6 Reasons Why the New York Knicks Won't Win the 2013-14 NBA Championship
The New York Knicks think they are going to win the 2013-14 NBA championship. Shooting guard J.R. Smith says he is "100 percent sure" that they will, via Marc Raimondi of the New York Post. Owner James Dolan also expects a ring, according to ESPN.com.
They are wrong. The Knicks have a lot of talent, and it would be surprising if they did not make the playoffs. But they also have some significant weaknesses. They don't have a championship-caliber defense, and their offense sputters when Smith and Carmelo Anthony are held in check.
The biggest reason the Knicks won't end their title drought has nothing to do with them, though. Their competition in the East is insurmountable. Four other teams in the conference have legitimate claims to being the league's best squad, and one of them has the greatest player since Michael Jordan.
There are also other factors to consider. Here are the top-six reasons why the Knicks won't win the 2013-14 championship.
Head Coach Mike Woodson
Mike Woodson enters the season on shaky ground. Knicks fans lost faith in the head coach after their second-round playoff exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers last May. Woodson relied heavily on the inconsistent J.R. Smith, even though the guard was in the midst of an untimely shooting slump.
Meanwhile, capable scorers like Steve Novak and Chris Copeland sat idly on the bench for most of the series. He also played an aging Jason Kidd over the energetic Pablo Prigioni, adding to New York's offensive woes.
His counterpart, Frank Vogel, skillfully directed the Pacers' balanced offense and suffocating defense, giving the Knicks a glimpse of the type of coach they might need to make the leap into the league's elite.
Woodson must now coach with uncertain job security. A mediocre start to the year could lead to his firing, especially since owner James Dolan seems willing to shake things up. In September, Dolan fired general manager Glen Grunwald just four days before training camp began.
It may just be that Woodson, who has never reached the conference finals, is a good coach but not one likely to win a championship.
It's often said that a player or a team doesn't have a championship-winning attitude. A lot of the time, these claims have little demonstrable reasoning and can be emphatically disproved (see: Eli Manning).
However, one can argue that the Knicks do have character problems that undermine their championship hopes and back it up with evidence. Sure, there are players on the roster who have won championships and seem ready to do so again. For example, Tyson Chandler is a confident but controlled competitor with a ring to prove it.
The same cannot be said for Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, arguably the team's two most important players. The duo is many years removed from the Knicks-Nuggets brawl that once defined their immaturity. Yet, more recent incidents show that they still might not be ready to lead a team to a title.
Anthony, in one of last season's more memorable moments, had to be separated from Kevin Garnett in a January game against the Celtics. Apparently, Garnett's insensitive comments about Anthony's wife upset the Knicks forward so much that he pursued Garnett to the locker room, earning himself a one-game suspension.
What's stopping Garnett from getting under Anthony's skin again in their four regular season games or in the playoffs if the Nets and Knicks meet?
J.R. Smith is equally volatile if not more so. He did an admirable job of keeping his composure and shedding his rough-and-tumble label for the majority of last year. And then, he clocked Jason Terry with an elbow in the playoffs. Smith's poor decision proved to be a turning point as the Knicks never really regained their momentum and ultimately fell to the Pacers in the next round.
When the Knicks are healthy, they can compete with any team in the NBA. But that stipulation is far from a guarantee as we begin the 2013-14 season.
Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, 60 percent of the Knicks' starting lineup, combined to miss 45 games last year. While it seems like the three have recovered from their respective injuries, the underlying truth is that these core players are aging. Problematic health is no longer a possibility for the trio. It's more like an occupational reality.
Anthony is still only 29 but is entering his 11th professional season and has logged over 700 games. Earlier in the year, the star forward admitted, "I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent," according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.
Chandler is 31 and has played in almost 800 games. He has returned this season with (alleged) complete health, a new jump shot and a desire to prove that his poor 2013 playoff performance was a compromised effort.
Current injuries are also on Knicks fans' minds. J.R. Smith was recently cleared to play (although he must now serve a five-game suspension) after recovering from knee surgery. The 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year made a shrewd financial decision in admittedly delaying the procedure this summer until he had signed a big contract.
But Smith's bank account won't help the Knicks win a championship, and we've yet to see him log serious minutes on that repaired left meniscus.
And, at this point, the Knicks will take whatever they can get out of Amar'e Stoudemire, who played only 29 games last season and had yet another surgery this summer. The forward's eggshell knees have turned him from the face of the franchise into mostly an afterthought.
Every team has health concerns. But for the Knicks in particular, costly injuries loom at every tipoff.
Lack of Offensive Versatility
Offense might not seem like something the Knicks need to worry about entering the season. They were third in the NBA last year with 108.6 points per 100 possessions, according to ESPN.com. Carmelo Anthony won the scoring title and was a threat every night to break out for 40 or more points. J.R. Smith was a devastating option off the bench.
The problem with the offense, though, is that it's built for cumulative regular season success and not for postseason adaptability. The Knicks rely heavily on isolation, as they have two of the NBA's best one-on-one players in Anthony and Smith. They had the lowest assist rate in the NBA, according to Grantland.com's Zach Lowe, but still ran away from most of the East to the tune of 54 wins.
However, the postseason provides a new challenge. The Knicks will be facing the league's best teams and their stronger defenses. Any opponent that wields a shutdown defender can throw a wrench into the Knicks' strategy. If Anthony and Smith can't combine for their standard 45 to 55 points, New York's offense is suddenly impotent.
The Knicks do have other serviceable scorers. Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler run an effective pick-and-roll game and the duo of Andrea Bargnani and Iman Shumpert provide long-range accuracy. But, these players benefit from teams overplaying Anthony and Smith and aren't as capable of creating opportunities independently.
So, the Knicks seem doomed to repeat last year's playoff failures. They may cruise through the regular season, but long and strong defenders like Paul George, LeBron James, Shane Battier, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng could disrupt their unbalanced offensive flow come the postseason.
The Knicks are certainly not bad at defense. They have Tyson Chandler, the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, at center, and the aggressive ball-hound Iman Shumpert on the wing.
But they also have a lot of holes. Raymond Felton was a poor defender last year, according to Bleacher Report's own Ciaran Gowan, and faces potentially problematic playoff matchups in Derrick Rose and Deron Williams. Carmelo Anthony has a reputation of being an apathetic defender. J.R. Smith's defense has improved under the tutelage of Woodson, but he still is prone to silly fouls and risky decisions.
And while the Knicks did make several important acquisitions in the offseason, none truly addressed their middling defense. Metta World Peace's lockdown abilities are mostly a thing of the past, and big man Andrea Bargnani is known more for shooting the three than protecting the rim.
The preseason has confirmed concerns about the Knicks' defense. The team ranked dead last in several defensive categories, according to Scott Cacciola of the New York Times, including defending half-court sets and post-ups. The preseason is a time for experimentation and usually isn't an accurate predictor of the regular season. But those numbers are still troubling.
Remember when the Eastern Conference was laughable compared to the Western Conference? When Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan counted rings while a .500 record might earn a team a No. 6 seed in the East? Those days are over.
The obvious example of the regional power shift is the Miami Heat, the winners of the last two NBA Finals. LeBron James' quest for his first three-peat is enough by itself to pose as a major obstacle for the Knicks.
But, there's also suddenly great depth to the conference. The Pacers, who already proved in last year's playoffs that they could push the Knicks around, improved in the offseason. Indiana has a budding two-way superstar in Paul George, and they addressed their weak bench this past summer by acquiring Luis Scola and Chris Copeland, a former Knick.
Meanwhile, Chicago welcomes back Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP and a top-five player when healthy, to a team that pushed the Heat to five games in the conference semifinals despite a multitude of injuries.
And finally, the Knicks' crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Nets, are benefiting from owner Mikhail Prokhorov's stated intention to spend his way to a title. In the biggest move of the summer, the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in a trade with the Celtics.
The Knicks' best chance may have been last year, with Rose absent and the incomplete and inconsistent Nets experiencing some growing pains. This year, the East is stacked.