There comes a time in every dating relationship when both parties are forced to answer the tough question.
“Does this thing really have the juice to go the distance, or am I just kidding myself?”
While you ponder this question, your relationship highlight reel starts to play at warp speed. The best and worst snapshots of your time together start piling up in your brain.
First meeting. First date. First long phone call. First argument. First kiss.
In most relationships, after a long internal debate where id rages against superego, you realize it’s time. You admit to the good times and cringe at the bad times. You can’t place your finger exactly on the fungus, but you know it’s there. You just know.
That’s where fans are with the New York Knicks. It’s crazy to say this, given the team’s first playoff series win since Ewing's ice jam in Game 7 of the Y2K season, but it’s true. As currently constructed, the Knicks are toast.
Why so harsh? Well, let’s look at the facts.
The Knicks have committed $57 million in salary next season to three guys, all who have serious skill or health issues.
Tyson Chandler, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, got hosed by Roy Hibbert, and has a weak neck with no post game. Amar’e Stoudemire has an albatross contract and the physical sustainability of a paper plate. And Carmelo Anthony teases us with the excellence LeBron James displays on a nightly basis.
As for the rest of the roster, it’s a squad filled with situational bodies and aging stars. Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby are on payroll until 2015. Raymond Felton wasn’t even top 20 in assists last season. And Steve Novak didn’t sniff a minute in Game 6 of the semifinals.
Interestingly, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert lead the youth movement. But can New York expect Shumpert to progress and Smith not to regress after a career year? Plus, they still have to pay Earl Smith II.
Right now, all signs point to the big white drawing board in a Madison Square Garden conference room. By now the drawing board is riddled with dozen of plans to avoid unconditional surrender. The Knicks are a franchise after all, like Toys ‘R Us, Uniqlo or Chevrolet, so they won’t take losing lightly. They can’t. Winning games drives their core business.
Fans, no need to run for the panic bunker yet. The Knicks have a few options for future success, even if most might make Knicks fans queasy. That’s how it is in the NBA, as it’s damn hard to win a title in the NBA without patience and tactical risk-taking.
Let’s perform some exploratory surgery. As a good carpenter would say, measure twice, cut once.
Move No. 1: Trade Carmelo Anthony
This might hurt a bit: When has Carmelo Anthony proven to be a real leader? Sure, he’s been the best player on many teams, even dating back to his Syracuse days, but there’s a difference between being the best and leading the best.
The best players in the NBA have the ability to do both.
LeBron James ripped into his squad in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals and practiced what he preached. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson knew what it took to keep their teammates satisfied and smiling. Kobe and MJ spooked their teammates into good games.
Sure, Carmelo is a really, really good scorer, and led the league in that statistic last season. OK, Carmelo shoots the most inefficient shot in today’s NBA—the mid-range jumper—at a high percentage. I know Carmelo knows how to defend opposing forwards and gets to the free-throw line at a crazy high rate.
Carmelo’s a really good player but he just doesn’t have that leadership gene.
Still, I would only trade Carmelo if I could get a blue-chipper back in return. Would Cleveland be willing to part with Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall pick? Would Houston give up James Harden? Would Golden State dish out Stephen Curry? How about Chris Paul for Melo straight up?
These GM might not say “Yes," but they’d be dumb to hang up the phone lickety-split.
Move No. 2: Trade Tyson Chandler
Is your heart racing yet? OK, let’s dial it back with something more realistic. Tyson Chandler has reinvented the Knicks defense with guile and quick wits. According to NBA.com, the Knicks were markedly better last year in true shooting, defensive rating and rebound rate when Tyson took the floor.
When he’s healthy, Tyson has the ability to transform a team and be a force. Other than Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore, there hasn’t been a more efficient NBA player in history, per Posting and Toasting. Tyson has averaged 10 points, nine rebounds and 60 percent shooting for three straight seasons and counting.
Herein lies the problem: Tyson ain’t getting any younger (30 years old and counting). Imagine Tyson Chandler on a real contender, barking out orders and frustrating offenses. Or seeing Tyson teach his mythical maneuvers and give his incredibly high field-goal percentage (his 63.3 percent would rank No. 2 in the NBA this year if uninjured) to a young squad in need of consistency.
There are plenty of takers for an All-Defense-caliber center. I’d say pair Tyson with a bad contract (Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Amar’e?) and get back some building blocks for an untarnished NBA future.
Move No. 3: Wait Until the All-Star Break
Every year, teams spring leaks around All-Star weekend. The Knicks don’t have any franchise-changing role players, but do have plenty of spare parts to plug the holes.
Wouldn’t Iman Shumpert look pretty tasty as a two-way player for a challenger like Golden State? Wouldn’t Steve Novak be a sweet add for a desperate offensive team like Memphis? Couldn’t J.R. Smith be instant help for a limbo-bound squad like Minnesota or Milwaukee?
Simply, the Knicks can hold onto their spare chips and push them to the middle at a later date.
No matter how you slice it, the Knicks are in dire straits if they choose to stand pat. As these conference finals are teaching us, it takes creative risk to challenge for the championship.
Knicks fans: Breathe. Stretch. Shake. And let the season go.
Embrace the good times, but get back to the drawing board. ASAP.