After 12 years of playoff futility, the New York Knicks are at last constructed and poised to escape the first round.
The team has emerged from three years of transition that saw several lineup shakeups, the import of three top-tier stars, a 180-degree coaching change, a lockout-shortened season and point-guard Linsanity.
And the truth is, the Knicks are better than they have been at any point in the past three seasons, or even since 2000, the last time New York flipped the Garden lights on for Round 2.
A hopeful, yet impatient fanbase, sustained only momentarily by the franchise’s baby-steps progress, is expecting a great deal more in 2012-13.
The Knicks must make it past Round 1 or there will be consequences.
Those possible consequences range from the radical to the benign, and in three scenarios will require the accounting and managing skills of a salary cap and multi-team trading Houdini.
But the first consequence just requires a thicker skin...
Carmelo Anthony and the gang will bear the brunt of Gotham’s scribes and tribes.
Even with the “leaps and bounds” the Knicks have made in the last couple of years—a .500 percentage; a first playoff appearance in seven years; winning a playoff game for the first time in 11 years—the New York media still pounced.
Somewhere in that success, the Daily News found the time to pen “Knicks playoff ineptitude: A timeline.”
And the New York Post summed up where we are now:
A sticker of the NBA championship trophy hung above the Knicks’ lockers at the Garden late in the season as a reminder of their goal…[their] season ended last night 15 victories short of that goal. A tumultuous season…ended in a humdrum whipping by the better team.
With everything finally in place for the 2012-13 team, and everyone expecting a good deal more from this pretty stacked team, a first-round exit will be met with a greater level of contempt in the back pages.
The fans, while obviously wanting more, have graciously taken the ride these past two seasons. They have accepted the minor progress, albeit with the New Yorkers' typical grumbling.
But a first-round exit in 2012-13 might raise concerns amongst the faithful that the Carmelo Anthony era will wind up a barren one.
Hamstrung by the salary cap and some heavy contracts, there's little the Knicks can do to tweak the roster next offseason unless another team does something radical and perhaps questionable.
There are a few reasons New York would attempt to dump Amar’e Stoudemire following a quick playoff exit.
First, he is the odd-man out on Carmelo’s team. Second, his production may have slipped or failed to return. And finally, all that freed-up cap space.
It’s nothing personal, and it may not even be statistical. It’s mostly financial. Say Stoudemire goes wild and averages 25 points per game in 2012-13, but the Knicks lose in the first round anyway. The money would be better off utilized in another way.
Less likely is the trade-Carmelo-Anthony scenario, but a perfect storm could make it happen. And there's one other thing that lends it feasibility: Anthony is an easier trade than Amar’e.
What kind of perfect storm would it take, especially if we are talking about a three-time playoff team by this point?
The sum of a bad record, a No. 8 seed and a first-round sweep at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets? And add a dominating season by Stoudemire coupled with an off-year for Melo filled with poor decision making and fans calling for his head?
There are a handful of up-and-coming young teams with low payrolls come 2013-14 that could build around and quickly contend thanks to Anthony’s game and veteran presence: the Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Bobcats, Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers, to name a few. Even the San Antonio Spurs will have some cap room.
The Chris Paul rumor machine, realistic or not, is humming.
After Paul turned down the L.A. Clippers’ three-year extension offer of $60 million in July, speculation bubbled. According to ESPN, Paul said he would “wait until next summer to decide everything,” meaning where he will play over the next few years.
But as NBC Sports points out, “it’s just business,” a play to capitalize on a bigger and longer contract with the Clippers following the season.
During that same week, though, the Daily News reinforced the suggestion that Chris Paul is “hoping to find a way to get to the Knicks,” and Carmelo Anthony told Jared Zwerling of ESPN, “You'll see [Chris] in NY.”
How, other than a Clippers’ road game?
One of the Big Three has to go. Amar’e Stoudemire is the logical choice, but the hardest to move. It doesn’t make sense to move Carmelo Anthony because it is really the Anthony-Paul tandem that both players want.
A radical move would be to send Tyson Chandler packing and pick up a cheaper but effective option at center.
Which brings us to the most likely consequence of all: nothing.
It is going to be hard to move Amar'e Stoudemire, even if he has a substantially improved performance, because everyone’s waiting for the other injury shoe to drop.
The organization has moved to please Carmelo Anthony in multiple ways, from swapping the coach to bringing in buddy J.R. Smith to running the offense through him. They will avoid trading such an investment.
But it's also just not how James Dolan does things. Say what you want about the man, he is loyal to a fault (he’s talking to Isiah again). And he’s signed on for Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Otherwise, Mike D’Antoni might still be coaching and Chauncey Billups would still be the point guard.
Financially handcuffed, a first-round exit will simply result in a licking of wounds, a minor shakeup of the second line and some good old-fashioned take your medicine and “wait till next year.”
This roster deserves more than one full season.