Antoni and personnel chief Donnie Walsh, don't think that New York wouldn't deal any of those parts in a second if it meant being able to deal either Jared Jeffries(notes) or Eddy Curry(notes) for expiring contracts.

Everyone else? Gone.

David Lee(notes), possibly an All-Star? That might be tough to say "bye" to next summer, but his cap hold could prevent New York from luring a real All-Star. Al Harrington(notes)? Donnie Walsh loves him, but he's done with New York. Nate Robinson(notes)? I think you have an idea? Everyone else? Gone.

And yet, with all that impermanence floating over this team's head, to say nothing of other distractions, D'Antoni has these guys winning.

How? Kevin Pelton delved into it rather accurately earlier this week. The pace has slowed, significantly, and the Knicks are defending. D'Antoni's rotation is rather slim, playoff-styled, and bent on winning now above all else.

Why? As noted above, the Knicks are different from most rebuilding teams. Other squads want to take that year off, New York does not. Bored with the beguine, they might as well win.

That's a pretty significant coup for D'Antoni, mind you.

I don't like the way he's handled Nate Robinson and Larry Hughes(notes) (those two likely deserved their respective benchings, but you at least have to talk to these guys a time or two about what's up), and the Knicks have had one of the easier schedules (26th) in the league thus far, but you have to give it up for the way he has his players focused on the right now.

Everyone on that team is gunning for a contract. Everyone on that team, given a situation that pleases D'Antoni and Walsh, could be elsewhere next year. Everyone on that team has every excuse to think of themselves, first, as the Knicks franchise is on their side of things.

And yet, these players, and this coach, have the Knicks working. A half game in back of Milwaukee and Charlotte, who are tied for the last two spots in the playoffs. A tough out on the road, a bear (at least, recently) to take down at home.

Utah might have to send a representative to Secaucus for the lottery drawing next spring, but it might be their own damn fault. These Knicks could still be playing at that time.

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