The New York Knicks had it all in front of them in the summer of 2010.
Isiah Thomas was gone, and he had taken his army of overpaid shooting guards with him. New GM Donnie Walsh had meticulously put everything in place—draft picks, salary cap space and a core of young, inexpensive talent. A historic crop of free agents was about to hit the market, and the Knicks had all the assets they needed in a league now driven by the max contract. This time, we were going to do it the right way.
Man, were we wrong.
Those draft picks? New York is without a first-round pick in 2012 and 2014, as well as two more second-rounders they lost to Denver in the Carmelo trade. That cap space? Melo, Amar’e and Tyson Chandler will take up an average of $57 million over the next three years. That young, inexpensive talent? Danilo Gallinari looks like a star in the making with the Nuggets, as did Wilson Chandler before an injury cut his season short.
What the Knicks and their fans are realizing now—and what we all should have realized two years ago—is that their assets were spent giving max contracts to two guys who weren’t max contract players.
Stoudemire is a great competitor, but he doesn’t look anything like the player he once was. His greatness was always predicated on his athleticism and explosiveness, but he’s now pushing 30 with chronic back and knee problems. He lacked any ability to elevate and finish at the rim last year. Without Mike D’Antoni’s pick and roll system, he looks lost.
I fully admit Carmelo is one of the most efficient and talented pure scorers in the league, but that doesn’t justify what the Knicks gave up to get him.
Scoring is Carmelo’s only great quality, and he shows it in the most unproductive way. As Phil Jackson recently pointed out, Carmelo is an isolation ball-stopper who can’t seem to make his teammates better on offense. He stands 6’8”, 230, and is somehow still soft on the glass and rarely commits on defense. The truly elite players—the guys you sell the barn for—have an impact on every facet of the game, and that has never been, nor ever will be, Carmelo Anthony.
They don’t play consistent defense or rebound, and with no draft picks and almost $60 million tied up in three players, they aren’t going anywhere. The financial commitment required in this new, star-driven NBA makes their roster almost completely inflexible. So now, Knicks fans, we’re back here again: a team with a Conference Semifinals ceiling and no room for improvement.
This time really was going to be different, except it somehow ended all the same.