In a way, failure was almost inevitable in the Knicks' summer of 2010 quest. Their decade-long affair with ineptitude as a franchise was always going to work against the team looking to acquire the league's marquee talent, LeBron James. Even their two-year plot to nab him, pairing desirable assets with burdensome contracts to free up the necessary cap space, reeked of short-sightedness (who was James supposed to play with if he signed?). As the years wore on the dream of LeBron became less and less realistic, until this summer when James - and Bosh and Wade - opted for a multi-year run as teammates with the one-time Knicks rival, Miami Heat.
From a marketing perspective, then, the Knicks were almost forced to overpay to acquire Amar'e Stoudemire in the wake of losing LeBron. After such a long bout with irrelevance, the Knicks had willfully tossed aside two seasons to clear cap room to bring in a star. Stoudemire, while hardly a franchise-altering presence, is an All-Star fixture that fans recognize and media types in Manhattan can overhype leading into a season where the team will at least be expected to make a run at a Playoff berth. Heck, just being mentioned in the same breath as Playoffs makes the Knicks happy at this point, a testament to how far the franchise has fallen in recent times.
They know, though, that the pressure to deliver a true star still weighs heavily on the front office. With Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony using back channels this summer to express their discontent with their current circumstances, the Knicks are expected to make winning bids to acquire one (or both) of those players to pair with Stoudemire in a three-headed monster to contend with the Super Friends in Miami.
The problem is that, as it was with LeBron, all the desirable Knicks assets have already been pawned off. They had no draft pick this spring, since Houston has the right to swap picks with them this coming June and Houston gets the Knicks' first-round pick outright the following year. The only meaningful youth this team possesses is Danillo Gallinari, a player no team covets as much as New York, and newcomer Anthony Randolph, who is under pressure this season to prove he can finally capitalize on all of his prodigious talents. Beyond those two, the Knicks have very little to offer opposing teams in a trade. Sure, Eddy Curry can provide the salary ballast needed to swing cap savings in a deal, but outfits like the Nets, Clippers, and Rockets (mostly with the use of New York's picks) can offer much more to teams looking to unload a superstar.
That means that New York is going to have a rough go of it as it pertains to remaking themselves into a winning outfit. Next summer they'll have money to spend, but the league may be locked out by then, or else a new CBA may curtail the financial options New York has if it were to attempt to swim in a shallow free agent pool. They have some flexibility, but without draft picks or tradeable assets, the Knicks are going to have a tough time being much more than mediocre unless they have some tricks up their sleeves that no one has seen yet.
For all their positioning, the Knicks are only slightly better today than they were on the court over the last two years. They replaced David Lee with Stoudemire, Chris Duhon with Raymond Felton and overwhelming hope with a disaffecting reality. New York was a 29-win outfit last year, and while they may be able to post an 11-13 win improvement to nab an eighth seed in the post-season, is that really worth the decade of misery that this fan base has endured?
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
PG – RAYMOND FELTON
Some players need all kinds of statistical analytics to point out their relative value on the NBA landscape. For some, though, a simple narrative suffices. Felton was the starting point guard for the Charlotte Bobcats, a team that just made their first-ever post-season appearance. Despite not having any viable replacement, though, the Bobcats made little to no effort to retain Felton's services this summer as a free agent. They essentially opted to have no tested option at the point rather than re-employ Felton at the position. That tells you everything you need to know about Ray Felton.
SG – DANILO GALLINARI
The talk that Gallinari is somehow an NBA star in the making has never really fit in with the "reality" that most use to observe the NBA. Gallo is a quality three-point shooter (38%), especially since he's more than willing to jack a three whenever the shot comes available (6.0 attempts per game), but as an all-around force he has yet to really make a mark in the league. Last year, he and Wilson Chandler were given any and every opportunity to emerge as deadly forces on a bad team, yet neither one was able to be much more than above average at any point in the season. Keep in mind, too, that as Gallo's minutes increased, his per-minute production dipped. Maybe having a full season under his belt will allow him to show more than he's shown so far as a pro, but as of yet he's really just a solid pro, not a superstar in the making.
SF – ANTHONY RANDOLPH
If there is one player on this team that could push the club higher than some are expecting, it's Randolph. The man oozes promise in several areas of the game, but if he can utilize his ball-handling and playmaking skills to the kind of effect that Boris Diaw can, he could really help alleviate the pressure on Felton to create for this team and would give the Knicks a whole other dimension on the court. We've only ever seen Randolph perform in drips and drabs before, though, and while Don Nelson has been accused of holding players back in Golden State, he wasn't exactly proved wrong about Patrick O'Bryant or Marco Belinelli once they left the Warriors. Randolph has more potential than those two put together, of course, and if Mike D'Antoni can find a way to tap it consistently, the Knicks could be significant benefactors in the win-loss column.
PF – AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE
While Stoudemire is probably going to be an effective offensive machine no matter who he plays with, there is no denying that Steve Nash made his job exponentially easier in Phoenix. Amar'e is going to have to create a lot more for himself in New York, and he's going to have to learn to live with not being hit with a pass every time he is open or every time he gets to one of his spots on the floor. However, he can still be safely penciled-in for 21-and-8 each night, and it's really going to be about his efficiency and the abilities of those around him that dictate what the Knicks are going to do this year. He's not a transformative player, even if the Knicks are paying him like one, but so long as he maintains his production from Phoenix no one can say that the Knicks got less than they paid for this summer on the open market.
C – RONNY TURIAF
While Turiaf is hardly the kind of player that sets highlight reels on fire, the Knicks need guys like him to mix it up under the basket, block some shots and chase down rebounds in limited minutes to start games. As much as he doesn't want to, Stoudemire will be logging heavy minutes at this position over the course of the season because the rest of the roster that needs minutes is so small, but Turiaf needs to help set a tone for this club out of the gates. He's an intangibles guy, and even if he's only good for 20 minutes he'll make those minutes low-mistake ones while providing in areas that no one else on this roster wants to work in. Guys like Amare and Gallo may put up the stats, but guys like Turiaf are the ones that are going to help win games.