Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for the New York Knicks in 2012-13
With the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season now behind them, the New York Knicks head into next season looking to finally make good on the title-contending promises they made in putting together their big three of Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler.
Not wanting to sugar-coat things, the last year and a half been a disappointment for the Knicks, and despite some flashes of quality basketball here and there, the outcome of a low playoff seed and a first-round exit two seasons in a row is not what was expected with such star power on the roster.
There were excuses for the Knicks—mainly in the form of injuries, coaching changes and poor point guard play—but the bottom line is that New York needs to get it together next season.
The hiring of Mike Woodson as head coach—as well as some fantastic new signings and impressive play from Melo at the Olympics—will give fans renewed hope for the fortunes of their team, but they will by no means ensure that the Knicks will finally reach their potential.
Depending on a number of factors, next season has both the potential to be great and the potential to be terrible, so I'm going to take you through the best and worst case scenarios for the Knicks in 2012-13.
Best Case: Knicks Stay Relatively Injury Free
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Though things weren't perfect in the rare stretches when everyone was healthy last season, there is no doubt that injuries contributed greatly to the Knicks' downfall in 2012-13.
In their five-game playoff series with Miami alone, four key players had to miss time—in most cases multiple games—with injury, which left the Knicks struggling to keep up with the Heat's star-studded roster.
Even in the regular season, injuries ravaged the Knicks, with star duo Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony missing substantial time in the thick of the season.
If the Knicks can stay relatively healthy next year, and have a full roster available to them come playoff time, it will put them in the best position possible to win—and will go a long way to helping them reach their potential as a team.
Unfortunately, it appears as though the injury bug has already hit the team, with Iman Shumpert out until January and Ronnie Brewer slated to miss the bulk of the preseason.
The Knicks can definitely survive despite both injuries, but in a perfect world it, would be a lot of help for those to be the only injuries.
Best Case: Melo Continues Olympic Form
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For a good month or two over the course of the Olympics and the exhibition games that preceded it, we all saw some very impressive, and dare I say it, All-World play from Carmelo Anthony.
Despite not starting, the forward had a record-breaking campaign and put up unbelievable numbers in very few minutes on Team USA.
Melo has hardly been a bad player over the course of his NBA career, but if he can keep up this level of play when he returns to action in November, it may just be the difference between being a star and being a genuine MVP candidate.
Ultimately, Melo is the player who will have the biggest say in the Knicks' success next season, and the team will only go as far as he can take them.
Questions still remain about certain areas of Melo's game, and whether or not he can play with others. Answering these could put the Knicks over the top.
Melo playing at the high level he played at over the summer has the capability of carrying the Knicks to home court advantage in the playoffs, which is exactly where they'll want to be to kickstart a title run.
Best Case: Raymond Felton Gives the Knicks Exactly What They Need
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The biggest decision the Knicks had to make this offseason was at the point guard spot, with New York deciding to let Jeremy Lin sign with the Rockets and bringing in former Knick Raymond Felton as his replacement.
Whilst neither player was going to play a huge role on the roster—at least not to the same extent as the Knicks' big three—the point guard position is still important in its own right, as was proved last season by the impact poor play from Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby had on the team.
What the Knicks are asking out of their starting point guard isn't much; all they really need is good defense, solid shooting/scoring ability and the ability to run an offense—all attributes that any genuine starter should have.
Up until last season, Felton was a lock to give all three of those at a high level year in and year out, but after coming into 2011-12 overweight and putting up the worst season of his career, there are now doubts about whether or not he can do it again.
Felton looks motivated, though, and if he can use that to play to the level he has done for the bulk of his career, the Knicks will finally have found a player perfect for the biggest void they had on the roster heading into the offseason.
Worst Case: Amar'e Stoudemire Is as Bad as He Looked Last Season
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Amar'e Stoudemire had a terrible season in 2011-12, and though it wasn't pretty, it can mostly be attributed to the lockout, injuries and the tragic death of his brother.
But what if Stoudemire is genuinely as bad as he looked last season?
When a player has such a dramatic drop in production as Stoudemire had last season, it's definitely a cause for concern, and it isn't as easy as simply bouncing back and returning to form just like that.
We've seen so often in the NBA that players can suddenly fall from grace, and considering Stoudemire's injury history and the problems he's had with his body, that could be the case here.
As the Knicks' highest-paid player going into next season, the team simply cannot afford for him not to be one of their two or three best players. If he doesn't return to form, the Knicks will be stuck in limbo until his contract runs out, making next season and all until 2015 redundant.
Worst Case: The Atlantic Division Is Too Much
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Though it's clear that the Knicks have improved their roster considerably over the summer, they're not alone, as every single team in the Atlantic Division has done the same.
The Nets have completely revamped their roster upon relocation to Brooklyn, and are looking like a genuine threat to vault up the Eastern Conference.
Over in Philadelphia, the Sixers (almost out of nowhere) acquired Andrew Bynum—now the best center in the conference—and are now a much more balanced team.
Though still maybe not quite a playoff team, the Raptors definitely made strides in bringing in Landry Fields, Terrence Ross and a borderline All-Star in Kyle Lowry, and it looks like they're on the track to success in the near future.
Finally, the ever-strong Celtics managed to upgrade at the shooting guard position, and will benefit greatly from the inevitable progression of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley.
As nice as the Knicks roster looks now, there's still a possibility that those around them did even better this offseason, which will make competing for the division a tough task.
And if a team isn't even in the race for its own division, you can say bye bye to any chances of winning the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Worst Case: Mike Woodson Re-Creates the Atlanta Hawks
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Most can agree that the Knicks are a good team, but whether or not they are a genuine title-contender remains to be seen.
The talent is definitely there, but considering the cap situation, the Knicks do run the risk of turning into the second-coming of Mike Woodson's old Atlanta Hawks teams.
Those Hawks teams were definitely good, but they were perennially stuck in the vacuum between title contention and being a low-seeded playoff team, with the only way out being to completely blow things up.
If the Knicks are truly no more than a fifth or sixth seed, it will be near impossible to improve the team to any great extent without getting rid of one of their high-paid stars, and until 2015—the year most players come off the books—the Knicks could be stuck in the same place season after season.
At the end of the day, that's why this season is so important for New York, because though it's not necessarily title or bust just yet, what happens this season will dictate where the Knicks can realistically go over the next few years.