2013-14 should be another entertaining season for the Knicks.
With training camp set to open at the end of the month, it's finally time to open formal conversation about the 2013-14 New York Knicks.
These Knicks appear to be as talented—if not more so—than last year's 54-win crew. Much has been made about the team's young rivalry with the crosstown Brooklyn Nets, and the two teams will certainly be in competition all season long for the Atlantic crown.
New York's roster has no shortage of narratives heading into this year, and here are the 10 most important situations to monitor over the course of their season.
Iman Shumpert is the Knicks' most intriguing young piece. He's one of the league's top perimeter defenders, and his most recent development—a lethal three-point shot—may set his previously stagnant offensive progression into motion. But the most encouraging aspect to the 23-year-old? He still hasn't gotten the chance to complete a full-length NBA season.
Shortly after being drafted in 2011, the league's lockout begun. Some months later, The first seven weeks of Shumpert's NBA career were stolen from him. When the league finally resumed activity on Dec. 25, the rookie injured himself after 22 minutes against the Boston Celtics.
He performed well enough that year to take home First Team All-Rookie honors, but all good sentiments vanished immediately when Shumpert tore his ACL in the Knicks' first playoff game that year.
The injury cost him a second consecutive summer league and training camp, and the first 37 games of 2012-13.
Shumpert clearly struggled in his first month back with the Knicks. He shot a grotesque 31 percent from the field and averaged just over five points through his initial 24 games. From there on out, though, it was smooth sailing for the swingman. Between March 13 and April 17, Shumpert shot 48 percent from the floor and 44 percent on threes, raising his scoring to nearly nine points per game.
Though he came back in February, the Knicks were without the real Shumpert until mid-March.
During the Knicks' most recent postseason, Shumpert was possibly the team's most consistent weapon. His athleticism and defending kept the Knicks alive, and his 43-percent three-point clip made an impact on the other end.
This will be Shumpert's first full training camp with the Knicks, and it comes well after he's established himself as an NBA starter and key cog to the team's success.
If there's any Knicks player destined to make a leap into the next tier of NBA player, Shumpert would be as good a bet as any.
After 29 games and two knee surgeries in 2012-13, we probably won't see the dominant Amar'e Stoudemire of old ever again.
According to a July report from the New York Post, Stoudemire may be put on a 20-minute restriction for the entire season—and banned from playing in both ends of back-to-backs—in an effort to preserve the 6'11" scorer for a full season. Should that be the case, it'll be a miracle if he could return to full health ever again.
Stoudemire's minutes were limited last season upon his return from an October knee debridement, but not enough as it turned out. Mike Woodson was ordered to keep S.T.A.T. under 30 minutes nightly in order to keep him fresh.
During an early-March stretch in which the Knicks played four games in five nights, Woodson ran Stoudemire out for 21, 31, 32 and 29 minutes, respectively. They were the last minutes he would play that season.
Stoudemire received a second knee debridement later that month, and he was shelved until the Knicks' playoff series with the Indiana Pacers. Even then, he was limited to 15 minutes per game.
Last season proved Knicks fans' worst fear true: that Stoudemire's knees are just as brittle as insurance companies suspected they'd be in 2010.
When healthy, Amar'e's performance last year was about as great as could be expected. His PER stacked up against the top players in the league, and he posted the second-highest field-goal percentage of his career. After a small adjustment period, Stoudemire was simply a scoring machine.
A machine that wasn't without its malfunctions, unfortunately. Stoudemire may never be able to weather a full season ever again. And for a player that's on the hook for more than $40 million through 2015, it's even more crippling to the Knicks' cap flexibility.
2013 was a banner season for the Knicks, as they took home their first Atlantic Division title since 1994. They'll no doubt be hoping to repeat greatness in 2014, and history says they have a great chance to do so.
Dating back to the franchise's inception in 1946, they've won their division—whether it be the Eastern or Atlantic—a total of eight times.
Excluding last season's title, all but one of those division championships (1989) have come in back-to-back years.
1953 and 1954. 1970 and 1971. 1993 and 1994. Aside from the '89 division-winning year and last season's No. 2 team in the East, those are all division-topping teams in Knicks history.
According to the record books, the Knickerbockers tend to dominate almost exclusively in repeat fashion. The Brooklyn Nets are a viable candidate to threaten them for the throne in 2014, but at least New York has history on its side.
Eyeing the Knicks' roster today brings about a much different vibe than a year ago. No longer will opponents be taking on their washed up childhood heroes, but rather a much deeper lineup of ballers in their prime.
The mean age of every Knick to suit up last season equated to a seasoned 31 years old. Iman Shumpert was the team's lone player under 27, and they relied on the has-been trio of Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas to back up Tyson Chandler at center.
With Camby, Wallace, Thomas and Jason Kidd all parting ways after one-year stops in New York, the 14 players currently under contract with the Knicks average out to be just over 28—far from youthful, but nowhere close to the retirement-home-esque collection of Knicks from 2012-13.
The mean age of external offseason additions (Tim Hardaway Jr., Beno Udrih, Metta World Peace, Jeremy Tyler, C.J. Leslie and Andrea Bargnani) comes out to a crisp 26.
So detractors can toss out their lists of "old" jokes when it comes to the Knicks. They'll have to be a bit more creative this season.
Before 2012-13, aside from a few experiments sprinkled in, Carmelo Anthony had never manned any position beside small forward.
And it seemed like things would stay that way even just weeks before the season opener. With Amar'e Stoudemire and his $20 million salary manning the power forward and Anthony much too powerful and covetous to be used at a guard, 'Melo seemed cemented as traditional power forward for the foreseeable future.
But when it was announced just days before the season was set to start that Stoudemire would need surgery and would miss a significant amount of time, panic ensued among the Knicks community.
Sure, the team had Kurt Thomas available for spot minutes at the 4—and ditto for Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace—but there was no full-time option at the power forward behind Stoudemire.
After a few minutes at the spot on opening night against the Miami Heat, it was clear that Anthony could more than hold his own against opposing 4s. There, he was seldom matched up with a quicker opponent, and defensive assignments no longer consisted of chasing player around the perimeter or running through screens.
After a full season at the position, Anthony took home his first scoring title, finished fourth in PER, and had one of the better defensive seasons we've seen from him. Synergy had him as better than roughly 90 percent of qualified post defenders.
But after the offseason addition of Andrea Bargnani, it appears that Anthony's days at the 4 are over before a second season.
With Stoudemire already on the roster—now in a reserve role—Bargnani has little competition to start at the power forward slot. Benching him isn't an option, as a defensive pairing of Bargnani and Stoudemire would be akin to a Knicks forfeiture.
An Anthony-Bargnani duo has been discussed at length this summer, and valid arguments have been made for both sides. Ciaran Gowan of Bleacher Report penned a solid piece defending the move, bringing up plenty of material that insinuates Anthony will be in a similar offensive setting, despite a position switch. Bargnani plays less like a traditional power forward and more along the perimeter, giving Anthony the spacing he needed to put on his dominating 2012-13 campaign.
So Anthony will more than likely return to the small forward for the majority of his minutes. But there's evidence to support that his production shouldn't deviate from last season all that greatly.
By winning 54 games, the Knicks solidified themselves as one of the Eastern Conference's elite. They finished with a greater record than each team in the conference sans champion Miami Heat, a much-needed rejuvenation for a franchise that's dealt with too much mediocrity over the last decade.
Unfortunately, despite improving the team this summer, there remains the possibility that they could be overtaken by three or four East teams this season. Let's run through the list:
The Miami Heat have maintained the majority of their roster from last year, and are on the heels of back-to-back championships. They employ the game's most dominant human being in LeBron James, and it'd be foolish to expect anything other than greatness from them again.
The Indiana Pacers fell one game short of the NBA Finals, almost pulling off the upset of Miami in the process. Paul George solidified himself as one of the game's up-and-coming elite, and the team's defense was nothing short of spectacular over the course of the season.
All that in itself would be enough to suspect a huge 2013-14 season, but we haven't even discussed the return of Danny Granger, who missed most of last season with knee troubles.
Granger, formerly assumed to be Indiana's finest piece and No. 1 weapon, is set to return at the onset of the season. He'll be paired with George, who naturally plays the same position as Granger, so it'll be interesting to watch how that unfolds.
The Bulls' defense finished second in the East in efficiency, only to Indy. Like the Pacers, their defending is enough to keep them in games versus most squads, and the return of Rose should improve the offense enough to immediately make Chicago a favorite for a top-three seed.
Then there are the Brooklyn Nets, who managed to improve their roster and get out from under Gerald Wallace's contract while handicapped just as much financially as New York.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett give Deron Williams two all-star-caliber weapons in addition to Joe Johnson—a six-time All-Star—and Brook Lopez—possibly the most offensively gifted center in the league.
Brooklyn undoubtedly will contend for the Atlantic Division crown, but Pierce and Garnett's age may prove to be a factor over the 82 games. Even without the pair of former Boston teammates, the Nets have the offensive firepower to take on even Indiana and Chicago's defense.
The Knicks proved last season that they can compete with the class of the East, but that class is about to become much more competitive in 2014. New York made their own commendable improvements as well, so it'll be interesting to see where exactly they fall amongst the revamped East powerhouses.
We've discussed how Indiana and Chicago's defending contributed majorly to their 2012-13 success. Last season, the Knicks' defense played a part in the exact opposite fashion.
All year long, New York's defense presented dramatic issues, even against much lesser opponents. Their defensive efficiency fell in the bottom half of the league, while no recent eventual champion has ever ranked lower than seventh.
Whether it was undisciplined and too-frequent switching on simple pick-and-rolls or unwise and premature double-teams, Mike Woodson's defense—what he prided himself on as a coach heading into his Knicks tenure—was utterly unimpressive.
I'm not one to drop a "defense wins championships" cliche, but it's important to note that the Knicks' defense last year resembled nothing close to a title-worthy roster's. And New York was supposedly a team aspiring to knock off Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It's not all that complicated. The Knicks must play better defense, or they'll find themselves being sent home just as early as last spring.
For sure, the addition of Metta World Peace should play a part in an improvement, as will full seasons from Iman Shumpert and Kenyon Martin and a healthy Tyson Chandler. But without a better approach, the Knicks' brilliant scoring efforts will be worth nothing.
After being laughed out of Portland with weight troubles, Raymond Felton vowed to shed 20 pounds before the 2012-13 season. After an impressive return to New York, the point guard is determined once again.
According to ESPN New York, Felton has dropped another 15 pounds for training camp, hoping to be even quicker than he was a season ago.
Weight wasn't an issue for Felton last year when he averaged 14 points and 5.5 assists for the Knicks on 36-percent three-shooting. His ability to split two defenders is among the best of all starting point guards already, and shedding some bulk could make Felton even more of a threat.
His primary faults—occasional poor decision-making with the ball, an inability to finish at the rim—aren't directly linked to Felton's fitness. Added strength to couple with the dropped pounds would doubly benefit Felton, so we'll see what condition he truly shows up to camp in later this month.
When the offseason began, it was wondered by many if the Knicks would be able to improve at all this summer, with barely any financial resources at the team's disposal.
They're a team significantly over the salary cap, and had no exceptions to spend except the $3 million mini-midlevel and veteran's minimum contracts. J.R. Smith, the Knicks' second option on offense, was a candidate to skip town as well. Let's recap how Glen Grunwald and Co. handled all this:
On draft night, the team selected Tim Hardaway Jr., who may not fit into the team's current plans—the backcourt is pretty jammed with talent heading into the year—but was the best player available. They later signed undrafted free agent C.J. Leslie, who gives the Knicks raw talent and depth as a combo forward.
Using Early Bird rights, the team re-signed J.R. Smith to an expensive-but-reasonable three-year, $17 million deal with an option for a fourth.
After speculation from the New York Post (in an article that has since been deleted) that Pablo Prigioni might return home or sign with another NBA team, he eventually re-signed with the Knicks for just a portion of the MLE. They put the other half to use by signing Metta World Peace to a two-year deal after the veteran was amnestied by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Center Jeremy Tyler showed great development in the summer league, and New York inked the 22-year-old to a contract, providing some depth behind Tyson Chandler. The team further deepened its frontcourt by bringing back Kenyon Martin on a vet's minimum salary.
Finally, Beno Udrih was brought on as a veteran option at the point, enabling Mike Woodson to run out new versions of his successful dual-point-guard lineups from a season ago.
Udrih's per-36 career numbers of 13.9 points and 5.5 assists are the exact same marks as Raymond Felton's game averages from 2012-13. Udrih is a career 35-percent three-point shooter as well.
The team's front office essentially checked off every item on the grocery list this offseason, which was incredibly unlikely considering its financial handicap entering the summer.
It'll be looming over the organization's collective head the entire season: Carmelo Anthony will likely use his early termination option this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent seeking a new max-level deal.
Opting out makes financial sense for Anthony, as he can receive a long-term lucrative deal sooner rather than later. ESPN's Ian Begley broke down the exact figures earlier in the offseason:
If he chooses to opt out and sign with another team, he can sign a four-year contract worth $95,897,372, according to calculations by ESPN salary cap guru Larry Coon. If Anthony opts out and re-signs with the Knicks, he can sign a five-year contract worth $129,135,806. That's a difference of $33,238,434.
He can receive greater financial stability if he chooses to remain a Knick. Similarly, Dwight Howard could've received the same had he chose to remain a Los Angeles Laker. Choosing to evade an unfavorable situation, he signed a shorter deal worth less money to be a Houston Rocket.
It is of the utmost importance for the Knicks to ensure that Anthony never feels this way about New York.
The situation becomes all the more uncertain when you consider that the Knicks' 2013-14 fortune could directly determine Anthony's free agency, but that Anthony's performance directly affects the Knicks' 2013-14 success. The proverbial ball is in Carmelo's court.
The Knicks will be competing against teams like the Lakers with cap flexibility to present an offer to Anthony that'll be nearly impossible to pass up: the chance to play with LeBron James or another max-contract player.
But the Knicks will offer 'Melo a similar chance. Their 2015 books should have room for a max deal to pair with Anthony's. If not, they'll give their hometown superstar a chance to do what not many have done: lead the hometown team to the promised land, as the unquestioned No 1 option.
In the end, if the Knicks prove to Anthony that they can provide him the best chance to win a championship, they won't have to worry about a thing.
Follow me on Twitter @JSDorn6.