While the New York Knicks have obviously improved finishing two games above .500 with a 42-40 record and making the playoffs for the first time in a decade, they still have a ways to go before they can be considered ready to contend for the chance to win an NBA Championship.
With two stars in place, not a tremendous amount of cap space and the 2012 free agent class being the one that everyone is waiting for, these are the moves I believe they would have to make in order to be able to contend for an NBA Title right now.
Their most obvious needs are adding depth at point guard and getting a solid seven footer to patrol the paint and take the defensive pressure off of Amar'e Stoudemire, so he can compete to his fullest and contribute heavily on the offensive end. Getting a true center the Knicks would then be able to move Stoudemire over to his natural position at power forward where he feels he is more comfortable and can be the most effective on both ends of the floor.
Realize that the upcoming slides are the moves that I believe they should make to become contenders this season as they will almost certainly be making improvements again with the heralded free agent class of 2012 right around the corner. They are realistic in that they fit the teams needs, coincide with the structure of the current salary cap and may include a player or two the Knicks should go after, but may not.
Each move is made with the intention of improving the team in the short term, as well as trying to plan for the future by giving them the flexibility to make some moves in the 2012 offseason, where they will likely be going after Chris Paul, Deron Williams and maybe even Dwight Howard.
While no one can argue that the man is a genius when it comes to playing basketball on the offensive end, he still has yet to incorporate defense into his philosophy. Luckily for the Knicks this can be fixed rather easily by hiring a defensive assistant coach at least for the upcoming season.
The reason that I say at least for the upcoming season is because the rumor that has been floating around as of late is that the Knicks will keep Mike D'Antoni as a place holder for Doc Rivers, after Rivers comes back from taking a year off to watch his gifted son Austin Rivers, play college basketball at Duke University, as his son is coming into college as the most acclaimed player to come out of high school.
As evidenced by the series against the Boston Celtics, D'Antoni clearly has issues having attention to detail when the game is on the line and mapping out every scenario for his players, so they are able to have the most success against the opposition. Without getting into every scenario, the main issues he seemed to have was not having a set rotation, putting the wrong players on the floor in the closing minutes of close games, and his inability to make adjustments to his system depending on how the series goes.
He has always been a coach who runs his system and expects his players to fit to it, which is fine for the regular season. However, when the playoffs come there are always adjustments that need to be made to get the most out of your players and give them the best chance to win and he failed miserably at doing that.
With all that being said, he will serve the purpose this season, while Knicks fans await the arrival of Doc Rivers, who would be an absolute godsend to this team, due to his ability to do all the things that I mentioned D'Antoni was incapable of doing come playoff time.
This one is a no brainer. Walsh is credited with bringing the team back from the dead after the Isiah Thomas Error. He was unable to land LeBron James in 2010, but did not panic and signed Amar'e Stoudemire right away so the Knicks did not walk away empty handed. While Stoudemire's injury history is well documented the city needed a big move, and their likely would've been a riot in New York had STAT not been brought to town. So far Stoudemire has played beautifully for the Knicks, with only a couple minor injuries to date.
Only a year later he made a blockbuster trade to bring in Carmelo Anthony, a second star who could help get the Knicks into the playoffs and possibly help lure a third star in Chris Paul who becomes a free agent in 2012, who the Knicks are almost certain to go after.
The bottomline is that Walsh put together a team that is unrecognizable to the mess that was being put on the floor when Isiah Thomas was running the team into the ground, although we would like to hope not intentionally. As insane as it is the moves that Thomas executed actually made sense to him, but that's an article for another day as the intricacies of his mistakes are too many to fit into one slide.
The word is that the Knicks are preparing to offer Walsh a 2 year extension, which is the right thing to do. He put this team together and deserves the chance to finish what he has started, glad to see James Dolan has made at least one correct basketball decision lately. Now if only he could guarantee us that there would be no involvement from any outside people connected to Dolan, say I don't know Isiah Thomas?
This move makes sense for the Knicks for several reasons.
First and foremost he is a New York Knicks legend and brings a solid coaching resume' with him as he has experience working with each of the Van Gundy brothers. Working with Jeff as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, and currently is working with Stan as an assistant coach on the Orlando Magic.
The other big perk to this is that aside from being a tremendously gifted big man during his playing days, he has worked with Yao Ming when he was an assistant with the Rockets, before Yao's injuries got the best of him, and also has become somewhat of a big man coach to Dwight Howard, who is quickly becoming a superstar. Although Howard has always found success on the defensive end as an elite shot blocker and rebounder, it is nice to see his offense reaching an elite level impact as well. While Howard has a long way to go at the free throw line, he has improved to averaging 23 PPG from last year's 18 PPG.
Whether D'Antoni remains coach for the long term or Rivers is in fact hired next season, Ewing would fit in nicely on either coaching staff. He complements D'Antoni's offensive style nicely with a defensive mindset, while also being a welcomed addition as a big man coach to the Knicks current big man, and hopefully their new acquisition at center this coming offseason, who has a very similar game to Howard's, although this player could use Ewing's polish on the offensive end to make him a true force in the paint.
I know you are probably wondering who the big man is that I'm talking about, don't worry we'll get there. As for now we'll move onto the next slide.
Bringing back Williams makes sense because of his ability to drain the three point shot. He also is someone who has potential on the defensive end, who at only 6'9" has a 7'3" wingspan.
He is a solid player off the bench for the Knicks, who was tops in three point percentage for most of the regular season while also bringing toughness and energy to solidify the second unit.
It would also be nice to see him back, just because he had struggled to put his life together until this season with the Knicks where he has seemed to go through a maturity process, where he realizes what is important and what he must do in order to be successful at the NBA level. He has put in the hard work to play the right way and carve out a role as a three point marksman for the Knicks and has the potential to improve on other facets of his game.
Bringing him back makes sense as well, since he should come at an affordable price.
While it seems crazy to bring Carter back after resigning an aging Chauncey Billups, it makes a lot more sense than one might think.
The reason behind this is that Carter has an old school mindset. What I mean by that is that he plays the role of a traditional point guard.
He is a pitbull in every facet of his game. He hustles on defense, dives for loose balls, sacrifices his body to take charges when needed, and will grind it out on the offensive end as well to drive to the basket in order to draw a foul or draw the defense to him to kick the ball out to one of the Knicks three point shooters.
At 35 years old, Carter plays with more energy than some players who are half his age. While having Billups and Douglas is a nice point guard combination, it makes sense to bring back Carter as his game is very different from that of the other aforementioned point guards. Like Billups, he will also serve as a good mentor to the Knicks young and improving Toney Douglas.
With freaky length similar to that of Shawne Williams coupled with tremendous leaping ability, the young Brown has shown glimpses of why the Knicks took a flier on him this season.
Bringing him back makes sense, since he will only get better, is an ideal fit in D'Antoni's run and gun system and will be worth his asking price, which should be quite affordable.
Before he left Raymond Felton told the Knicks that they should go out and get this kid. After the heart and soul Felton played with for the Knicks, it would probably be wise to trust his judgement.
If he refines his game this summer and puts in the work, it is not out of the question to think that Brown could have a chance at cracking the rotation as a high energy player off the bench to bolster the second unit.
While I'm prepared to get a lot of flack for this suggestion, I stand by my choice. I realize a lot of people were expecting to see Samuel Dalembert, Joel Przybilla or even Jeff Foster on this list for the Knicks as their back-up big man.
Without taking anything away from the aforementioned centers, Hayes may only be 6'5", but he makes up for his lack of height with pure hustle and rebounding prowess.
The Knicks need more players off the bench who will give the team the best chance to win, by out hustling their opponent as there were times this season were they got out hustled for loose balls, or got outworked on the boards on both ends of the floor.
If they were to bring in Hayes, he would be a solid complement off the bench behind Amar'e or the other big man who the Knicks have their eye on this offseason. Hayes has improved his defense and offense, and is an underrated passer as well, which is a facet of his game that will only be brought out and developed even more in D'Antoni's run and gun system.
The Knicks could use Hayes' strength and hustle off the bench to make give them a fortified frontcourt. Hayes will likely go overlooked due to his lack of height for the center position. At only 27 years old, he still has room to improve and would be a welcomed addition to an young and improving Knicks roster.
Although he still receives minutes with the Dallas Mavericks, he has fallen into a diminished role behind Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and young fan favorite Roddy Beaubois.
Since I do not believe the Knicks should bring back Roger Mason, as his services better fit a team like the Bulls who only need a spot up shooter, JJ gives the Knicks some energy off the bench, can utilize his speed and agility to run in the open floor, and can score in bunches.
He will likely come at an affordable price this offseason, with many teams holding off on going after a point guard until next offseason when the likes of Chris Paul and Deron Williams will then become available.
He also showed interest in joining the Knicks roster in the summer of LeBron a year ago, as he likely sees himself thriving in the up-tempo system that D'Antoni employs. Like Hayes, he is a bit undersized for his position standing at only 6'0", but plays with similar tenacity to that of elder statesman Anthony Carter which would make him so valuable to the Knicks development as a Championship contender. He also brings a wealth of playoff experience with him at only 26 years old as well, which will be vital to the team's success.
Acquiring him fills the void left behind by Mason, while giving the Knicks another point guard they can rely on to handle the ball outside of Douglas and Carter, if Billups injuries linger long enough to make him miss an extended period amount of time.
This move will catch people by complete surprise and it should. However, the trade makes sense for both teams.
The Knicks receive one of the most accurate three point shooters in the game, who also has championship experience, while giving the aging Spurs two young players in return in Walker and Balkman who can each play solid minutes off the bench.
At times Walker has even started for the Knicks, so he is capable of being relied on for heavier minutes if the Spurs were to choose to give him more playing time, to rest the grizzled veteran Manu Ginobili.
For the Knicks it gives them a big man who can knock down threes, mentor the younger players, and complements the big men on the Knicks roster, who play closer to the basket.
It may seem like a small move to make, but it would be an important one as well, since doing a two for one would open up another roster space, which could allow the Knicks to sign a free agent in the middle of the season, or even bring Jerome Jordan back from Turkey to augment their front line.
While Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol will be on the market this offseason and would certainly help the Knicks roster a great deal, it is highly unlikely that either one of their teams will be willing to let them walk.
Jordan fits perfectly alongside Amar'e by bringing toughness, rebounding and a seven foot shot blocker which the Knicks have lacked, relying more on the undersized Ronny Turiaf, who although brought great energy was quick to get into foul trouble since he was too small to guard the larger centers.
Jordan is only 22 years old and is sure to get better. He will round out a front court when all is said and done that is comprised of Stoudemire, Hayes, Bonner, and the other Jordan as well.
His athleticism will be a great fit in D'Antoni's offense, and working with Ewing would only polish his already tantalizing skill set that could make him a nightmare to guard and keep off the boards as well.
Although Dwight Howard will be on the market next season, Jordan fits in just fine and would likely cost the Knicks a lot less to obtain allowing them to set their sites on coveted floor general's Chris Paul or Deron Williams.
With this Knicks roster the team would combine D'Antoni's offensive philosophy along with hustle and determination that would make them a tough team to beat. While the new CBA will shape how many of these moves the Knicks are actually able to make, it would be nice to see them get all these pieces. Since all of the aforementioned acquisitions would give the Knicks an intriguing combination of youth, experience and toughness that would give them a very good chance at winning an NBA Title.