Key Storylines for NY Knicks So Far This Season
At 3-8, the New York Knicks haven't garnered a ton of positive press through the season's first three weeks. Just one win has come against a team with a record better than .500, and New York—presumed to have gotten younger this season—is already fighting an onslaught of injuries.
As business tends to go for the Big Apple's basketball squad, there's been plenty to talk about—pertaining to both on- and off-court futility; however, we could've presumed that before training camp even started, when owner James Dolan replaced Glen Grunwald as general manager—for seemingly no reason at all—just days before players reported.
Very little has tended to go right for the Knicks through the first 11 games, which is just the opposite of this point last season when they were 8-3. Fans have already began to liken this year's campaign to the eerie early 2000s: the beginning of a long, dark era in team history.
Although it's a bit early to make such drastic comparisons, it's clear that New York must cure its ills soon, or the headlines will pack even harder punches than the ones right now.
Dolan Striking Again? Iman Shumpert, NY's Best Two-Way Player, Could Be Dealt
We got our first taste of James Dolan's disdain for Iman Shumpert, New York's 23-year-old clamp-artist and best two-way asset, last winter, when the team seemed to be actively shopping him for mediocre-at-best returns. Wisely, Glen Grunwald resisted the pressure to deal his youngest player, who was arguably the Knicks' most consistent player during last year's postseason.
It wasn't long before the rumor mill started up again.
Last July, Azaz of The Knicks Fanblog discovered video of ESPN's Stephen A. Smith privately admitting to Dwight Howard that Dolan nearly sent Shumpert, entering his third pro season, packing for refusing to participate in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Word surfaced earlier this week, via B/R's Jared Zwerling, that New York wanted to ship the swingman to Boston later in the summer. You could speculate that this may have been the move that Grunwald, a good basketball mind, didn't make, resulting in his abrupt exit.
It's only a matter of time until Dolan gets his wish, however, as Shumpert's name has been connected to several trade talks all season long.
Frank Isola reported that New York offered him to the Denver Nuggets before being shut down and have dangled him to the Boston Celtics while trying to make a play for Rajon Rondo. Even a deal with the Sacramento Kings has been tossed around, per Isola.
Whatever the deal and as senseless as it may be, it seems as if Shumpert is surely on his way out of New York. Who would defend the perimeter without him, you ask? Who cares! As long as you understand that Dolan's in charge here, he's getting everything he wants.
The rumors are clearly affecting Shumpert's play, compounding the Knicks' troubles. After posting a 40-percent mark from downtown last year, he's down to a 34-percent mark from three and just 41 from the field. When it comes to body language, the last time Shumpert cracked a smile, he may have still been rocking the flat top.
He and coach Mike Woodson have been at odds sporadically through the coach's tenure, and Woody has certainly been guilty of neglecting Shumpert proper minutes. No situation has been more telling of Woodson's frustrations, though, than Wednesday night, after Shumpert committed a foul on Paul George as he shot a last-second three. It was a questionable call, but George sank all three freebies and Indiana went on to win in overtime.
"I looked at the tape. He got [George] on his elbow, and Joey [Crawford] made the right call, " Woodson said, via Chris Herring.
It's unusual for Woodson to critique any of his players to that extent immediately after a game, but the coach showed no such restraint Wednesday.
Woodson threw another jab postgame, according to the New York Post, when he said that Shumpert "lazily" defended the shot, despite the fact that he held George to a pedestrian 12-of-26 clip and played superb defense all game long. Woodson doesn't throw his own players under the bus. This was certainly noteworthy.
For the record, the Knicks posted a defensive efficiency of 96 with Shumpert on the floor and 116 with him off against Indiana (via NBA.com).
The sketchy Knicks organization is doing everything it can to paint Shumpert a villian, as to warm fans up to an upcoming deal. After Isola dug up news that the player underwent a minor knee procedure last summer, official team sources immediately turned to Marc Berman of the New York Post, declaring that they were abiding by Shumpert's wishes in not disclosing the procedure. The official also expressed that the team was disappointed in the timing, even though Shumpert missed no regular-season action.
If the Knicks continue to lose, changes will be made. Sending Shumpert on the next train out of Penn Station seems to be atop Dolan's agenda, and the boss will undoubtedly get what he wants.
Chris Smith Has Been Shipped to the D-League but Still Continues to Hurt NY
Sure, the Knicks invited Chris Smith to their Summer League team. Yeah, he tweeted a bunch of stuff about being on the Knicks, and, alright, he even got a ticket to training camp. Everyone knew he wasn't going to actually make the team, though.
Until he did.
The Knicks kept J.R.'s little bro on the roster through the preseason's conclusion, cut Ike Diogu, Josh Powell and Jeremy Tyler, and decided to carry five point guards on opening night, even though Smith played less preseason minutes than anyone New York brought into camp.
After showing up for the first nine games—suiting up for just one—and logging zero minutes, Smith the younger has been shipped to the Erie Bayhawks. He's still clogging the 15th roster spot that the team could've used to carry a backup center, and he's still collecting his $490,180 that became fully guaranteed when he wasn't waived on Oct. 29. That salary actually costs Jim Dolan more than $2 million when you consider luxury tax penalties.
Just because he hasn't actually played for the Knicks doesn't mean he can't stir up NBA drama, though! Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings went on a mini-rant earlier this month when he tweeted what you and probably everyone you know wants to say about Smith: that his boys from the hometown deserve an NBA job over him.
Chris took the high road and also the loss in this one. Big brother J.R., though, known for frequently taking a different kind of high road, would have none of his brother's slander. In a since-deleted tweet directed to Jennings, he claimed he may have to send his "number street homies" over to Detroit, presumably to give Jennings a bunch of noogies and swirlies. The NBA didn't care for this threat and fined the Knicks' sixth man $25,000.
It's really why the Knicks' front office seems so set on honoring J.R., while he's been a perpetual headache off—if not on—the court.
In his inaugural Knicks campaign two season ago, Smith was fined for tweeting a NSFW photo of reality star Tahiry in bed (you can Google it yourself). He was snapped at various clubs during last season's playoffs, suspended a game for elbowing Jason Terry and even managed to get into an Instagram spat with Rihanna on the day of a playoff game. He was suspended for marijuana use, which means he's failed three tests since joining the NBA.
This is the guy who means so much to your team that you must carry his brother for no legitimate reason?
The league has apparently investigated Chris Smith's employment, according to the New York Post, but somehow found it perfectly legitimate. Okay, then.
Any Game Could Be Coach Mike Woodson's Last
After winning 54 games with the Knicks last year, Mike Woodson's good graces with Knicks fans began to dim during the postseason, when he inexplicably ran out terrible lineups defying what brought New York success all season.
He went big against Indiana when the team's identity throughout 90 games was small-ball and threes. He insisted on running out Jason Kidd, who was shooting 0-for-May and was apparently a month away from retirement. He refused to play Chris Copeland in order to yank Roy Hibbert from the paint and failed to play Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni nearly enough.
The Knicks may have been overmatched by the Indiana Pacers, but Woodson's coaching performance did the Knicks no favors.
It may have been an overreaction to can Woody last summer, but the same cannot be said these days around MSG.
Through the first three weeks, the magically efficient offense from last season has disappeared. Iso-Melo is the name of the game once again—according to Synergy, 21 percent of Carmelo Anthony's possessions are isolations.
His defensive preachings of switches and double-teams, which were a staple of last season's putrid, 17th-ranked defense, have been aplenty through most of this year. The defense now stands sixth-worst in efficiency.
His rotations have been suspect, with Pablo Prigioni averaging just 16 minutes since opening night; meanwhile the team allows seven points less per 100 possessions with him on the court, via NBA.com. The numbers don't show it, but the offense runs a lot more smoothly with him at the helm, too.
When a team goes on a terrible, seemingly effortless run like the Knicks have to open the season, the first person to blame is—rightly or wrongly—the head coach. Woodson has begun to pick up the pieces a little recently, presumably instructing players to ditch the switches on screen plays, according to Chris Herring.
The defense did look halfway decent in the team's most recent game against the Pacers, allowing just 99 points per 100 possessions, which would rank top 10 in the league as a full-season mark. It was perhaps the most the Knicks have competed this year.
The Knicks will need continued effort, but more importantly, they'll need victories. Without them, the onus will fall on Woodson—whether he rediscovers his 2012-13 roots or not.
What Does the Future Hold for Amar'e Stoudemire?
Thinking about Amar'e Stoudemire in 2013 really stinks.
Knicks fans remember STAT pulling on his Knicks fitted outside MSG in July 2010, declaring "the Knicks are back," when they really weren't yet. They remember an MVP candidate from later that year who averaged more than 25 points per game and threw down terrorizing dunks on anyone who thought about contesting him. They remember him deferring the spotlight to a newly acquired Carmelo Anthony after it was he who already took over New York City's billboards.
Fans remember Amar'e tweaking his back during the 2011 playoffs, throwing down a dunk in the layup line, of all things. Then they also remember him putting on 15 pounds of muscle the following offseason to combat the injury and come back stronger.
They remember, too, how that muscle only made him slower in 2011-12. They watched him play that year a step slow, a non-threat, and without the killer elbow-jumper that was a staple in the team's 2010-11 offense.
Injury by injury, they watched his body deteriorate, just as the Phoenix Suns' medical staff predicted. First a knee in October 2012, then the other knee the following March. Then an unknown knee that summer.
Now here we are in 2013.
Just three years ago he was a top force in the NBA, but nobody can say with 100 percent certainty that Stoudemire belongs in the NBA anymore. He lacks explosion up and down, side to side, still the same turnstyle on defense. He can't play more than 15 minutes a night or play in back-to-backs.
Stoudemire's body bailed on him halfway through a five-year, $100 million contract.
Now, the guy who used to be Amar'e Stoudemire will earn $45 million from James Dolan over the next two seasons. His doctors permit him to play a few minutes here and there, and Woodson allocates him those spot minutes whenever he can.
That's the problem.
Through most of last season, it became perfectly clear that the Knicks have moved on from Stoudemire. He's no longer built into the team's plans; in fact, he's stuck out like a sore thumb whenever he's tried to help out this year.
Amar'e has the worst net-rating on the team, by far, of guys that've played at least 70 minutes, via NBA.com. The Knicks get outscored by 26 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Yeah, it's that bad.
Sure, he wears the same jersey as the guy who was named to numerous All-Star teams, and yeah, he's owed a ton of money. Everything he says leads you to believe he doesn't deserve what's happened to him, and maybe Woodson—not unlike Knicks fans—wants to see Amar'e prove everyone wrong, channel vintage STAT and throw down flashy jams for however long he can.
The sad truth, though, is that two years from now, when his deal expires and he's collected every last dime from the Knicks, Amar'e's going to be done with professional basketball. For all intents and purposes, he was done a year ago.
The sooner Woodson understands this, the better. It's not a punishment or an indictment, and it's certainly not the Marbury treatment, but please, for the sake of everyone involved, just keep Amar'e away from the court.
Does Each Loss Push Carmelo Anthony Further from Returning to NY?
Nope. This story's not going away any time soon. No chance.
Anthony can sign a larger contract in New York, being able to ink a five-year, $129 million deal if he stays, and a four-year, $96 million pact elsewhere. So for 'Melo, a player who's never given up a penny in a negotiation—he signed a max extension with the Denver Nuggets off his rookie deal in 2006 and forced his way to New York via trade in 2011 before the lockout as opposed to signing the following summer, since the max extend-and-trade garnered a more lucrative deal than an outright max signing—that's a big factor right off the bat.
It's accurate to say, though, that 'Melo will not want to re-up for five years with a loser with no plan. As harsh as it may sound, that may describe the Knicks right now.
Sure, they may have eyes for Kevin Love in the summer of 2015, but Anthony knows that a pairing with a scoring power forward already failed once. What he'd need to be surrounded with is a bona fide point guard determined to get him the ball—Rajon Rondo fits the bill, but that's exceedingly unlikely.
Over the next four drafts, the Knicks own a 2015 first-round draft pick and a 2017 first-round draft pick. That's it. They've cleared massive amounts of cap space for the summer of 2015, but if 'Melo re-signs for a maximum deal, the team's hands will still be financially tied, especially if it deals Amar'e Stoudemire for a longer-term albatross, as has been rumored.
It's unlikely the Knicks consider letting Anthony walk on his own, but at that hefty $129 million price tag, they might want to consider giving it a thought. Paying 'Melo, on the wrong side of 30, what'll equate to be more than 30 percent of the salary cap may not turn out to be the best investment. But hey, it's the Knicks.
The bottom line is that if the Knicks want to keep Anthony to build around—and they presumably do—they need to start winning. Before the season, there was talk that another early-round exit may not be enough to keep the star around. By the look of things right now, getting to the playoffs may be a minor miracle in itself.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.