The New York Knicks season came to an end Saturday night in a frustrating and disappointing cloud of Roy Hibbert rebounds and Lance Stephenson preening. An initial dump of reaction articles categorized the season as a failure, blamed Mike Woodson, blamed Carmelo Anthony, blamed JR Smith, and blamed and blamed and blamed. The future has been painted as grim as the Knicks lack the adequate support for their superstar and the flexibility to improve around him, while endless questions continue to swirl about Anthony’s competence as a lead player on a championship contender and Woodson’s ability to get out of the 2nd round. What of all this?
I often wonder how the Knicks end of season reaction articles would look if they advanced past the Pacers and then lost to the Heat in 5 games. Would that make the season a success? Would there be substantially more forgiving opinions for Anthony, Woodson and the rest of the gang? It doesn’t matter now but it is something worth pondering. I would say the Knicks slightly overachieved in the regular season and then were knocked off by a more complete team than themselves, who knew their identity, embraced it and thrived in it…while the Knicks remained hesitant to accept what they are.
We know this team is best suited with Carmelo Anthony at the 4, surrounded by a collection of shooters and rim protecting centers. Yet, you get the horrid feeling that if Amare Stoudemire is around and healthy next year, Mike Woodson would be content to roll him out as the starting power forward, with Anthony bumped back to the 3. A situation that isn’t going to produce anywhere near the same success as the small-ball this team has embraced for stretches.
Should the Knicks protect Woodson from himself and get Stoudemire off the roster, even if that means paying for him not to be there or getting anything in exchange? There is undeniably value to having him as a 2nd unit scorer at this point but not enough value to deal with threat of ineffective line-up combinations Woodson could be tempted to use.
Filling the roster around Anthony at power forward with the proper players and depth will not be an easy task considering the team’s salary cap situation. The first major domino to fall will be the decision on JR Smith, who is a dangerous investment because of inconsistency both on and off the court. But, how do you replace his scoring? The Knicks need wing players who can defend and hit threes…basically finding more Iman Shumperts to support Iman Shumpert, who is the only young hope on this roster and should be the team’s 2nd best player next season if he continues to progress at his current rate. The Knicks have the 24th pick in the draft and there will be some low cost options in free agency, where the Knicks can target a guy like Matt Barnes or players like him.
The hopes for improving the Knicks lay in finding low-cost contributors seemingly out of nowhere, like they did last year with Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni. It would help to have those two back as well but both of their futures remain in the air. Copeland is a good fit on this roster and should only get better. Outside of Anthony and Shumpert, who can you really bank on getting better next season beyond Copeland? Maybe if Tyson Chandler gets healthy, he can revert to 2011 form but Copeland’s return needs to be a major priority.
It’d be nice to see Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby retire, but are they going to leave that much money on the table? Doubtful. The Knicks need fresh blood in their rotation, particularly at backup center and point guard and it is hard to get too excited about what either of these geriatrics could bring next season.
Glen Grunwald doesn’t have an enviable job. The more versatile wing players and depth he can add, the better but this isn’t a roster that will be turned over in a major way. Chicago will be better next year. Indiana will be better next year. Miami is Miami. As a Knicks fan, you hope measured improvements can be made and take solace in knowing you are going to be a playoff team next year. If you get yourself into the tournament, you never how things will break with the teams around you.
Let’s just hope the Knicks recognize who they are and embrace their identity…build yourself into the best version of the small-ball team who ripped off multiple winning streaks this year and brought entertaining, meaningful basketball back to Madison Square Garden.