Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Before the lockout-shortened NBA season of 1999, the Knicks added a defensive-minded center and an athletic wing player to an established veteran core.
Led by newcomers Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell, and holdover Allan Houston, the eighth-seeded Knicks upset three higher-seeded Eastern Conference teams — including Pat Riley and the No. 1 Miami Heat — en route to an appearance in the NBA Finals.
Thirteen years later, the Knicks have added another defensive-minded center in Tyson Chandler and another prolific wing scorer in Carmelo Anthony to a core led by Amar’e Stoudemire.
Once again, they are chasing top dog Miami, now run by Riley protege Erik Spoelstra and featuring the Miami Thrice trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
And now they hope history will repeat itself beginning with Sunday’s season-opener against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden.
“Yes, that’s our goal,” Stoudemire said in the Knicks locker room Wednesday night after the team’s second, and final, preseason win over the Nets.
“We’re looking to make incredible strides this season and guys are incredible leaders. Last year there was a few of us, but now the whole team is chiming in from a leadership standpoint, which makes the job easier for me.
“So it’s a great, great atmosphere. These guys are very excited about the season. And they understand the goals and we’re going after them.”
The comparisons with 1999 are not perfect, to be sure.
Before that season, the Knicks dealt fan favorite John Starks, along with Chris Mills and Terry Cummings, to the Golden State Warriors for Sprewell, who still carried the baggage of his 1997 choking of then-coach P.J. Carlesimo.
The Knicks also traded Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing’s sturdy sidekick and a veteran of their ’90s wars, to the Toronto Raptors for Camby.
This time around, the Knicks acquired the 7-foot-1 Chandler in a three team sign-and-trade that surprised most everyone around the league.
Anthony was acquired last February in a deal that required the Knicks to give up several valuable assets in Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and a 2014 first-round pick.
From where Stoudemire sits, he is now playing for the third incarnation of the Knicks since he joined the team in the summer of 2010 and proclaimed, “The Knicks are back.”
There was the pre-Melo team, the post-Melo team that was swept by the Celtics in the first round of last year’s playoffs and now the latest incarnation featuring The Big Three along with newcomers Mike Bibby, Baron Davis and rookies Iman Shumpert and Josh “Jorts’ Harrellson.
“Yeah, you’re right, it has been different teams,” Stoudemire said. “When I first started the season, we might’ve been the youngest team in the league and I was the oldest guy on the team at 28 at that point.
“But now bringing in Carmelo last year with the midseason acquisition for us was a little bit different for us. It took a while to get the chemistry down. And then now having Tyson coming in and Melo now from training camp and new rookies and new players with Baron and Mike Bibby, so it does seem like the third team I’ve played for since I’ve been here in New York.
“But I’d rather play for the third team right now because we’re looking pretty good and I feel confident.”
With questions hanging over the fate of the Knicks backcourt — Can Toney Douglas handle the point? When will Davis recover from his back problems? What exactly will Shumpert be able to provide? — the team will rely upon Anthony to play a point forward role for the near term.
“For me to have the ball in my hands and run the offense, I kind of enjoy doing it,” Anthony said. “I have a lot of guys that I can kick the ball to, make something happen, get people in their position, get people in their spots and get guys where they feel comfortable at.”
The Knicks of the ’90s were known for their defensive toughness, especially when Patrick Ewing, Oakley and Anthony Mason were patrolling the paint with vigor.
The Mike D’Antoni Knicks have been known for playing matador defense, something the coach believes the addition of Chandler as a basket protector and vocal leader will change.
Yet Anthony must also commit to playing defense, and he at least says he’s up for the challenge.
“I want to push myself out there on the defensive end,” Anthony said. “I get tired of hearing, ‘We don’t play defense, I don’t play defense,’ so I just want to go out there and just do it. I’d rather not talk about what I can do out there on the basketball court. I just want to do it.”
Thirteen years after the Knicks’ lockout-shortened NBA Finals run ended at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, the team is once again facing a short turnaround after undergoing an offseason revamping.
And once again, they are hunting the Miami Heat — along with the Celtics and Chicago Bulls — in the East.
As Stoudemire told Harrellson Wednesday night at their lockers, “We’re gonna hunt in South Florida. You know what we’re gonna hunt down there, right? We’re gonna hunt LeBron and D-Wade.
“I got the rifle, man.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.