2011-12 NBA Preview: Can New York Knicks Compete with Eastern Conference Top 5?

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2011-12 NBA Preview: Can New York Knicks Compete with Eastern Conference Top 5?
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
The Knicks have their work cut out for them, but they certainly have the talent to surprise some people next season.

As each passing day is crossed off the calendar and Opening Night inches closer, it’s not easy for NBA fans to stay optimistic during a lockout, with negotiations making very little headway.

In a crisis like this, sometimes it helps to look ahead to the season on hold. Speculation will at least help redirect your focus from dwelling on the dismal present to anticipating a brighter future.

Since players and ownership are banned from contact with one another, the free agent frenzy—which would normally be over by now—has yet to unfold. As a result, rosters remain intact as they were at the start of the lockout on July 1.

Depending on when the season begins, there may be a mad dash to sign and trade players. But without a crystal ball, it’s difficult to determine the potential teams on which they could land.

Wrapping up the regular season at 42-40, New York barely nudged the Philadelphia 76ers to steal sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings by one game. In ascending order, the Knicks finished behind the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls.

While roster shakeups are often unpredictable, none of the aforementioned franchises will have to deal with potentially major losses to free agency in 2011; Atlanta’s Jamal Crawford and Orlando’s Jason Richardson are the most notable unrestricted free agents who could be lost.

Out of these six teams, Knicks included, New York selected the only draft pick (Iman Shumpert) likely to make a significant contribution during his rookie season.

For these reasons, the talent representing each of the finest six organizations in the East will essentially be identical to what it was at the conclusion of last season. Based on this logic, viable predictions can be made in terms of how the Knicks will stack up against these teams next season.

Will New York be middle-of-the-pack again, or will they creep up the rankings and cause a shift in the balance of power atop the conference?

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