There is a lot of optimism around this Knicks basketball team. While I don’t agree with it, I understand it. You’ve got a motivated Carmelo Anthony, a head coach in the good graces of the fan base and some quality veteran role players. Tyson Chandler is still the leader of the defense, Raymond Felton was a fan favorite under Mike D’Antoni in 2010 and Steve Novak’s championship belt will still be awesome. I get it. But I think there are a lot of deficiencies and question marks on this basketball team. This team is not a contender, which is a disappointment in this year three of the Carmelo Anthony-Amar’e Stoudemire era.
The beginning of this off-season was an exciting one. New York looked to build around the core of Jeremy Lin, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. GM Glen Grundwald and MSG brass looked to surround the core with veteran players. They tried to bring in Steve Nash, but were undone by the egregious contract Landry Fields was given by the Toronto Raptors. Nash ended up with the Lakers. I vomited. Plan B was apparently Jason Kidd and the Knicks overpaid heavily for him. While it was a bad move, the rationale was easy to see. Kidd would be a player who came off the bench and gave the Knicks 10-15 minutes a night, while also being a road map to help Jeremy Lin in his development. New York re-signed JR Smith and Steve Novak. They brought in James White and Chris Copeland. In their best move of the off-season, the Knicks acquired Marcus Camby in a sign and trade with Houston. This looked like a team that could be very dangerous in 2012.
In only a move that the Knicks could make, they foolishly let Jeremy Lin walk to the Houston Rockets. James Dolan’s feelings got in the way of what was an obvious basketball decision. Dolan was upset that Lin set his own market, despite the fact that the Knicks told him to do it. The move was the epitome of James Dolan, whose tenure as the man in charge of MSG has been an unmitigated disaster. New York overpaid for Raymond Felton as Lin’s replacement and signed him to a four-year contract. The most frustration aspect of this decision was that the Lin and Felton moves logistically were mutually exclusive. The Knicks weren’t deciding between either Lin or Felton. They could have had both players, which would’ve given the Knicks a very strong point guard position. In one off-season the Knicks went from potentially pairing together Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash to actually pairing together Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.
Acquisitions of european import Pablo Prigioni, formerly retired Rasheed Wallace and defensive stalwart Ronnie Brewer rounded out a turbulent off-season for the Knicks. New York went from a team with interesting upside and room for improvement to a team with little upside and a clear ceiling. No longer was the possibility, as minute as it may have been, that the Knicks could evolve into a threat to Miami. If the Knicks had any opportunity to overtake Miami in the east, Lin had to be part of that equation. It was extremely doubtful the Knicks would ever have upset Miami in the eastern conference, but now it is a virtual impossibility.
This is a Knicks team that I project to win around 46 games, probably good for the 6th seed in the eastern conference. 46 games is solid and they will be a solid basketball team. But this is not a contender and it is not a team that can win a title this season.
New York will still be a great defensive team. Last season the Knicks rated 5th in the NBA in defensive efficiency and in theory they should be a better defensive team. Led by reigning NBA DPOY Tyson Chandler, the Knicks also added quality defensive players in Marcus Camby and Ronnie Brewer. Camby should give the Knicks that anchor on the second team defense that they sorely missed last season. Brewer has the ability to guard multiple positions and he was a part of Chicago’s best lineups last season as a member of the Bulls.
Carmelo Anthony will be motivated. It is a make or break season for the Meloman. Coming off the power struggle between Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks star, criticism of Anthony was at an all-time high. “He can’t win in the playoffs!” “He’s selfish!” “Diva!” Now is the time for Anthony to shut up his critics. No doubt his first two seasons in New York have been disappointing, but there were always excuses made in his defense. The trade of 2010 put the team in flux and there was no time for him and Amar’e Stoudemire to mesh. The lockout shortened 2011 season and Toney Douglas’ existence didn’t allow Anthony to mesh with the team. Those are fair arguments, but there are no more excuses this year. He has his head coach in Mike Woodson. There is a great defense behind him. Amar’e Stoudemire is hurt, but that gives Anthony the opportunity to move to his more natural power forward position. New York will go as far as Anthony can take them. He has the talent to be a top 5 player in this league, but he hasn’t produced like one. Especially not since he has been in New York.
What made the Knicks scary was the potential that one day Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire would mesh with Tyson Chandler to form the best front court in basketball. Anthony and Stoudemire could hit you for 50 points a night while Chandler anchored a great defense. That vision looks like a pipe dream right now. This was supposed to be the season where Anthony and Stoudemire meshed together. Stoudemire had worked on expanding his game over the off-season. The Knicks would have a full training camp, something absent during the Anthony-Stoudemire era. But the injury bug has struck once again. What began as a “sore knee” evolved into a ruptured cyst and has now evolved into a surgery that will keep Stoudemire out 6-8 weeks according to the always honest Knicks training staff. Stoudemire’s injury allows Anthony to move to power forward for the time being, but if the Knicks are to reach their full potential they need those two to mesh with Tyson Chandler. We may never see Stoudemire play again in a Knick uniform, but if he does there will still be spacing issues with Chandler and Anthony. They once again didn’t get a full camp together and played one pre-season game. Nothing we have seen indicates that they have figured it out and that is a huge problem.
Knicks fans have mocked this mantra that the Knicks age is a problem. News flash: it is a problem, from both a production and injury standpoint. We’ve already seen Marcus Camby miss significant time with a strained calf. Kurt Thomas has looked average at best in pre-season. His only highlight was punching a guy in the genitals as the guy blew by him for a layup. Jason Kidd was terrible last season. He cannot break down the defense, get his own shot or guard anyone. Kidd can’t even shoot 3’s anymore, shooting just 34% and 35% over the past two seasons respectively. Who knows what Wallace has left in the tank at age 38. It was thought that the Knicks could get away with all these veteran players because they wouldn’t have to play significant minutes. But with Stoudemire’s injury, these veteran players will be forced to play more minutes. That doesn’t bode well for the Knicks.
Again, this won’t be a bad basketball team. If you’re a fan who is okay with a team that wins 46 regular season games and competes for a second round playoff berth, this is the team for you. Unfortunately, and foolishly, I hold this team to a little higher standard. I had visions for a championship when the Knicks put Anthony and Stoudemire together, but that doesn’t seem to be possible at this point. Moving forward, I don’t know where the Knicks go in the next two seasons. They’ve got old players locked into long-term contracts and few players on the roster with potential to improve. New York has placed itself in NBA purgatory. They’re capped out, not good enough to win a ring, but not bad enough to blow everything up. The Knicks are the new age Atlanta Hawks. They’ll be a good team moving forward, but they’ll never be good enough to contend. However, this will be a solid season. After years of Isiah Thomas teams and Toney Doulgas and Renaldo Balkman and Eddy Curry wasting away on the bench, this should be the best Knicks team we’ve seen in a long time. But the championship optimism around this team is missing, for me at least. Best case scenario for the Knicks is about a 55 win season. Anthony evolves into a superstar and inserts himself into the MVP conversation. The defense is still great and Anthony, JR Smith and Ray Felton bounce back from abysmal 2011 seasons. Worst case, the Knicks miss the playoffs altogether. Woodson’s offense reverts to all iso-Melo and Anthony doesn’t perform. The defense takes a step back and the Knicks lack of rebounding costs them games. Again, I think the Knicks win about 46 games which should get them in the playoffs as the 6th seed, maybe higher if other teams disappoint. New York will be a good team, but not a championship team. And that is a disappointment.
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