Maybe it was the two-a-day practices with the Knicks in recent days, preceded by the slog of workouts and auditions before the NBA draft. Maybe it was the long concurrent seasons of the Italian Serie A and the Euroleague dating back to training camp last August. Maybe it was because, in combination with his assignments to the Italian national team, Danilo Gallinari has been playing high-level basketball practically nonstop for more than a year.
"My back was hurt five days ago,'' he said after making his American debut in the NBA summer league Monday. "It is not so hurt. But after this summer league, I am going to rest.''
Not for long, though: In August, he reunites with his national team for an international qualifying tournament.
Gallinari missed his first five shots from the floor and had trouble working himself into the game in the first half against the Cavaliers. This was not entirely bad news.
"It is not easy to figure out all the defenses,'' he said after the Knicks' 97-94 victory. "Basketball is a game of the mind, and I will adapt myself.''
The Knicks don't want their No. 6 pick to adapt too much. Gallinari was bred from a basketball culture in which players aren't rewarded financially or otherwise unless they contribute to a winning team. His biggest crime Monday was that he was trying to play selflessly in a summer auditioning event that often awards the selfish.
The international scouts in the audience felt his pain. "He is playing for the team,'' said one, noting that Gallinari often made passes without ever receiving a shot in return.
"He passed up some shots he should have taken, and then he seemed to force up some shots before he settled in,'' said Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, who sat near team president Donnie Walsh in the stands. "I don't want him to change. I want to get the team to be like him.''
In the second half, Gallinari went 5-for-6 for all of his 14 points. The Knicks benefited most of all from the 26 points of 6-foot-8 small forward Wilson Chandler, who should compete for rotation minutes in his second year.
The 6-10 Gallinari was often the tallest player on the floor, which was impressive in itself considering he is projected as a small forward. He looked neither weak physically nor passive. When he slammed down a third-quarter tip-in to compensate for his difficulties in the prior half, he could be seen throwing a triumphant air punch before his feet touched the ground.
Too much is made of summer league performances, good and bad. Yi Jianlian, for instance, looked worse in this event last year than he did subsequently during his rookie year with the Bucks. The importance of this game for the Knicks could be found in the confidence of Chandler and the feistiness of Gallinari, who should improve as he adjusts to the NBA's one-on-one culture and heightened athleticism. Provided, of course, that he gets a little rest.