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Knicks' Great Larry Johnson Understands the Benefits of the NBA D-League

Former Knicks great turned team representative Larry Johnson made a recent trip to Erie with his former teammate, BayHawks G.M. Allan Houston. Johnson spoke to about his impressions of the D-League and more.

Bruce Bennett

Last weekend, Knicks Assistant General Manager (and acting Erie BayHawks G.M.) Allan Houston spent a couple of days watching the minor league team up close. Though he's done that multiple times throughout the season, he brought former teammate and current Knicks basketball & business operations representative Larry Johnson along for the most recent trip.

The duo both turned up earlier this week for the John Starks Foundation's annual Celebrity Bowling Tournament. The organization aims to raise money for the less fortunate youth, rewarding those deserving students from the tri-state and Tulsa areas with college scholarships.

It was there that caught up with Johnson to get his thoughts on his first trip to Erie. The former NBA forward said it was good to see the Knicks' affiliate earn a victory while he was there, and further discussed what kind of value he brought to town upon his visit.

Johnson said, "Allan and I started things off by doing a camp for the local junior high schoolers and high schoolers. We did like an hour camp with them, because we really wanted to talk to the youngsters about sportsmanship, staying focused, and life after basketball."

He's always one to give back the community, but Johnson said he and his former teammate also gave advice to members of the BayHawks as well. He added, "We did talk to the team too. Those guys have legitimate aspirations of making it to the NBA. So when we talked with them, we discussed playing hard and how important it is to not let up. They got a win for us that night too. We were really just telling them what it would take to get into the NBA."

There's no doubt the experience Houston and Johnson both bring to the table as former players is invaluable, but the fact that they're both working for the Knicks now would only suggest they have an idea of what the team is looking for as they mentor these younger prospects a bit.

Further discussing his role over the weekend and his involvement with the Knicks these days overall, it's obvious Johnson is quite the players' whisperer. Whereas some NBA alum look to train with some of the youngsters as a way of mentoring the up and coming talent, Johnson appears more concerned with making sure everyone's head is in the game. There's undoubtedly a mental aspect to things (especially for those D-League players who may get frustrated about not yet having broken through), and as a former player who went through ups and downs himself, Johnson surely can understand the obstacles each one must face.

What's more, the four-time Knicks captain also clearly understands the value of the NBA D-League, and how such a platform can benefit young players. Johnson asserted, "The D-League is a great thing, because you have a lot of guys these days that come straight out of college and might not necessarily be ready for the NBA. The D-League gives them a little bit more seasoning. Before you know it, in a year or two, they'll be ready. It's a good stepping stone."

Johnson may not have touched on any specifics, but a prime example of the type of player he suggests might benefit from time on the minor league stage is BayHawks big man Henry Sims. In addition to recently earning an NBADL All-Star nod, Sims played well in front of the former Knicks forward. Though he may not go on to join New York this season, team brass is very high on the Georgetown product.

Should he not catch on with another NBA team beforehand, the Knicks would be likely to bring Sims into training camp for a second straight season. With potential question marks surrounding the likes of Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, and Kenyon Martin with regard to next season, perhaps the year of development will give way to Sims securing a spot this coming fall. If he does, the big man would go on to prove Johnson's point about the D-League.

The NBADL is undoubtedly gaining more exposure as the months go on, so it's always interesting when a prominent former NBA player like Johnson gives it a ringing endorsement.