The New York Knicks' last two seasons ended in disappointment, with the team bowing out in the first round of the playoffs. If the 2012-13 season is to end differently, Carmelo Anthony and his teammates must come together as a unit.
New York has the talent and experience to be a contender in the Eastern Conference. Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are elite scorers. Tyson Chandler is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and they have a deep bench led by veterans Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby.
But there are several talented teams in the Eastern Conference. What separates the great teams from the good ones is the willingness and ability of their players to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
That requires individuals to suppress their egos and buy into the team concept. It may mean fewer shots for Stoudemire and Anthony or fewer minutes for Kidd and Camby.
Each player must contribute in every aspect of the game. Emphatic dunks and 40-point games will get you on SportsCenter, but setting solid screens, blocking out your man and making the proper defensive rotation are just as crucial to earning a victory.
The Knicks have several players with a lot to prove this season. Anthony has been labeled a selfish, one-dimensional player. J.R. Smith garnered minimal interest on the free-agent market. Raymond Felton is coming off an awful season with the Portland Trail Blazers and the media has suggested that Stoudemire is past his prime.
Athletes with a chip on their shoulder often attempt to prove their worth through individual accomplishments, but these experienced Knicks players know that they will be judged by the success of the team. Veterans like Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler, who won a championship with the Mavericks in 2011, should set a positive example in the locker room.
Once the players buy into the team concept and accept their individual roles, they need to figure out how to play together as a cohesive unit. The Knicks are returning just six players from last year's team and will be learning a new system during their first training camp under Coach Mike Woodson.
It typically takes a couple of seasons for teammates to develop chemistry, but time is a luxury this team does not have. Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby are in their late 30s and Amar'e Stoudemire is on the downside of his career. This nucleus's window for contention is probably two seasons.
The Knicks also cannot afford to get off to a slow start while getting acclimated to Woodson's system. It is essential for them to secure a high seed heading into the playoffs in order to gain a favorable first-round matchup. They do not want to limp into the playoffs and have to face the defending champion Miami Heat in the first round again or go on the road to face the Chicago Bulls or Indiana Pacers.
New York may need to win the Atlantic Division—which could be the toughest division in the NBA this season—in order to gain home court advantage in the first round. The Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics all improved their rosters during the offseason and should provide stiff competition for the Atlantic Division title.
The most conspicuous issue plaguing the Knicks on the court over the last season-and-a-half was Anthony and Stoudemire's inability to coexist offensively. The two All-Stars must be able to thrive in order for the Knicks to be a dangerous team and there is reason to believe that they can still figure things out.
The two All-Stars have not gone through a training camp together and have each been hampered by injuries during their time as teammates. With the additions of Kidd and Raymond Felton, they now have two veteran point guards to initiate the offense and make sure that they get the ball when and where they like it.
The Knicks backcourt is unsettled heading into training camp. Kidd will be coming off the bench for the first time in his career and it is not clear how Woodson will split the point guard duties between the future Hall of Famer and Felton.
Last year's starting shooting guard Iman Shumpert is recovering from knee surgery and will be out until at least late December. Ronnie Brewer, who was brought in to fill the void, is expected to be out until late October, according to ESPNNewYork.com, after undergoing knee surgery in early September.
That leaves the mercurial J.R. Smith as the only experienced, healthy shooting guard on the roster and he has always been more comfortable off the bench. Shumpert's eventual return will alter the team dynamic and he, Smith and Brewer's roles will continue to evolve as the Knicks ease him back into the lineup.
Injuries and concern over playing time are two of the many trying circumstances the team will face this season. There will be times when the offense bogs down or a player misses an assignment defensively. Every play call, missed shot, slump, complaint and locker room schism will be magnified and dissected by the New York media.
How will the Knicks react?
Will Anthony revert to "hero ball" when his teammates miss a few shots in the fourth quarter? Will Kidd lash out at the coach if Felton is the one closing out games? Will the starting unit develop the trust in one another necessary to become an elite defensive team?
If the Knicks completely buy into the team concept and develop the requisite chemistry on the court, they can withstand any adversity and will advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
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