Knicks look to stay on top in New York
After a Linsanity fueled 2011-12 season ended with a whimper, the Knickerbockers had one of their finest regular seasons in recent memory last year.
While the Knicks were widely expected to be a playoff team, few predicted that they would be the class of the Atlantic and one of the best teams in the East on the whole, winning 50 games for the first time in 13 seasons.
Carmelo Anthony, finally looking completely comfortable in New York, set a franchise record with 31-straight games of 20 or more points and won the NBA scoring title with 28.7 PPG. Tyson Chandler continued his strong defensive play since coming to the Big Apple, Iman Shumpert 's game became more well rounded and JR Smith, despite the occasional sideshow, brought a consistent level of energy that could be felt by the rest of the guys on the floor.
After dispatching the hated Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, the Knicks were upset by a young, hungry Indiana Pacers team in the second round and weren't able to get that playoff match-up with the Miami Heat that they desperately wanted.
In the off-season they swung a deal with the Raptors that brought much maligned former first overall pick Andrea Bargnani to New York. Bargnani figures to start at power forward for the Knicks unless Amar'e Stoudemire can somehow get his knees in working order.
The Knicks also added Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih as depth pieces to help fill the losses of Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland.
Who's In/Who's Out
Key Additions: Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace, Tim Hardaway Jr., Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jeremy Tyler, Beno Udrih
Key Losses: Chris Copeland, Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, James White
This Knicks team will live and die with Carmelo Anthony. It's not that there isn't depth or talent present here, because there is, but Anthony's offensive smarts dwarf those of everybody else on this team and he will be the engine that runs Mike Woodson's offence.
And 'Melo knows that he needs to have a big year. Choosing to opt out of his current deal, Anthony becomes a free agent at year's end. While he's stated that his first choice is to remain at MSG, the 2013-14 season will act as the former Syracuse man's audition tape for the rest of the league.
The Nets are all in
2nd fiddle in New York
Flirting With .500
Embrace the rebuild
This could get ugly
The Knicks will hope that 'Melo will get some help with the offensive load with a rejuvenated Andrea Bargnani, who came over from the Toronto Raptors in the offseason in what was essentially a salary dump.
Though showing flashes of a deft scoring touch over his years in Toronto, his maddening inconsistency, constant injuries and an inability (or, at least, an unwillingness) to play hard in the paint made him a target of scorn for Raptors fans. Expectations won't be nearly as high in New York, but the harshness of fans and critics under the New York spotlight could be even worse for the lanky Italian.
The Not So Goods
This is not a young team, it is injury-prone and there are some highly combustible elements at play here. If the year goes bad for the Knicks, it could go spectacularly bad.
Both Anthony and Smith need to place a greater emphasis on playing both sides of the ball. Too often, with 'Melo especially, you will see a bad shot or a missed call throw both off and their hustle to get back down the court suffers because of it. That's just not acceptable and it's one of the reasons why you rarely hear Anthony's name mentioned alongside those of, say, a LeBron or Durant when talking about the NBA's premier players.
If Chandler's knees don't hold up, Bargnani might be asked to step up defensively in way he's yet to prove capable of at any point in his career, thus far. This could present a major problem as he's simply too soft to bang at centre and the team's other options, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin, cannot handle the wear and tear thanks to general brittleness (Stoudemire) and advanced age (Martin.)
The other thing to consider for the Knicks and new general manager Steve Mills is what to do with Anthony if the year does go south.
A bad Knicks team greatly decreases the likelihood of Anthony staying in New York and it might be time for the Knicks to try to start recouping assets much the way the Nuggets did when they traded Anthony to New York. Though unlikely, an Anthony trade this season isn't outside of the realm of possibility.
If the Knicks stay healthy and on the same page, though perhaps not a division winner, this is certainly still a playoff team.
If the injuries mount and dissatisfaction grows, this could be a train wreck.
What To Expect
With the talent they have on the roster, the Knicks should have no trouble reaching the playoffs in a top-heavy Eastern Conference. However, they will be hard pressed to win 50 games again this season and win the Atlantic division.
Teams like Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn all have legitimate reason to think they are better than New York and could push the Knicks down to a lower seed come playoff time.
An all-New York first round matchup with the Nets is definitely in play and would be amazing to see.