A few weeks ago, most New York Knicks fans wouldn’t have cared too much if the team stood pat at the trade deadline. However, those weeks have passed and the tune has changed. A three-game losing streaked wrapped around the All-Star Break and a four-losses-in-five stretch will do that, especially when a team plays like the Knicks have recently. Consecutive poor fourth quarters against a good team (the Clippers) and a poor team (the Raptors) preceded a performance on Wednesday in Indiana that was so bad that…well, it was just really terrible.
Off the heels of this streak, Thursday’s deadline came with the Knicks making one swap in personnel in two separate moves; Ronnie Brewer is off to Oklahoma City in exchange for a 2014 2nd round pick and cash, and the team filled the vacant roster spot by inking Kenyon Martin to a 10-day contract. Somehow, the Knicks actually got older on Thursday.
Brewer went from a starter on one of the league’s best teams to being dumped for a second round pick in pretty rapid fashion. Early this season, Brewer fit perfectly in the starting lineup at the small forward position. The return of Iman Shumpert forced him to the bench, but even before then Brewer started losing minutes. Since that’s started happening, the Knicks haven’t been the same. I don’t want to believe these two things are directly correlated, and I’m certainly leaning that they’re not. But even if it’s a total coincidence, it’s the truth. Brewer is and always will be a defensive player. Early in the season he was giving the Knicks some bonus offense, and when that stopped happening his playing time diminished. But the Knicks have declined pretty rapidly on the defensive end in the past 30 games or so, and it’s worth wondering whether or not they could have helped that with playing Brewer a bit more when they needed some perimeter defensive help. Alas that’s for naught now, with Brewer in Oklahoma City and clad in weirder shades of blue and orange.
The move for Martin is low-risk, high-reward. I have no idea what type of shape Kenyon Martin is in. I would like to think the Knicks did their due diligence and know the answer to that question (their swiftness in signing him after opening up a roster spot on Thursday, suggest they did, although they only gave him a 10-day deal, so…). If he can give the Knicks 10 or so minutes a night and help defend, rebound, and knock a few people to the ground, then brilliant. Basically, give them what they’ve been missing in the absence of Camby and Wallace. If Martin is grossly out of shape or just plays poorly, you cut your ties.
For all intents and purposes, the Knicks stayed pat at the deadline. Their only trade chip, Shumpert, stayed. The names being tossed around to join – Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick amongst them – aren’t here. Holding on to Shumpert, I think, was the prudent thing to do. He has the potential to be an elite defender, and could help the often-stagnant offense if utilized better (why not give him some run at point guard with the second unit? Can’t hurt to have some athleticism there). Additionally, his value just isn’t as high as it could be in the future. He’s their only asset right now – you hold onto that unless you’re blown away with an offer. Trade packages with Jared Dudley or J.J. Redick as the centerpiece are not examples of that type of offer.
The past two months haven’t been great, but the Knicks’ issues seem to be correctable. On offense, the ball needs to move like it did early in the season. If it does, the open looks will come, and in turn the 3s will start magically falling again. Defensively, the Knicks need to resist the urge to switch because it’s easier, and they need to rebound the ball better. It’s on coach Mike Woodson to start making a few adjustments and start using some different units of five.
Of course, it’s really on Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd and the like. It’s on the guys that started the season so well together to finish up the season and enter the playoffs together. That’s the weird thing. This Knicks team wasn’t actually picked by many to go far this year. A lot of people thought they were a fringe playoff team. The hot start with wins over Miami and San Antonio got people thinking that the Knicks were as legitimate a contender in the East as anyone not named Miami. Have the recent struggles really changed that?
While the Knicks haven’t been the same team recently, would you definitively say that their chances in the playoffs are worse than every other team in the East not named Miami? The Pacers and Bulls present bad matchups for the Knicks, but saying that the Knicks have absolutely no shot against either of them in a seven-game series would be a bit exaggerated. Boston would be a tough matchup as well given their experience, but without Rajon Rondo they aren’t nearly as dangerous. The Nets, Hawks and Bucks are teams the Knicks should beat in a playoff series.
What we’re hoping for now is to see that the opening of the season wasn’t a mirage and that the last 30 games or so aren’t the norm. Likely, the truth falls somewhere in the middle. The final days of the regular season will help us figure that out, but the Knicks will still make the playoffs regardless. And they’ll have their best chance of making serous noise since Y2K.