On paper, the New York Knicks are flat-out nice.
Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford starting at guard. Zach Randolph and Quentin Richardson at the forward spots, and Eddy Curry at center.
Rebounder extraordinaire David Lee, energy bugs Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson, and solid backup Dan Dickau coming off the bench.
On paper, that squad is not only a playoff team, but an incredibly dangerous playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
But the problem for the Knicks is that games aren't played "on paper."
Before I go further, here's a qualifier: Most of the Knicks are good guys away from the court.
Marbury has become an outstanding, even revolutionary, example of "keeping it real" and for using one's celebrity for a great cause with his low-priced yet fashionable Starbury shoe and clothing line. I absolutely love what he's doing in that regard.
Crawford is as nice a guy as there is, and Richardson and Curry are extremely personable as well.
I did a story on Zach Randolph years ago for ESPN The Magazine and loved him. I met his boys, spent time at his family's house, talked to his former teachers and coaches, hung out with his brother Roger (who's been accused of shooting at people), and even spoke to a local cop who vouched for Zach's character.
Zach is truly a nice guy. His problem is that he's a follower and when he's surrounded by the wrong folks, he does the wrong things. If surrounded by great, veteran, professional teammates, my bet is he'd be fine.
That's where things get tricky with him going to the Knicks.
I loved their draft-night trade because they gave up nothing to get Randolph. Steve Francis had to go, and Channing Frye is just decent, so even if Zach has problems in New York, the Knicks won't be any worse.
Here's the problem: All the evidence -- and there's plenty -- says the Knicks players aren't winners.
Their problem is not physical or talent-related, it's mental -- in their heads and their hearts. When it comes to winning basketball, they're deficient characterwise.
If they weren't, they would have won more than 33 games last season. If they weren't, they wouldn't have gone in the tank after Isiah Thomas got his contract extension late in the season.
If they weren't, their longest winning streak of last season would not have been three games. If they weren't, they wouldn't have followed a big win at Miami with a home loss to Boston, or a win over Chicago with a 22-point loss at Philadelphia.
Every time you thought the Knicks had turned the corner last year, every time you wanted to believe in them, they mocked your faith and lost to a buster.
All that tells me these guys just don't have the strength of character (basketballwise) to win consistently.
Randolph seems to fall into the same category.
In the four seasons since he's become a dominant player -- basically a 20-10 guy -- the Blazers failed to make the playoffs even once.
I advocated in my previous blog that New Jersey offer Richard Jefferson for Zach. I think with veteran leaders like Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, Zach would have been problem-free and helped the Nets become EC contenders.
But in a character-challenged locker room, I wonder how Zach will fare.
I hope my instincts are wrong, and the Knicks play up to their wonderful "on paper'' potential.
But if they don't, I won't be surprised.