The Knicks could replace just about anyone else. If Carmelo Anthony went down, J.R. Smith could fill in admirably. If Raymond Felton went down, no problem, more minutes for Pablo Prigioni. But Chandler? This is going to be awfully hard to survive.
The Knicks have names behind the 31-year-old center, but no one who can come close to replicating his production on both ends of the floor.
The Knicks were having a hard time defending with Chandler already, as they finished just 18th in defensive efficiency last year. Without him, things could get ugly.
More minutes for Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire mean more defensive breakdowns and more easy buckets allowed. Kenyon Martin should soak up the majority of Chandler's minutes, but he's 35 years old and looks less mobile by the day.
How bad might it be? Last season, the Knicks were 3.8 points worse per 100 possessions without Chandler on the floor. That might not sound like a lot, but most games are typically decided by one or two possessions.
Chandler's production makes a huge difference, particularly when you consider that New York's backup bigs are worse defensively this year than they were last year, whether it be because of aging or a change in personnel.
It's not all about defense, though. The Knicks will miss Chandler's patented "tap outs" on the offensive glass that gain extra possessions, and they'll also miss the vertical threat of a lob pass to a more than capable finisher.
Bargnani, Stoudemire and Martin all prefer to pop off screens and shoot their jumper entirely too much, whereas Chandler was always a lock to make the defense account for his hard sprints to the front of the rim. The Knicks' guards will miss that dependability.
Chandler is slated to miss 4-to-6 weeks with his knee injury, but what will the Knicks look like when he returns? Will they be able to stay afloat without him?
The Knicks added some great depth this offseason at nearly every possession, but it's a mystery why a true center was never added behind Chandler, especially given his shaky injury history.
The Knicks have a few warm bodies in Martin and Cole Aldrich, but it's worth repeating that this was already a below-average defense even with Chandler in the lineup. This isn't a situation where Chandler's replacement can step in and play a role in the system, because for all intents and purposes, Chandler was the system.
Martin defended fairly well last year in a small sample size with the Knicks, but he defends in a very small radius. Martin rarely leaves the paint to defend pick-and-rolls, and the only time he likes to challenge shots is when they come in the paint.
Stretch big men will give Martin trouble, but it's probably not the worst thing that he doesn't over-extend himself, especially considering he'll receive almost no help from his fellow frontcourt partners if he goes outside of the paint to challenge shots.
Aldrich has the size and shot-blocking ability, but we haven't seen enough from him to know whether he's mobile enough to rotate properly or use good positioning for an occasionally leaky perimeter defense.
It's probably worth taking a chance on Aldrich, simply because we already know that Stoudemire and Bargnani are legitimately two of the worst defenders in the entire league both in terms of effort and intelligence. Metta World Peace can pitch in admirably at the 4, but he'll still need a real big man next to him.
As it stands right now, either Martin or Aldrich will have to be on the floor at all times for this not to be a complete disaster. It might be anyway, but at least those two will give the Knicks a fighting chance.
Free Agency Pickups
If the Knicks want to add a player, they would have to let go of Toure' Murry or Chris Smith. That would be a pretty easy choice if this was any team but the Knicks, but alas.
Who is available out there on the market?
Jason Collins would make some sense as a post-defender, but he might be redundant with Kenyon Martin already on the roster. Collins would at least bring size and the ability to draw charges, though, which might be worth 10 or 12 minutes a night, particularly if Aldrich struggles.
Chris Johnson is a really long, impressive athlete who can definitely block shots, but his positioning and understanding of rotations probably isn't up to par. He's also a little too light in the rear to be the only rebounding presence.
Chris Wilcox might honestly be the best option. He played well last season with the Boston Celtics, and although he's wholly unspectacular, he knows to stay in his lane and only take wide open shots, much like Chandler. Wilcox is a big body who could help stop the bleeding right away.
Before we begin, let's remind you that the Knicks traded a 2016 first round pick to Toronto for Bargnani, who offers almost no help during this worst-case scenario. The Knicks sort of made their bed this offseason with that move, and now they have to lay in it.
I bring that up not to continue to bash Bargnani, but to point out that New York doesn't have a first round pick to trade until 2018 now. Given the uncertain future of the team even for next season, it's a pick that probably shouldn't be dealt.
As far as assets on the actual roster go, there's only one real attractive piece that would bring back a good player in return, and that's Iman Shumpert. Of course, Shumpert is the team's best perimeter defender, so trading him would seem to be a little counter-productive.
J.R. Smith would likely be shopped if he could, but by league rules, Smith can't be dealt until January 15th. By that time, Chandler should already be back and playing.
First-round pick Tim Hardaway could be floated out there as well, but he's one of the only young prospects with potential on the roster, and he's the insurance policy for Smith and Anthony.
Keep in mind that no free agents signed by the Knicks this offseason can be traded until after December 15th, and that severely limits New York's ability to match salaries in any trade before then.
All that makes a deal seem very unlikely at this point, but perhaps desperate times call for desperate measures.
You can probably rule out most of the Eastern Conference playoff contenders flipping the Knicks a life preserver, so we'll look west for help at the 5 for New York in exchange for Shumpert, who is really the only viable trade piece.
The options are scarce due to Shumpert's small $1.7 million dollar deal, but the Houston Rockets have a lot of depth in the frontcourt and could really use another defender on the wing.
Perhaps a swap of Iman Shumpert for Greg Smith and Isaiah Canaan would satisfy both teams. As far as productive centers on cheap deals go, you won't find many better options than Smith. He can block shots, rebound, and use his big frame effectively on the glass.
Signing a free agent who will make a huge difference or finding a trade that doesn't sacrifice Shumpert will be pretty tough for the Knicks.
Ultimately, Mike Woodson and company may just have to grin and bear it for 4-to-6 weeks and get ready to face one of the East's top teams a little earlier in the playoffs than they might have planned.
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