Diehard New York Knicks fans officially have to struggle with the notion of whether or not this team is built for a championship daily, directly due to the team’s recent play. With the Knicks finally snapping their four-game losing streak last night with a win against the Philadelphia 76ers, they still find themselves slipping down to the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. Falling behind the Indiana Pacers, the Knicks 33-20 record hasn’t looked nearly as pretty of late, going 15-15 since starting the season 18-5.
The Knicks still have a long way to go as a team, and I know fans are tired of hearing they need more time to “gel.” But the fact of the matter is that is 100% correct. With off-season aqusitions of Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, and with Amare Stoudemire adjusting to a completely different role off the bench, time will always prove to be the most important component in coming together as a team. People feel as if Carmelo Anthony has been on the Knicks for an eternity and the team should be past trying to “gel,” but it’s time we lay off. Even though this is the first full off-season and training camp the Knicks were able to endure is a team, it still doesn’t mean we have to win it right now. The Knicks have made strides earlier in the season that were certainly stepping stones to being an elite team, so whose to say the ceiling needs to end here?
It’s crystal clear the Knicks have rostered many players that we consider old in the National Basketball Association, but I’m getting tired of that argument. The Knicks core players, in fact, are not old at all. The core is the key, and with that in tact, finding role players is quite easy. The Miami Heat are a perfect example of this. Do you really think the Heat’s championship asparations would be different if Norris Cole started over Mario Chalmers? Or Chris Anderson started playing more minutes then Joel Anthony? Not at all.
I consider the Knicks core players to be Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Amare Stoudemire, and JR Smith. The average age between the five players is under 29-years-old. That obviously doesn’t include the 22-year-old Iman Shumpert, who the Knicks have high regards for and see to have a bright future. The team age on paper is raised dramatically when you factor in the 38-year-old-average between Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Pablo Prigioni, Kenyon Martin, and Rasheed Wallace alone. Kidd is the only player that has been playing a pivotal rotation role, and he’s been incredibly unproductive of late. So yeah, the Knicks got a bunch of old guys, but the reason why this team is top three in the Eastern Conference, regardless of their play of late, is the core.
I view the Knicks as the total reverse of the San Antonio Spurs. Before your wonder whether or not that’s a compliment or a diss to the Knicks, hear me out. When I say the Knicks are the reverse of the Spurs, I don’t mean it in a on-court basketball sense right now. I’m talking about the set-up of the team, and how it can look for years to come. I believe the Knicks have the opportunity to win a championship for quite some time, so why I constantly keep hearing about their “2-3 year” championship window, baffles me. Stoudemire is the only player I mentioned in the Knicks core that’s truly an injury concern, and his recent bench role has limited his minutes to fit the rotation surprisingly well. Everybody else has had a relatively good career in terms of injury, and as long as Anthony is healthy he will be dropping 25+ a night until he’s 35. (See, Kobe Bryant)
Now, back to why I brought up the Spurs. The Spurs have become the fourth most decorated franchise in NBA history, behind the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Chicago Bulls, winning four championships in the Tim Duncan era. As we all know, the Duncan era is still going on, as the Spurs are currently on top of the NBA standings with a record of 45-13. It’s not that no one gives the Spurs the respect they deserve anymore, it’s simply the fact that we expect greatness year in and year out from them. So now it’s 2013, the Spurs are still dominating the league, 14 years out from Duncan and the Spurs first ring. The Spurs philosophy, spear-headed by one of the greatest coaches of all-time, Gregg Popavich, has been executed flawlessly: build around your core, and adjust your system to your personnel. The Spurs won their first championship with their offense running through the two big men, hall-of-famer David Robinson and Duncan. When the Spurs ran off three championships in the 2000′s, Popavich incorporated the likes of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker into the system perfectly.
We considered Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili to be the key ingredients for the latest rings, and as for the first place team as of date today, they remain the core. The Spurs get the same wrap when it comes to age as the Knicks, but if you really look at it, their pretty young from top to bottom. Popavich set the bar for franchises, showcasing the a team’s championship never has to close, as long as the coaching and drafting is on par. Except for that core, that continues to stay in tact, caused Popavich and the Spurs to draft young, athletic talent to surround them with. So if the Spurs are so old today, why are they running more of an up-tempo offense then ever before? Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter all have found significant time in the rotation to compliment the Spurs big three. The Knicks are the complete opposite in terms of age between their core and role players.
The Knicks core guys have years of great basketball still to be played, and they’ll continue to learn the nuances of the game from the older veterans. This is an extremly positive sign to me. As long as this team’s core can stay together, I truly feel a championship is in the near future, and if it’s not, they can be in contention for a long time. The longer the team has the chance of being a championship caliber team, the better the chance of hoisting the trophy. The Knicks must continue to stock up the personnel year in and year out, but fans need to appreciate what we have right in front of our eyes as well. Their are teams such as the Charlotte Bobcats, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns, who you can argue don’t even have one definitive “franchise player.” The Knicks got a top five player in the whole league in Anthony, and the reigning defensive player of the year in Tyson Chandler for starters. Their is no reason the Knicks can’t be a team to be reckoned with for years to come.
Now I know, Knicks fans, your dying for the Finals to be back at the world’s most famous arena. But realistically, I don’t see it happening until someone other then the 2011 Dallas Mavericks beats Lebron James and the Heat in a seven-game series. But for this whole “2-3 year” window the Knicks have to win a championship talk, needs to end in my eyes. I’m not at all saying they are going to string off multiple championships in the next ten years, because lets face it, the Knicks are not the Spurs. But why can’t we be relevant for as long?