Meet the 2013-14 New York Knicks, who are as promising and dysfunctional as ever.
Last season, the Knicks enjoyed their most successful campaign in nearly two decades. But that was last year. Trumpeting their past success plus $2 will get them a bus ticket. The future is more important, because it's here now.
2012-13 Record: 54-28
Atlantic Division Finish: First
Eastern Conference Finish: Second
Postseason Finish: Lost to Indiana Pacers in Eastern Conference semifinals.
Winning the Atlantic Division was a breath of fresh air. It was New York's first division title since 1994, and it reminded us of why the Knicks remain one of the most prominent franchises in all of sports. Now that the division monkey is off their backs, and a playoff series victory under their belt, they're able to zero in on contending for a title.
That was also true last spring. Fresh off a division title, the Knicks appeared poised to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Injuries to Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo helped shift the playoff scales in the Knicks' favor. But they failed to get out of the second round, falling to the Pacers courtesy of an anemic offense and absence of rebounding.
Their poor postseason performance has followed them into 2013-14, where the Knicks will be playing for more than a title. Carmelo Anthony can become a free agent after this season, and if they're to retain him, they'll need more than the $129 million they can offer him. They'll need results. Postseason results.
One more premature playoff exit, and the Knicks could find themselves without the superstar they've built everything around.
Key Additions and Losses
New York just couldn't let the Brooklyn Nets have all the fun.
The Knicks took the NBA by surprise as it prepared for free agency to get underway when they struck a deal with the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani. As a former No. 1 pick, Bargs brings scoring, size, bouncy hair and more scoring to the Big Apple.
Though he's missed a combined 82 games over the past two seasons, Bargs has averaged over 15 points a night for his career and is only two seasons removed from notching over 20.
Subpar defense and rebounding will pose problems should the Knicks ever run with the 7-footer at center, but the team needed a No. 2 scorer. With Amar'e Stoudemire constantly injured, J.R. Smith breaking laws and notoriously erratic and no money to spend, the Knicks made the most of their offseason situation. And propensity for forking out future first-round draft picks, of course.
Metta World Peace
Picking up Metta World Peace after he was amnestied by the Los Angeles Lakers was a no-brainer.
Including Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler, World Peace is the best defender the Knicks have. He's a ferocious rebounder and one of the few players in the league who can battle in the post while locking down dribble penetration on the perimeter.
With the Knicks hurting for size and interior competency, don't be surprised if the 33-year-old World Peace makes recurrent appearances as a starter and/or sees time defending opposing centers.
Beno Udrih was one of the most underrated offseason additions of any team.
In Udrih, the Knicks landed a solid playmaker and, more importantly for their purposes, a lethal spot-up shooter who can make plays on or off the ball. For a team heavily invested in isolation-heavy scorers—Anthony, Smith, Bargs—the Knicks needed shooters.
Having that third point guard next to Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton is especially important if the Knicks continue to experiment with combo-guard lineups. They were 38-14 when they started two points guards last season, and the addition of a third allows Mike Woodson to try something similar again without sacrificing depth on the bench.
Happy trails, Stevie.
Steve Novak was sent to Toronto as part of the Bargnani deal. Though he averaged just 6.6 points per game last season, he connected on 42.5 percent of deep balls, proving himself to be a deadly floor spacer once again.
Losing him doesn't seem like a huge deal, what with Bargs coming and all. But the Knicks were 31-7 last season when Novak attempted at least five treys. Not made—attempted.
Unless Tim Hardaway Jr. emerges as a three-point juggernaut without him, Novak is a weapon they're going to miss.
Jason Kidd left in the worst way—retiring, only to set up shop as Brooklyn's head coach.
More than anything, Kidd will be missed for his leadership and on-court savvy. He was one of New York's best three-point shooters during the regular season and while he was held scoreless in the final 10 playoff games, he was, for the most part, a consistent contributor.
His departure makes Udrih that much more important.
By now, it's become clear Stoudemire will never be more than a glorified role player, if that.
Knee injuries kept him limited throughout training camp and the preseason. He played in just one exhibition game, during which he logged 12 minutes and recorded six points, one block, one steal, three turnovers and four fouls.
STAT is owed over $45 million these next two years, so the Knicks need him to contribute. Problem is, he's missed 72 games the past two seasons. Working hard hasn't helped him, taking it easy hasn't helped and it's unclear whether a perpetual minutes cap will help him, either.
Anthony came to New York to play with Stoudemire, to form a superteam. An inability for STAT to remain productive and make an impact restricts New York's ceiling considerably, while making 'Melo's decision over the summer that much harder.
To Go Big, or Not to Go Big
Playing small ball helped the Knicks secure 54 victories and a division title last season. Anthony had a career year at the 4, and New York shot its way to second place in the Eastern Conference.
Bargnani's arrival changes things, as it looks like Woodson will shift 'Melo back to the 3 and start Bargs at the 4. Although such a change makes sense, the pairing looked rocky at best during the preseason.
Neither 'Melo nor Bargnani are accustomed to playing alongside one another, and their collective defensive shortcomings leave the Knicks vulnerable in Woodson's preferred area of focus.
'Melo has preached patience, but Woodson, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman, has made it clear he'll bring Bargnani off the bench if necessary.
The Knicks gambled big on their current roster, and the best way to maximize their potential might be to remain small.
Carmelo Anthony's Free Agency
Sadly, this is already an issue.
Anthony came out point blank and said he wanted to explore free agency. And you know what? The world didn't implode. And it's not going to.
This is going to be a topic of discussion until July and beyond. Anthony is a top-10 superstar. Players of his caliber don't hit the open market every year. Everything the Knicks do will be judged in terms of "How will Carmelo Anthony react?" because it has to be that way.
Funny Tragic part is, we're not going to get any answers midseason. 'Melo won't come out and say "I'm leaving" or "I intend to re-sign." When the season's over and free agency begins, then we'll know what's coming next.
Hope y'all enjoy nine months worth of free-agency talk that gets you nowhere.
Depth Chart Breakdown and Grades
Here's a shot of how New York's depth chart looks heading into the regular season:
|Point Guard||Raymond Felton||Pablo Prigioni||Beno Udrih||Chris Smith|
|Shooting Guard||Iman Shumpert||J.R. Smith||Tim Hardaway Jr.||Toure' Murry|
|Small Forward||Carmelo Anthony||Metta World Peace|
|Power Forward||Andrea Bargnani||Amar'e Stoudemire||Kenyon Martin|
|Center||Tyson Chandler||Cole Aldrich|
For a comprehensive breakdown of how every member of the Knicks' roster stacks up against each, check out Ciaran Gowan's take here.
What the Knicks aren't short on is point guards.
Prig, Udrih and Felton aren't stars, but they're all serviceable floor generals who can play on or off the ball. Once again, for this team, that's huge.
At 36, health is an issue for Prig. His minutes, like Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin's, will have to be limited. Still, he's New York's best defensive point guard. Full-court presses are all he knows.
When he's on, Felton is a strong scorer and distributor. His pick-and-roll defense is poor and he can get out of control on the break, but he's sheer energy. The elderly Knicks need that.
Finally, there's Udrih. As previously discussed, he's going to be a lethal asset on the offensive end if Woodson can find him consistent playing time.
Actually, I lied. There's Chris Smith, who's somewhere between a 1 and 2. He'll spend most of the season playing in the D-League...unless his brother's contract stipulates he gets meaningful playing time as well.
At some point we're going to look at New York's shooting guard situation and realize it's among the deepest in the Eastern Conference.
Swish needs to stay healthy. And sober. And somewhat efficient. At his core, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year is a volume scorer who will play strong defense in spurts. That's not going to change. Last year, it was a good thing. This year, well, we'll just have to wait and see.
Speaking of backstabbers who buzzed off their flattops because they're jerks but not really, Shumpert is due for a breakout. I swear I'm not blowing smoke up his you know what. His strong perimeter defense is a given. As is his athleticism. Shooting has always been his Achilles' heel, but he shot over 40 percent from deep during the postseason and came up strong in the preseason, too.
Pencil in Hardaway for some serious minutes, and then get excited about it. The man can shoot. Like maybe-he'll-replace-Steve-Novak shoot. Ball-handling remains an issue, but he seems committed to improving.
Sign Toure' Murry up for sporadic contributions as well. Injuries inevitably catch up with the Knicks. One or two players go down, and he could wind up serving in the interim.
Really, the Knicks have one small forward. Anthony is going to play the 4 again. Somehow, some way. Mark my words.
Positional politics dictate we talk about Anthony as if he is a 3, though. So let's go.
Despite what proponents of ball movement think, 'Melo is great; he's a superstar. Scoring titles aren't won by obscure ball hogs; he's more than that. Passing out of double-teams is something he needs to improve, but he's become a more efficient three-point shooter and solidified his status as the third-best small forward in the game behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Sorry, Paul George.
Words can't express how much a healthy World Peace will mean to the Knicks. Like 'Melo, he can play the 3 or 4. And unlike 'Melo, I'm convinced he'll spend time defending Roy Hibbert at some point. 'Nuff said.
Bargs needs help at the 4. A lot of help. Stoudemire and Martin are the only other authentic power forwards on the roster, and they're constantly injured. Plus, Bargs is injured himself.
The important thing to remember here is that the Knicks are going to play small. STAT and Martin will spend time in and out of the lineup—sometimes on purpose—and 'Melo and World Peace will be called upon to pitch in.
Still, the lack of healthy depth here is chilling. Between the three of them, they combined for 82 appearances last season. Yeah, I know, awful.
There's loads of talent here, but more so than any position, too much of its potential is predicated on "what ifs."
This is going to be fun. Potentially awful, too.
If Cole Aldrich receives playing time, you know the Knicks are in trouble. Or, you know, that they're the Knicks.
Chandler is the only viable center on this roster. STAT and Bargs have the size to play the 5, but they don't have the defensive or rebounding chops to do so alongside Anthony. They're also fragile. As is Chandler.
On second thought, count on Aldrich playing.
What To Watch For
Breakout Player Prediction: Iman Shumpert
This is all provided he stays healthy. His explosiveness was back during the preseason, and he's put some more elbow grease on that jumper of his. Defense has always been his strong suit, making him New York's best and, one of its only, two-way players. Don't be surprised if he finishes the season as the Knicks' second-best player, too.
Team MVP Prediction: Carmelo Anthony
I was going to go with Aldrich on this one, but that seemed too obvious.
The Knicks will go as far as Anthony and his shoulder and jump shot can take them this season. End of story.
Most Disappointing Player Prediction: J.R. Smith
To be fair, Smith is going to score; it's what he does. Something about this season doesn't feel right. After he's served his suspension, I'm wondering if his knee will hinder him further on the defensive end and if he won't settle for more jumpers for fear of re-injuring himself.
For the record, he could also repeat as Sixth Man of the Year.
Player Most Likely to Be Trade: J.R. Smith
Come on, you knew this was coming. Swish has been one-part headache, two-parts instant offense since joining the Knicks. If Hardaway and Shumpert have solid seasons, and the Knicks show a penchant for dual-point guard lineups, he could become expendable.
It could also be a part of an elaborate plan to become players in free agency this summer. If the Knicks deal Felton and Smith for expiring deals, then manage to dump the expiring pacts of STAT (funny, right?), Chandler and Bargs this summer, they'll have cap space. But that's just me thinking aloud.
Biggest Rivalry: Brooklyn Nets
Certain players who shall remain nameless have participated in numerous back-and-forths since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett arrived in Brooklyn. Pretty much everyone has the Nets winning the Atlantic Division (I don't), so this is a rivalry to watch all year. And it's one that could have serious playoff implications as well.
Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios
Let's get this pile of depression out of the way, shall we?
Injuries and health and blah, blah, blah, because of course. Beyond that, New York could crumble beneath a series of bad decisions. Like going big, for one. Insisting that Smith start, for two. And finding out that Anthony is no longer the best scorer in the game, for three.
Brooklyn's revamped roster comes into play here, too. Should Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Pierce and Garnett all remain healthy, they could steal the Atlantic Division crown from a Knicks franchise that spent almost two decades trying to get it back.
And yeah, that health thing.
Worst-Case Finish: 45-37; second in Atlantic Division; fifth or sixth in Eastern Conference.
The Knicks improve upon last year's offensive dynamics.
They haven't been built to defend since before Woodson took the reins, and that hasn't changed now. Finding a way to play 'Melo at the 4 while spacing the floor with an inordinate amount of shooters will allow them to string together victories the way they did last season.
Also, health won't prove to be an issue. STAT will play in more than 50 games, Shumpert's reckless rim attacks won't result in further injury and 'Melo's shoulder will be OK. Chandler's neck will be in tip-top shape, too.
Finally, their depth would dominate. Udrih, World Peace and Hardaway will transition into the rotation seamlessly, and the added firepower off the bench will help keep 'Melo and STAT fresh, and teams like the Chicago Bulls and Pacers at bay.
Best-Case Finish: 55-27; first in Atlantic Division; second or third in Eastern Conference.
How Will It Ultimately Play Out?
Just because the Knicks (probably) won't win 54 games again this year, doesn't mean they're not better.
Where will the Knicks finish in the Eastern Conference this season?
The Eastern Conference is so much deeper this season compared to last. The Bulls, Pacers, Nets and, now, the Washington Wizards are all factions who can make New York's life difficult. Word is the Miami Heat are still the Miami Heat as well.
At the same time, people tend to underestimate the Knicks. Whether that's because they're not a fan of Bargs, don't realize 'Melo is awesome or that they're ignorant to the depth this team actually has is irrelevant. The Knicks are going to be fine. Fine, I tell you.
They may not finish second in the conference, and they may not win a title, but they're going to be good. Really good. At the very least, there's a second straight division championship in the works.
Projected Finish: 50-32; first in Atlantic Division; third or fourth in Eastern Conference.