Sometimes a team’s vision reaches a point where the individuals controlling its course must step back and reassess their plan. In a little over a week events have transpired that should make the New York Knicks worrisome about the immediate future. The Heat have repeated as World Champions while LeBron James looked as polished as ever the entire way, J.R. Smith, the 6th man of the year and the Knicks’ second leading scorer last season has decided to test free agency and Thursday night the Celtics agreed to ship Knicks killers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett across the river from MSG to join Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez in Brooklyn to create one of the most complete and balanced lineups in the league.
Assuming the Heat finish in first, and now the improved Nets and the Pacers who beat the Knicks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, pass them in the standings at the end of the 2013-2014 season. A playoff run would potentially have to pass through a combination of Indiana, Brooklyn and Miami.
This is a point when the Knicks front office needs to use a wider lens than that of last season, This new lens needs to include the reality that 2013-2014 looks like it may be a tough season for the team but 2014-2015 has the potential to be one of great opportunity.
This does not mean that the Knicks need to entirely rebuild from scratch. They have good pieces in Carmelo Anthony, the 2012-2013 NBA Scoring Champion. Also Tyson Chandler, who if healthy is the cornerstone of their interior defense and an experienced veteran with a championship under his belt and Iman Shumpert, an elite perimeter defender whose immense athleticism has returned as Knicks fans witnessed throughout the playoffs. What this does mean, however is that a different path has to be taken to reach the Promised Land.
One reason why 2014-2015 should become a focus is that the 2014 NBA Draft is going to be the most talent concentrated draft since the 2003 Draft. Kentucky being the one-and-done program that it is has the strongest recruiting class on paper in the history of college basketball and along with hyped prospects such as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon and others the draft pool is sure to flood with talent. If the Knicks were to invest in a trade that moved them up in the 2014 Draft it could end up paying dividends over the following decade.
Another positive of planning for the 2014-2015 season is that there is a chance some of these powerhouses, specifically those in the East, break up previously to the start of season. LeBron James can opt out and may choose to do so depending on the Heat’s success next season and where other pieces may fall into place throughout the league (perhaps back to Cleveland if Anthony Bennett pans out and Kyrie Irving stays healthy). The new look Nets may fall apart if they do not meet the standards they will set for themselves previously to the start of the season. Kevin Garnett had discussed retiring previously to the trade, Paul Pierce, a life-time Celtic has now been moved and with a rookie Head Coach in Jason Kidd at the helm, falling short of their goals is entirely possible.
Finally a third and the biggest positive of planning for 2014 is that it is the last season of Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract. Every Knick fan has dealt with the frustration of this contract for years, as it is often referred to as one of the worst contracts in sports. Now that it is expiring, it means not only could they begin to plan for what they will put his money towards once the season ends, a team, perhaps around the trade deadline, may be more willing to take on his expiring contract giving the Knicks the ability to trade for/sign a more effective max-contract piece.
Even a slight rebuilding phase can frustrate fans, especially after making such strides in recent seasons but if a team is not winning the last game of the season and it is not looking promising for next season, it is worth a try when a series of great opportunities could potentially align.