New York Knicks: 5 Steps to Becoming Championship Contenders in 2011-12
The New York Knicks are coming off of their first winning season since 2000-01, and fans were nothing short of ecstatic as the team clinched its first playoff berth since 2003-04 season.
As the team moves forward without Donnie Walsh—the GM who put this roster together—there are several things that James Dolan needs to make sure his franchise does to ensure that they can compete with the best teams next season.
New York fans have been aching for their Knicks to return to glory for the past decade, and if ownership isn't careful, the team may have to continue settling for being a second-rate franchise.
The Knicks have crushed their fans' souls since their last title in 1973. Since then, the Knicks have seen the eras of Bernard King and Patrick Ewing end in heartbreak. Neither superstar was paired with another dominant force like they've been able to do now.
With the new combination of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, two of the most talented players in the league, it seems as though there is a solid foundation for a bright future.
Hire Another Competent General Manager
Donnie Walsh may have been the best thing to happen to the Knicks since the 1985 draft lottery. His patience and experience have slowly but surely helped fans forget about the Isiah Thomas era and has turned their heads towards the future.
James Dolan may be the most hated man of my childhood. He made another curious decision (which happens all too often) when he decided to give Walsh a strange ultimatum that he couldn't possibly live up to due to his health concerns.
Making the best of a bad situation, Walsh has agreed to help hand-pick his successor. While this usually wouldn't be such a big deal, this ensures that Isiah Thomas won't be given his old job back.
Can you believe that Thomas' name would even be mentioned in these talks? Me neither. But that's just how incompetent Dolan is. The most that fans can ask for is that he hires someone with plenty of basketball knowledge and stays as out of their way as possible. I'm not so optimistic.
While I was hoping that the team would try to bring in Jerry West, he was scooped up by Golden State before the Knicks could make an offer. It seems as though Walsh will look within the organization for the next guy who will have to put up with Dolan's antics. It's almost like he thinks he's George Steinbrenner, but doesn't know anything about his sport. I would almost rather have the Maloof brothers running my team.
Use Draft Picks Wisely
The NBA Draft is slated for this Thursday, and the Knicks hold its 17th pick. After looking at a bunch of mock drafts and reading a ton of rumors, the Knicks don't seem to be a very predictable pick.
While you will rarely find a pick in the later half of the first round making a noticeable impact in their first season, the Knicks have been rumored to be seeking a trade for a higher pick.
One exciting name that the Knicks have rumored interest in is former BYU star, Jimmer Fredette. Fredette carried his unlikely squad to the Sweet 16 in this year's NCAA tournament. He is an incredible scorer with dangerous range, but his size and ability to play defense have some scouts worried about how much he'll help a team at the professional level.
Another name that has been linked to the team's draft outlook is Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo is an 18-year-old Congolese center known best for his incredible shot-swatting. His defensive prowess has impressed many scouts over the past few years, but his offensive game is said to be underdeveloped.
Whoever the Knicks may select, it should be someone who can quickly become a useful role player and guy that can bolster their bench. If they draft yet another Jordan Hill, I will surely be throwing my remote through my TV.
Find Billups a Backup
Shortly after they were knocked out of the playoffs, the Knicks picked up the option on Chauncey Billups' contract for the upcoming season.
While many were critical of this move, it was necessary to make. Billups is still one of the better point guards in this league, although he will be 35 years old before next season. He was the MVP of the 2004 Finals, leading his improbable Pistons past Phil Jackson's Lakers. He is a born leader who knows what it takes to win.
Now, many fans feel as though the Knicks' future is contingent on adding Chris Paul either by trade during next season or through free agency after the year is over. However, this looming NBA lockout that will eventually lead to a new CBA may say otherwise.
Owners are pushing to lower the league's salary cap, and in order for teams to stop hemorrhaging cash, it will have to happen. It is illogical to think that the Knicks could put three superstars together while also adding other productive pieces around them.
Toney Douglas was impressive at times throughout this season, but isn't a true point guard. If the Knicks want to realistically relieve Billups while also looking toward the future, they will have to look for a trade.
The best option looks like Timberwolves point guard, Jonny Flynn. Flynn hasn't wowed the competition in his time in the NBA so far, but is full of potential. Since David Kahn has finally convinced Ricky Rubio to come to Minnesota (or, more likely, he rented Purple Rain, and was inspired to hop on the first plane to Minneapolis), Flynn has become dispensable.
Acquire a Functional Center
A primary problem for the Knicks this season was helping Amar'e down low—especially of defense.
I'm still not entirely sure why, but Jared Jeffries was brought back mid-season to make the Knicks more ferocious against sizable offenses. As you might have expected, he was enormously disappointing.
Ronny Turiaf was a surprisingly useful center, and was one of the few players that I felt gave 100 percent effort on defense. On the other side of court, however, fans would cringe whenever he would fumble the ball or make an errant pass. Turiaf would be a dangerous player to be able to bring in off the bench, but isn't quite the center you would want starting on your championship contender.
One name that has been flying around since the Knicks exited the playoffs is Samuel Dalembert.
Dalembert is another frustrating player on offense, but his defense is top-notch. While this is exactly what is wrong with Turiaf's game, Dalembert is marginally better on both ends.
The biggest problem with adding Dalembert also lies with the lockout. This lockout is second only to James Dolan in the list of things that will likely ruin the Knicks' future. The Kings paid the big man $12.2 million last season, which seems steep for the Knicks to compete with. Also, according to the Miami Herald, the Heat are interested in making Samuel their starter. A bidding war would only hurt the Knicks' chances of bringing the center to New York.
This past Finals showed something very vital, with Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood completely manhandling the pathetic combination of Joel Anthony, Juwan Howard and Udonis Haslem. It's all too simple, but crucial nonetheless: The team with the better center has a distinct advantage. Additionally, it showed us that we all don't hate Mark Cuban quite as much as we thought we did.
Fire Mike D'Antoni
D'Antoni was an incredibly refreshing face in 2008 when he left his Phoenix Suns to bring his Run 'n Gun style to the Knicks' depleted roster.
There is no doubt about it—Mike D'Antoni gets the full potential out of his players on offense. If you can make a jump shot and can run pretty fast, you are a prime candidate to score more than 20 points.
The Knicks coach lost a few players who he had groomed in the Carmelo Anthony trade, and was forced to adjust to more of a half-court offense on the fly. With all of the roster swaps, the Knicks remained a productive offensive machine.
But the problem with D'Antoni lies with his defense. The team was tied for third-most in the NBA last season for points allowed per game.
Many players even suggested during the playoffs that D'Antoni doesn't coach defense at all. If so, this is alarming. In the past 20 years no team that was really bad at defense has won the Finals. It is almost impossible to rely on your shooters to be more productive than your opponents' each game.
As for a replacement? I was hoping that the Knicks would quickly fire D'Antoni and give Mark Jackson an interview, but like they did with Jerry West, the Warriors snatched him away. They did this with Stephen Curry in the 2009 Draft to me, too. If they're good within the next few years, I'll feel accomplished.
Jackson's broadcasting partner and former Knicks' coach may be my next choice to lead this team. Jeff Van Gundy has been with the Knicks at their best and their worst, and watching games from the booth these past few years may have expanded and varied his knowledge of the game.