In the NBA, success is predicated upon many complex factors.
For the New York Knicks, though, it's simple—their ability to win, to actualize a championship blueprint rests upon the shoulders of Tyson Chandler.
And according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, his sprained left knee as well.
Tyson leaves the locker room on crutches. He thinks it is a left knee sprain. MRI tomorrow— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) October 25, 2012
Chandler left New York's final preseason game on crutches, a sight that truly sent a chill down the spine of the Knicks and their fans.
Because this wasn't Amar'e Stoudemire. This wasn't J.R. Smith. This wasn't Marcus Camby. Hell, this wasn't even Carmelo Anthony.
This was Chandler, whose health, whose ability to be out on the floor is what's truly standing between a season blanketed in hope and a year saturated with disappointment for an injury-riddled New York.
More so than Stoudemire and even more so Anthony, Chandler is what's keeping the Knicks and their championship ambitions afloat.
He, unlike anyone else, is invaluable to their cause. Because he, unlike anyone else, cannot be replaced; there is no substitution for the impact he has.
We watched as Chandler turned the 27th-worst defense from 2010-11 into a top-11 force in the span of just one year.
One year. That's all it took for him to lead a defensive cause that allowed exactly 11 points fewer per game than the season before. That's all it took for him to transform the Knicks into a defense-oriented team, for him to take a self-destructive culture and turn it into a productive one.
And now, as he prepares for a second year of action, New York is left to wonder if the only player it cannot win without will be healthy enough for it to avoid having to try.
Because the Knicks have already proven they can win without Stoudemire—they posted a 14-6 record with him on the bench last season.
New York has also shown it can win without Anthony—including the game against the Utah Jazz in which he logged just six minutes, the Knicks essentially went 8-4 in his absences last year.
Chandler, though, is a different story. The Knicks haven't proven they can win without the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, because they haven't had to try.
The center missed just four games during the 2011-12 campaign, a minor span that saw New York go just 2-2. While that may be too small a sample size to draw any brash conclusions, let it be known the Knicks allowed nearly 104 points per game without him, a far cry from the 94.7 they relinquished on the year.
Because when Chandler's on the floor, the team has a defensive voice.
So yeah, the Knicks can and should be worried about his left knee, the same knee he injured prior to the start of the 2012 postseason and the same knee he aggravated in Game 1 against the Miami Heat, when the team got pummeled by LeBron James and company.
Yeah, that knee.
New York has been able to win without Anthony and Stoudemire because they are primarily scorers, and the Knicks have plenty of those.
Defensive pillars, however, are a rarity. Which is why when the organization latched itself onto Chandler less than a year ago, it did so with the intent of never letting go.
I, myself, questioned the move but came to understand it was less about stats and more about evolution, about turning the Knicks into a well-oiled, two-way machine—which they are whenever he is on the floor.
Down Stoudemire or Anthony, there are plenty of offensively inclined players to pick up the slack. Winning without either, or both, may not be easy, but it is possible.
Winning without Chandler isn't. New York cannot replace his attitude, his leadership and, yes, his defensive prowess. Not even with a healthy Camby.
This puts the Knicks' ability to succeed, their ability to win and contend with the oldest roster in NBA history on their center.
And on his ability to carry the weight, to carry the expectations, to carry the hopes of a famished franchise on what has proven to be a fragile knee.