After starting the season 3-0, the New York Knicks are in a position that probably nobody saw them achieving this year.
Not only has the team won its first three games, including an opening night victory against the Miami Heat, but the combined margin of victory over that stretch is 58 points. The offense is running on all cylinders and the team looks great, and they have done it all without last year's upstart point guard, Jeremy Lin.
Despite the drama that surrounded Lin's departure, which will be discussed later, the Knicks' season thus far is proof positive that despite being a disciple of the infamous Isiah Thomas, team GM Glen Grunwald handled the offseason perfectly.
Look at it this way. When Grunwald joined the Knicks back in 2006, they were at the mercy of Thomas' terrible team management, yet still maintained something of an identity of a team looking to play tough defense and use an isolation game on offense. The only real problem was that on the offensive side of the floor, the only truly reliable players were David Lee and the notoriously selfish and immature Stephon Marbury.
Then, after Thomas was fired in 2008 and Donnie Walsh was brought in to run the front office, that identity was lost. Mike D'Antoni was hired as head coach and brought his fast-paced run and gun offense with him. It was fun to watch, but the Knicks still struggled as they struggled to clear salary cap space to make a run at LeBron James in the summer of 2010.
The team lost out on the three-time MVP, who signed with the Miami Heat, but still managed to land power forward Amar'e Stoudemire, who was a D'Antoni favorite. The Knicks looked good entering the 2010-11 season despite a 3-8 start, which they later got past with a pair of long winning streaks. But they traded away half of their starting lineup to acquire Carmelo Anthony. This led to inconsistency and team management ultimately opting not to extend Walsh's contract.
On top of that, a rumored feud with Anthony led to D'Antoni's resignation (via Johnette Howard of ESPN.com), which was the best thing to happen to the Knicks. Mike Woodson took over and the team went 18-6 under him, bringing back the defensive identity long associated with the franchise.
That all being said, Grunwald had some important decisions to make over the summer regarding the future of the team. Sure, Lin was popular with fans and had flourished in D'Antoni's offense, but that was only in the month of February. Over that stretch, the Harvard grad averaged 20.9 points and 8.4 assists while New York was overcome with "Linsanity."
Despite reports that the Knicks would bring Lin (a restricted free agent) back, Grunwald found himself in a tough position. Lin represented everything that Woodson didn't, plus the Houston Rockets offered him a heavily backloaded deal worth $25 million over three years that would carry heavy back penalties if the Knicks matched the offer.
In the end, the Knicks let Lin walk and opted to go with the pesky Raymond Felton at the point. This has proven to be the right decision as Lin is averaging 13 points, seven assists and 3.3 steals per game, but is shooting just 36 percent from the field.
Yet, Grunwald wasn't done yet. He also brought in veterans Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby, the latter of whom spent 1998-2002 with the Knicks. In an instant, New York now had a backup and reliable shooter for Felton, plus a solid backup center for Tyson Chandler.
Best of all, however, was the signing of defensive pest Ronnie Brewer to fill in while Iman Shumpert recovered from a knee injury suffered in the postseason. Thus far, Brewer has played small forward with Carmelo Anthony playing the 4 while Stoudemire recovers from a knee injury of his own, and he has been great. Against the 76ers this week, he pulled down 10 rebounds and was also a force from long range.
It's hard not to say that the Knicks didn't handle their offseason perfectly. They got rid of a point guard who stood for the offense-first identity they were trying to lose, and instead signed players who were committed to defense and discipline.
Granted, fans haven't yet seen how the team will play once Stoudemire and Shumpert come back, but one thing is certain. Win or lose, and with much thanks to the front office run by Grunwald, the Knicks are going to make every single one of their games interesting this year because in terms of an offseason, theirs was basically perfect.
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