By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It's only the middle of August, but thanks to a busier-than-expected offseason, Knicks Head Coach Mike Woodson had plenty to talk about when he addressed the media during Wednesday's Garden of Dreams event at MSG Training Center.
Training camp is just over a month away, but with 14 players under contract, many of them veterans with playoff pedigrees, questions about rotations and expectations persist.
On the offseason:
Woodson emphasized the importance of keeping the Knicks' core pieces in place, but acknowledged that adding complementary pieces was the goal heading into next year. "This has been a busy summer for our ball club," he said. "As a coach, I'm looking forward to getting to vet camp, just to see where we are as a ball club."
On the roster:
With 14 players under contract, that leaves one last roster spot to be filled -- or not. Every team takes a different strategy when it comes to using or not using the 15th spot at this point in the year. "Most teams wait," he explained. "Last year we might've filled ours early. (Leaving it open is) a plus to have; if somebody falls through the cracks, it might give us an opportunity to snatch another body."
As of now, there are three point guards (Felton, Udrih, Prigioni), three shooting guards (Shumpert, Smith, Hardaway Jr. -- all of whom could see time at small forward in certain lineups), three "forwards" (Anthony, World Peace, Leslie), and a handful of big men (Chandler, Stoudemire, Bargnani, Martin, Tyler) under contract.
You see a lot of positional ambiguity in there, which in Woodson's mind means flexibility. He elected not to share his thoughts on a possible starting lineup -- adding that he doesn't know the answer, aside from Felton, Melo and Chandler -- but expect that to become clearer as the calendar turns to October. "That'll all play it's way out. That's what we use camp for. I don't know who's gonna start. Camp should be pretty competitive based on the talent we've fielded -- and that's how it should be."
On adding Udrih:
"It's major," said Woodson. "We needed a third point guard. I like him because he's not afraid to make plays. He can run a basketball team and if he needs to make a big shot, he can do that." Udrih has good size, at 6-3, so with the new depth at the position, Woodson could be inclined to use dual-point guard lineups often, like he did last year.
On the Eastern Conference:
"The East is gonna be a bear this season," Woodson said, before reiterating that the season plays out over 82 regular season games, not on the transaction wire over the summer. "You still have to play the games. I don't buy into a lot of the things that are being said. I do know the East will be more talented this season than it's ever been."
He mentioned Miami, Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn as teams that make the conference so strong. He also reminded that many had the Knicks finishing fourth or fifth last year, and they wound up with 54 wins and the second seed in the East.
"Anything is possible. Our players are hungry."
This year marks the third straight season together for many of the Knicks' core players. Such continuity cannot be discounted, says the Coach: "It means a lot. When trying to build a championship team, you gotta keep the core guys in place. It's tough enough to win in this league, let alone changing personnel every other year or two."
On Carmelo Anthony and positions:
Much is made over Melo's success last season -- his best as a pro by almost every statistical measure. With such a deep roster and tons of positional flexibility, Woodson is less concerned with labeling Anthony as a small forward or a power forward than finding a way to maximize the talents of each individual player.
"You guys look at 4 (power forward), 3 (small forward), and 2 (shooting guard)," he said, when asked about where the Knicks' All-Star will line up. "Melo's a player, man. I could play Melo at 2 and he'd be fine."