Most sports fans love this time of year for the football and baseball’s playoffs. For TOK though, as soon as it starts to get dark out a little earlier, that only means basketball is right around the corner. The New York Knicks opened training camp today, and we couldn’t be more excited. Here’s what you need to know about the Knicks upcoming season.
Key Additions - Andrea Bargnani (trade with Raptors), Metta World Peace (free agent), Beno Udrih (free agent), Tim Hardaway Jr. (draft)
Subtractions - Jason Kidd (retired), Chris Copeland (free agency), Steve Novak (traded), Marcus Camby (traded), Rasheed Wallce (retired)
2013 NBA Draft - With the 24th overall selection of the NBA Draft, the Knicks selected Tim Hardaway Jr. While the Hardaway name may still haunt some Knicks fans, it’s important that he’s given a fair chance to erase his father’s lasting impression of hatred in New York. Hardaway Jr. isn’t near the threat that his old man was on the court, but he should make for a valuable piece off the bench in due time. Unfortunately, he’ll be thrown right in to the fire as J.R. Smith rehabs from offseason knee surgery. More on his offseason next.
Directly after the draft, the Knicks were lucky enough to snatch up C.J. Leslie, who they felt was worthy of a first round selection. He’ll be competing for a roster spot throughout training camp, but he showed his scoring touch towards the end of the Summer League after rebounding from a slow start.
J.R. Smith Shenanigans - If nothing else, at least J.R. Smith kept us entertained through the dog days of summer. However, it truly featured plenty of good, bad, and ugly.
The Good: There was a point in time this summer when I considered Smith a goner. Reports were that he was going to sign in Milwaukee for a price that the Knicks simply couldn’t compete with, but at the last minute Smith pulled a 180 and signed with the Knicks for less. I don’t love his game or attitude, but for 3 years and $18 million, I’ll put up with it.
The Bad: Perhaps nothing was worse than J.R. Smith’s hair this offseason. After Coach Woodson scolded him for dying it blonde, Smith switched to red, tweeting out a photo of his new look in a Devils cap as a tribute to his home state of New Jersey (a double-whammy for Knicks/Rangers fans). Something about the blue and orange must encourage hair creativity.
Shortly after changing up his hairdo, Smith could be seen driving around the tri-state area in his brand new armored truck. The placement of this subject under the “bad” section is 110% attributed to my jealousy.
The Ugly: Things went from funny to real serious when the media’s attention switched focus from silly hair and cars to chronic knee issues. Smith had surgery to repair his patella tendon as well as arthroscopic surgery to fix up a meniscus tear. He will miss at least a month of the season. The contract that he signed for less with in New York all of a sudden looks like a possible overpayment for more bad knees.
Then, it got even uglier when Smith was suspended five games for violating the league’s drug policy. The test was reportedly positive for marijuana, which a player doesn’t get suspended for until their third offense, so this clearly isn’t the first time that J.R. has had this issue. Luckily, all it means is that the Knicks will have to activate him a week earlier from his knee rehabilitation, so he can sit the five games and still come back on time.
Summer League - Compared to other teams, the Knicks were far from star-studded, but still showed to have some players worth noting. Jeremy Tyler was the MVP of the team after Tim Hardaway Jr. missed most of the games because of a bum wrist (don’t worry the missed time was only precautionary). The Knicks also got unexpected production from Toure Murry, who has shown tremendous progression in transitioning from a shooting guard to the point. C.J. Leslie came on strong towards the end of the league and it seems like Chris Smith will be a staple over the summer and in to training camp as long as his brother, J.R., hangs around. All of these guys received training camp invites.
Stiffer Competition In The East - The Knicks managed to improve a roster that won 54 games and finished as the second seed in the East last season. For once, they were able to build around the same core as the season prior, but they weren’t the only ones building up their team over the offseason.
The only way you don’t know about the new-look Brooklyn Nets is if you’ve been living under a rock all summer. The additions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and Andre Kirlilenko makes them the biggest threat to the Heat’s throne, but I’m not sure if it translates to an automatic two-seed. They still have to figure out rotations, who will take the last shot, and you have to expect some of the older guys will be resting for the playoffs down the stretch. Oh yeah, and all of this has to be done under a certain rookie head coach who suited up for the Knicks last season.
Aside from the Nets, a couple of Central Division teams made vast improvements as well. The Cleveland Cavaliers added not only the first overall pick of the draft in Anthony Bennett, but also ex-Laker Andrew Bynum. If the big man can stay relatively healthy (82 games is way out of the question), it’s feasible that the Cavs can wind up in the playoffs. The same goes for the new-look Detroit Pistons, who added some scoring punch with Brandon Jennings and more defensive presence to their already stacked frontcourt with Josh Smith. It’s safe to say that the Central won’t be the pushover that it’s been the last couple seasons for the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers.
Front Office Shakeup - Just when all was quiet on the Knicks front, things had to be shaken up. Late last week, James Dolan demoted GM Glen Grunwald to advisor, while giving team executive Steve Mills his place. This move has more implications on the construction of next year’s roster than this one, but anytime Isiah Thomas’s name is whispered in this city, there’s cause for concern. This is a very fluid situation.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN TRAINING CAMP
Final Roster Spot - The Knicks have plenty of depth, so the only question marks left are the last couple roster spots. Personally, I would like to see a little youth at the end of the bench, in hopes of developing the space in to a soon-to-be rotation player. Toure Murry impressed me more than Jeremy Tyler in the Summer League, but Tyler wound up with a partially guaranteed deal. Still, Tyler broke his foot shortly after, so his spot on the team is far from safe. Veterans Cole Aldrich, Ike Diogu, and the familiar Earl Barron were also brought in to compete for a spot, and when you throw in a guy who the front office covets, like C.J. Leslie, the competition should get real interesting. We won’t be able to see any real results until the Knicks take the floor for their first preseason game at Boston on Wednesday, October 9th.
Injuries - We’ve already touched on J.R. Smith’s offseason knee surgery and the importance it places on Tim Hardaway Jr.’s rapid development, but today it was revealed that Amar’e Stoudemire had some work done on his knee as well. I know we shouldn’t be surprised by this and STAT is only calling it “minor” but any damage to the Knicks frontcourt has to be taken seriously. He is the only player not named Carmelo Anthony that possesses some sort of semblance of a post game and without him, it just means more iso-ball and stagnancy on the perimeter.
Rotation - The most important thing for the Knicks to figure out is how to incorporate their new pieces. We all know that Woodson loves small ball, but we saw how it folded against a big team like the Pacers in the playoffs. Will we see some more conventional lineups this season? Can Iman Shumpert be moved back to his original shooting guard position? How much time will Metta World Peace feasibly give them? How disastrous would Bargnani and STAT be defensively on the floor together? All of these questions need to be answered.