The New York Knicks are, once again, the toast of Gotham City.
But that doesn't mean this squad can't get better.
Excluding postseason consideration, loyalists and critics alike can glance at this Knicks franchise and agree on its marked improvement. This team rocked out to a 18-5 start, rode that hi-octane offense to an Atlantic Division title, and regained respect around the NBA.
Even so, let's not break out the kid-gloves treatment quite yet. There's still much to be desired, much to consider when one looks at the Knicks as currently assembled. The New York Knicks are far from broken, but some tinkering and modifying needs to take place in order to put a stranglehold on success.
With a resurgent Eastern Conference and a Brooklyn Nets team in their backyard, let's point at some character flaws and open wounds in this current 2013 Knicks iteration. Then, let's detail some ways in which the Knicks can evolve to become lethal bruisers in 2014.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
I mentioned it earlier when I handed out regular-season grades to the entire Knicks roster, but it's worth repeating: J.R. Smith is about to get payed.
To his credit, J.R. has remained humble and focused on the Knicks playoff push: According to Neil Best, who spoke to J.R. Smith during the Knicks first-round series against the Boston Celtics, J.R. has been "focused on basketball". According to J.R., "summertime is summertime. It ain’t summer yet."
That's fine and dandy for Mr. Smith, as the negotiator sitting in the power position. Glen Grunwald and the New York Knicks' team governors know this.
No matter. J.R.'s return is first priority on the Knicks big white board, and it's up to the front office to hold the salary sheet sideways, crunch the numbers, and figure out a big picture-perfect plan to keep the mercurial shooting guard.
The long-term success and failure of the New York Knicks professional basketball team rests heavily on the knees of Amar'e Carsares Stoudemire, the team's 100-million-dollar man.
Despite the possibility of doom given Amar'e's microfracture and arthroscopic surgeries on his left and right knees, respectively, the Knicks handed Amar'e an uninsured multi-year contract. Now, with two guaranteed years remaining (contract terms per HoopsHype.com) can S.T.A.T. return to form and earn his keep?
To answer this question, let's sneak a peek at a few of the notable NBA microfracture patients:
|Microfracture Surgery - NBA History|
|Patient X||First Surgery Age||Post-Surgery Seasons||Post-Surgery Stats||
Post-Surgery All-Star Appearances
|Allan Houston ||32||1||11.5ppg, 41.5% FG*||0|
|Greg Oden||20||2||9.4ppg, 7.3rpg||0|
|Chris Webber||30||5||16.9ppg, 8.6rpg||0|
|Penny Hardaway||29||6||9.6ppg, 3.1apg||0|
*Second-lowest field goal percentage of career.
Eek. That don't look good.
From this small data sample, you could argue Stoudemire as a viable option for the Knicks moving forward, given Amare's youth at the time of the first surgery (23) and subsequent success in Phoenix and New York. But, even the most risk-averse surgeon would hesitate to suggest a full return from a 30-year-old professional basketball big man.
All bad news for the Knicks as the current lords of Amare's albatross contract.
Knicks fans: All there is to do, is hope.
Let's take a quick look at the New York Knicks 15-man playoff roster:
|Age 40+||1 (Jason Kidd)|
Gentlemen, your AARP cards are in the mail!
The Knicks as the oldest team in the NBA has been well-documented all year. J.R. Smith, the second-youngest player on the Knicks roster, was the only Knicks player to log over 80 games.
However, joy always comes in the morning: According to HoopsHype.com, there are only 9 players under contract for next season, with most of those older veterans coming off the books.
Cap space translates to tough decisions. The Knicks need to get younger, but with who? Will New York get its next best fit, or will the extra space turn into a maxima culpa?
You think I'm joking right?
Let's paint a picture: In July 2013, the NBA salary cap for the 2013-14 season will settle at a kiss over $58 million dollars (an estimate given last year's salary cap, per NBA.com).
Unfortunately, after considering current player salaries, the Knicks guarantee over $76 million dollars to their supposed roster for the 2013-14 season, per HoopsHype.com.
It looks as if the CP3 dream must die.
Unless...Chris Paul is irritated with his situation on the sunny side of Los Angeles. Chris motions for a sign-and-trade to the Big Apple, to reunite with his poster-making big man (Tyson Chandler) and high-octane scoring friend from the Mid-Atlantic (Carmelo Anthony).
To sweeten the pot for the Clippers (and to ensure Commissioner Stern doesn't veto the deal), the Knicks send J.R. Smith (with his new $11 million dollar deal), Raymond Felton ($4 million), Iman Shumpert (cheap rookie salary), and two No.1 draft picks to make the salaries match.
Chris clinks glasses with Carmelo and Amare from his Manhattan skyline apartment, trolling Marc Berman to reminisce on the New York Post on the Paul guarantee delivered at Mr. Anthony's wedding.
(A man can dream, can't he?)
OK, so you want a more realistic possibility? Well, then let's go shopping for a backup point guard!
It's obvious: Between the nagging injuries to Raymond Felton and the slowing foot speed of Jason Kidd, the Knicks need more creative options at the point position.
My favorite from the free-agent pool: Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas Mavericks.
A starlet from Paris, Rodrigue found himself typecast as Mark Cuban's plaything for a rudder-less Dallas franchise in those seasons following the 2011 championship run. Beaubois has tempting speed and change-of-direction ability, all the better to stymie tough opponents in the Eastern Conference.
With increased playing time (only 12 minutes per game last season), Jason Kidd's Hall of Fame mentorship (he fixed Kenyon Martin in two weeks!), and New York's abundant transplant French population, Roddy will once again realize his destiny as a scoring pest and thorn for NBA defenses.
Also, this will further Glen Grunwald's efforts to recreate the 2011 Dallas team in New York City.
All year, the New York Knicks have treated the center position like a turnstile at Madison Square Garden.
As much as the Knicks enjoyed giving Tyson Chandler time to heal and rest throughout the season, this season's plan didn't have a rotating committee of tall men in queue. Tyson was penned as the defensive stalwart, Rasheed Wallace was supposed to upload a new version of post play to his repertoire, and someone from the Kurt Thomas-Marcus Camby was supposed to submit a clean bill of health.
However, the Knicks proved to be a dedicated regular-season team, rolling with the punches and the die, finally casting the maligned Kenyon Martin as a series regular. Kenyon responded with a dynamic defensive run to finish out regular play, and has played inspired basketball for the Garden faithful.
While it seems prudent to enlist a younger athlete to give New York spot duty, first things first. Make every effort to resign K-Mart and encourage him to be a revised elite defender, lip tattoo and all.
Then, I'd trust Glen Grunwald to play the odds in the midseason big man feeder frenzy. At the very least, we might get to see Earl Barron in an ill-fitting Knicks jersey again.