The Brooklyn Nets made another head turning move yesterday by signing Andrei Kirilenko to a 2 year 3.1 million dollar NBA contract and likely an undisclosed 12 million Russian Rubles. He will provide a needed boost to their depth and on paper round out one of the most impressive rosters in the NBA. The Nets earned the hype they will receive this off-season and most will pick them to both win the Atlantic Division and challenge for a 2 seed in the Eastern Conference…the location of the Knicks last year. After a high amount of movement among conference playoff contenders, where do the New York Knicks stand?
Miami remains the unquestioned top dog as the defending champs and home to that LeBron fella. Yes, their role players are a year older. Yes, Dwyane Wade’s legs are held together by tape. Yes, Chris Bosh remains Twitter fodder for many. Doesn’t matter. Miami is the clear favorite to repeat both as the Conference’s top seed and NBA Champion.
It is premature to put the Nets ahead of Indiana or Chicago as the top contenders to knocking the Heat off their throne. Brooklyn is integrating two new high profile starters in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and three new key bench pieces in Kirilenko, Jason Terry and Shaun Livingston. As we mentioned before, this team looks terrific on paper BUT they have 5 starters who will need to adjust their roles and mentality. On top that, Jason Kidd was the Knicks backup point guard 3 months ago and is now walking into a difficult 1st year head coaching job. He needs to manage the egos on Brooklyn (Hello, Deron!), properly distribute minutes so Pierce and Garnett don’t get run down and figure out ball distribution, particularly late in the game. This is not an easy task and there will be bumps along the way.
Indiana and Chicago are already well oiled machines who are returning their head coaches, the primary core of their roster and working in a system they are accustomed to. The Bulls are obviously getting Derrick Rose back and also added Mike Dunleavy Jr to improve their outside shooting. The Pacers will get Danny Granger back and improved their backup point guard situation by adding CJ Watson. Less Sam Young and DJ Augustin is a nice boost to an Indiana team who already pushed Miami to the brink last season. It is unrealistic to think the Nets will hit the ground running and finish ahead of either the Bulls or Pacers.
Which leaves the Knicks and Nets to battle it out for the Atlantic Division title along with 4th and 5th seeds. Some may think a team like Cleveland or Atlanta could be in the discussion but they remain a clear cut below the two New York teams. Are the Knicks better than the Nets? It is reasonable to say no when comparing the rosters. However, the Knicks will have the benefit of continuity, returning their head coach, five starters and top bench player. They also still have the best overall player among the two teams in Carmelo Anthony, a formidable defensive center in Tyson Chandler and the returning 6th Man of the Year in JR Smith who will hopefully have his mind reset to the final 2 months of the previous regular season. On top that, you have the one of the best young wing defenders in the league in Iman Shumpert, who is starting to come into his own on the offensive side of the court.
The point is that it is easy to be bummed when you see the crosstown team rack up big name additions but it isn’t worth forgetting the Knicks still have a deeply talented roster. The primary components that won 54 games last season are back and while they may not match that win total this season, they are going to be a high-scoring, strongly competitive team that is experienced playing together. Maybe Andrea Bargnani finds a niche as a decent role player that can provide scoring off the bench…maybe Amare Stoudemire gives you 55-65 solid games in a similar role. Maybe not, but if they don’t, the Knicks can survive because the Anthony, Smith, Chandler, Shumpert, Ray Felton and Pablo Prigioni are more critical pieces who will have larger roles anyway.
Ultimately, you are probably looking at a Knicks team who will be battling it out with Brooklyn for the division, down to the final week of the season. They will then have a tough but winnable first round series and then if they advance find themselves solid underdogs in round two. The hype level and playoff expectations will be lower but that doesn’t mean the Knicks are facing a discouraging season that will be devoid of some excitement and potential.