Nothing has come easy for the Knicks, winners of 54 games last season, who are on pace for around half that (26 or 27) this year. Worse, there's no magic cure for what's ailing them. No one corrective measure to be taken.
Ideally, the Knicks would fix this or that, synthesize presently absent levity and confidence and start winning like the Oklahoma City Thunder unchained. But the Knicks aren't in optimal quarters. They aren't an ideal team. To this point, they've been just the opposite, hapless and wretched, pleading for victories while they find new ways to lose.
And so it goes for an abject New York team swiftly approaching its biggest offseason in nearly four years, when Anthony will become a free agent, armed with the power to journey elsewhere or remain with a franchise that, when left alone, is flawed beyond sufficient repair.
Ransacked by Injuries
Health, much like the concept of time, eludes the Knicks.
Tyson Chandler only just returned from a leg injury, leaving him one of the healthiest players on the roster. Chew on that for a second, and try not to spit it out.
Pablo Prigioni has a fractured toe, Kenyon Martin is recovering from an abdominal strain, Raymond Felton continues to battle hamstring issues and Amar'e Stoudemire is either seriously injured or the victim of poor communication.
Not even those on the floor are at full strength, like J.R. Smith, who continues to meander somewhere between still injured and not-quite healthy.
"I don’t think he’s still 100 percent," Woodson said previously, on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM in New York, as transcribed by the New York Post's Marc Berman. "I don’t know if he’ll ever be this season based on the surgery he had this offseason. I have to be patient with him."
Preexisting conditions are no excuse, but Swish has the sickly shooting percentages to prove it (33.3 percent overall; 33.6 percent from deep). And you better believe Anthony's body is aching from averaging a league-leading 39.8 minutes per contest.
Able-bodied players are needed to win, and the Knicks are short on those, leaving them even shorter on hope.
Can They Get a PG? Pretty Please? With Sugar on Top?
Yeah, yeah, the health thing again. The injury bug has ripped through New York's point guard corps like Rudy Gay does stat sheets. Yet even when they're healthy, the Knicks' stable of floor generals is underwhelming.
Chief among them in Priggy Smalls, the 36-year-old sophomore. New York's offensive rating with Prig on the floor (105.6) equates to the seventh-best mark in the league, according to NBA.com (subscription required).
But the good news ends with Prig, the injured point man old enough to make you wonder whether he can log 30-plus minutes on a consistent basis upon return. There is no one of substantial value other than him. Not Felton, Udrih or Toure' Murry. Most certainly not Chris Smith, either.
Did I forget to mention that? He's back from the D-League, sitting on the sideline, waiting for an opportunity to actually play.
Dec. 17, 2013 – President & GM Steve Mills announced that the team has recalled Chris Smith from the Erie BayHawks of the NBA D-League.— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) December 17, 2013
Smith. Swish's younger brother. On the sidelines. Potentially seeing time. The same Smith who one general manager told Yahoo! Sports' Wojnarowski was "maybe the worst player in the history of the [NBA] summer league." That Smith. That's where the Knicks are at right now.
Their offensive rating is 101.6 overall, and they're approaching that mark with Prig and only Prig. All the other point guards are guiding them toward mostly bottom-10 level offenses.
Look at all the elite teams. Most of them have top-notch playmakers.
The Miami Heat have LeBron James; the San Antonio Spurs have Tony Parker; the Portland Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard; the Los Angeles Clippers have Chris Paul; and the Thunder have Russell Westbrook. The Indiana Pacers are the exception, but they're a defensive juggernaut, something the Knicks also aren't.
Supporting Cast Blues
New York's supporting cast wasn't always this vile.
Last year, Smith won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award, and the team's bench ranked fourth in scoring. This season, it's been all doom, gloom and botched Smith jumpers.
The Knicks' second unit ranks 17th in scoring through 25 games, in what is a tragic turn of events. Depth was New York's hook. The reason it could actually contend.
One night, it could be Anthony. The next, it could be Smith. Then Stoudemire. Then Anthony again. Andrea Bargnani, too.
But it's been all Anthony early on. He's led the team in scoring every game. Every. Single. Game. Though admirable and a testament to his importance in some ways, it's mostly disturbing.
Anthony needs a No. 2. Smith's outlying 2012-13 campaign is the closest he's ever come to such relief while in New York. STAT's been constantly injured, and Bargnani only just arrived. 'Melo hasn't been given the second star he was promised, the equal he wants.
Visions of a sidekick materializing from the slags of players New York assembled have vanished, vanquished by the increasingly poor play of vital pinions.
Smith is having a season to forget, a year that can be encapsulated by his recent performance in Milwaukee, where he dropped 21 points on 7-of-23 shooting, including a 5-of-17 effort from deep.
Swish has been bombing away like crazy, attempting 128 total three-pointers to 106 two-balls, putting him on pace to reach a historic mark:
That would be all fine and dandy if Smith were shooting at a high clip, which he's not. He's making just over a third of his outside shots, by no means warranting such a shoot-from-the-hip mentality. But that's Smith.
And this is Bargnani:
Now that was some special, crap-emitting decision-making by Bargs. And the Knicks in general.
Never mind attacking the rim in an attempt to reach the foul line and pad your lead. Let's settle for long twos! And isolation! And then, when a "Tyson Tip-Out" goes our way, forcing the defense to foul us, we'll shoot a three instead! And miss it! And blow our lead! And barely pull it out in the second overtime!
If you're looking for the Knicks' season summed up in a paragraph, that's the best I can do.
What Is Winning?
Some buffoon predicted the Knicks would win the Atlantic Division, finishing third or fourth in the Eastern Conference. That dunce was me.
But I stand by my prediction. I also once gave my girlfriend cash for Christmas and actively participated in Tuxedo Tuesdays, so make of that what you will.
The Eastern Conference remains wide open, which is sad. Three teams are above .500, and the Knicks, at 8-17, are two games outside the playoff picture, three off the Atlantic Division lead and 5.5 games behind third place.
You can't make this stuff up. The Eastern Conference is terrible, making it likely the Knicks can rebound from this disastrous start.
Rising in the East has the aesthetic appeal of Velcro, though. It doesn't qualify as winning. Not for these Knicks.
Sources told ESPN New York's Ian Begley in October that Knicks owner James Dolan expects to win a championship this season:
In a recent meeting with the coaching staff and some team executives, Dolan said he believes the Knicks have enough talent to win a title and that he expects them to do so this season, league sources with knowledge of the owner's message during the meeting confirmed.
'He told them he believes they have enough talent to win it all,' one source said, 'and he expects it to happen this year.'
There is no title to be won or legitimately contended for in New York this season. Rest assured, I'm including the Brooklyn Nets in that little caveat, but we're Knicks-specific here.
Will the Knicks contend for a championship this season?
These Knicks rank 19th in offensive efficiency and 24th in defensive efficiency. They're 8-17 and in possession of the league's sixth-worst record.
The mental fortitude and leadership that helped them win 54 games last season, and would've prevented this current slump, is gone. So the Knicks are finished. In terms of winning a championship, they're kaput.
"We won, we move forward, continue being positive," Anthony said following New York's ugly win in Milwaukee, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. "I don’t want to think if we didn’t pull this game out."
Likewise, proponents of winning, who expected the Knicks to contend for a championship this season, won't want to see what comes next.