After the Knicks lost in the second round of last year’s playoffs, it was natural and acceptable to feel that the team needed to make major moves. The past few years saw the Knicks sign Amare Stoudemire and acquire Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, and the end goal when making moves like that certainly isn’t to lose in the second round in six games. A title is and always was the main prize, and the NBA revolves around elite talent. However, acquiring the core players above put the Knicks in a place where severely changing the makeup of their team was near impossible. While it’s not unreasonable to be of the belief that the Knicks’ window has passed, it doesn’t make your crazy if you think the Knicks shouldn’t simply be written off.
Continuity helps. Sure, if you have a crappy team (in any sport), you shouldn’t keep the same players and coaches that make up that crappy team and figure that one day, since they’ve all been together so long, that they’ll magically become great. The world certainly doesn’t work that way. But, despite what a lot of angry fans and media want to tell you, the Knicks aren’t one of those crappy teams! Last season, they were actually quite good at the whole playing basketball thing. And while many of the teams around them in the Eastern Conference have gotten better, it’s possible the Knicks have also improved – and not just because of player acquisitions.
Let’s remember that last season was really the core Knicks’ first rodeo together. In 2011-12, Anthony and Stoudemire were oft-injured. It was Chandler’s first season. The Knicks made a mid-season coaching change. Linsanity happened. J.R. Smith joined mid year from China with a weird haircut. I almost forgot about the world’s most meaningless lockout, which wiped out half the season and resulted in things being out of sorts across the league for a while. Suffice it to say that there was a lot going on, a lot of moving parts.
Last year, the Knicks added some major pieces. They brought back Raymond Felton who took over the starting point guard spot. While still coming off the bench, as he did in his first half-season with the Knicks, J.R. Smith took on a much larger role as the team’s second top scorer. Chandler remained the only consistent member of the frontcourt, as Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace were in and out of the lineup before Kenyon Martin was brought on midseason. The team really hit its stride late when Pablo Prigioni was inserted into the starting lineup. Iman Shumpert missed much of the season but became indispensable by the playoffs. Again, a lot of moving parts, but the Knicks were able to keep winning and finished second in the Eastern Conference.
Teams need time to truly gel, and being through ups and downs, playoff series wins and losses helps. Its not often that a team lifts a trophy in the first season its core has been put together. The 2007-08 Celtics seem to the exception. Even after bringing LeBron James and Chris Bosh on board, the Miami Heat needed time to become a great team, and even took two seasons to become champs (Side note I really shouldn’t have to point out, but will: I am not comparing the New York Knicks to the Miami Heat). A team a lot of people have compared this iteration of the Knicks to is the Dallas Mavericks of a few seasons ago, who defeated the Heat for a title back in 2010-11. That team was quite good in the previous seasons, but it took a few years of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry playing together for it to all come together. I bet you can’t find too many people that, before the season, predicted the Mavs to win that title.
Again, this is not to say that I’d pick the Knicks to win this year’s title, but it’s a good thing that this core is entering its second season together (some having gone back longer, obviously). You might think the nucleus is flawed, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but I think it’s a positive thing that Anthony, Chandler, Felton, Smith, Prigioni, Shumpert and yes, even Stoudemire, are back together for another run at this thing. It remains to be seen whater the tweaks that were made (see Bargnani, Andrea and World Peace, Metta) end up improving the team or not, but you can be sure that the core of the team isn’t going to come across anything it hasn’t seen yet.