(Long Island, N.Y.) Considering that there may not have even been an NBA season this past year, the New York Knicks did fairly well, all things considered. In a lockout-shortened 66-game regular campaign, the team went through a plethora of highs and lows and ended up eclipsing last season’s playoff performance by one game.
The lowest point came when Mike D’Antoni stepped down as head coach after a sitdown with general manager Glen Grunwald and owner James Dolan. Assistant coach Mike Woodson was named the interim head coach and that was perhaps the turning point. The team rallied behind their new leader and began to play a more defensive style than they had in years under the run-and-gun D’Antoni.
Stalling under .500 and out of the playoff picture at the time, the Knicks righted the ship and nearly pulled off earning the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for them, they were seventh and drew the number two Miami Heat. What may have been is a moot point, but the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers ousted the Chicago Bulls, who were a weaker top seed than the Heat.
In Game 4 of the opening round, Carmelo Anthony’s heroics and Amar’e Stoudemire hanging tough with a heavily bandaged hand finally broke the team’s winless playoff streak, delaying the inevitable ouster in the following game, but a spark, nonetheless. That Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden is what fans should remember from the season and a step in the right direction.
The first order of business is deciding if Woodson gets the interim tag removed, something that the players are all behind. Assuming that will be the case, the roster needs a bit more than tinkering, but that will have to be the case with the salary cap a concern.
Anthony (22.6 points per game) proved that he is a bonafide superstar and the team will be built around him, so moving Stoudemire is certainly an option that should be considered. If the oft-injured power forward is traded, Anthony can slip into the ‘four’ from the ‘three’ and be extremely effective at that spot, as well. That would also clear a ton of cap space, but Stoudemire’s contract will probably make him untradeable.
If both are brought back, they will combine again with center Tyson Chandler (9.9 rebounds per game), who won the 2012 NBA Defensive player of the Year Award, to form a formidable frontcourt. The bigger issue is the backcourt, with a revolving door of point guards all logging minutes will not be acceptable again. Jeremy Lin will be re-signed, but even though the youngster took the city by storm for a few weeks mid-season, he has to prove that he can do it over the long haul before being handed the starting point guard position.
Iman Shumpert had a decent rookie campaign (especially on the defensive side of the ball), but blew out his knee against the Heat and will be out for a while. Both Baron Davis and Mike Bibby are as good as gone, as the veterans have faded in recent years. Toney Douglas was the forgotten man and is a question mark to be back.
At shooting guard, Landry Fields took a step back from his more impressive rookie season, but still should get an opportunity to keep his starting job. The erratic J.R. Smith played 35 games in New York after returning from Europe and showed flashes of hotness, but too many the other way to be counted on.
Part timers like Steve Novack and Jared Jeffries contributed, but not enough to put a scare into the opponent when they checked in at the scorer’s table.
The Knicks are an improved bunch and have some star qualities, but are still a few important pieces away from challenging for even a division title, let alone a championship.