NEW YORK — It’s been a long seven days for the New York Knicks. After their bold and surprising move to land Tyson Chandler last Thursday, interim general manager Glen Grunwald has been hard at work trying to build a formidable team around New York City’s newest skyline.
As it stands, the projected starting lineup will feature arguably the league’s best front court, but a somewhat inexperienced backcourt. Toney Douglas—the third year pro—is expected to begin the season as the starter, while Landry Fields will attempt to make his miserable second half of last season a distant memory. Douglas has been a shoot-first point guard whose inability to read defenses and thread the needle in a pick and roll have been painfully apparent. As for Fields? He does a lot of things very well, but nothing great.
Starters—at this level—need to do something great.
That being said, the Knicks will trot out a very capable starting unit when they tip of their season against the Boston Celtics from Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day.
It’s the rest of the roster that has failed to take shape.
On consecutive days, the Knicks lost out of their two primary free agency targets. One—Jamal Crawford—was a pipe dream; the other—Shawne Williams—seemingly a sure thing.
Now, all we know for sure is that the Knicks have serious depth issues that will become all the more apparent in a 66-game sprint to the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
Most importantly: The Knicks lack playmakers.
A playmaker isn’t someone who “gets assists,” mind you. A playmaker is someone who gets guys layups and throws successful alley-oops. A playmaker is someone who has the ability to break his man down off the dribble, get into the teeth of the defense, and then react appropriately. When the Knicks opened training camp last weekend, Mike D’Antoni told everyone that he thinks Douglas is a capable starter because he planned on having Carmelo Anthony be the primary play maker. And although ‘Melo might have that ability, the more troubling message is found in the hidden meaning of that statement:
We don’t have any playmakers on this team, so we’re going to have to depend on Carmelo to do it!
Why else do you think the Knicks brass will be sitting on pins and needles until about 6pm ET on Friday?
They hope Baron Davis clears amnesty waivers.
At this point, the Knicks so desperately need help with playmaking, they’re hoping a player with a reputation for being out of shape and not putting forth the effort necessary to win can be their missing ingredient. It’s a low risk gamble, so I say why not? And yes, I say that despite the prognosis that he will be out for eight to 10 weeks as he battles a severely bulging disc in his lower back.
Mind you, there are a growing number of skeptics that believe that the severity of his injury is being fabricated in an attempt to scare off would-be bidders. Sources tell me Davis hopes to end up with the Knicks, and if he does, he could be available to go within two weeks.
And all of that explains why the Knicks were so hopeful that Jamal Crawford would accept their $2.5 million “room exception.” Crawford, despite his questionable shot selection, is a combo guard playmaker that can create opportunities off the dribble—either for himself or for teammates. He can play off the bench and absolutely would have helped the team. But obviously, it wasn’t meant to be.
Neither was keeping the bird that was in the hand.
The pursuit of Jamal Crawford cost the Knicks Shawne Williams. Essentially, they were offering Crawford the money that was earmarked for Williams. Had Crawford accepted, Williams’ only way to remain with the Knicks would have been to accept a minimum salary of about $950,000 for a player with his tenure. Instead, the Nets offered him a two-year deal worth $6.1 million.
Find another team he did. Now, find another “Stretch 4,” the Knicks must.
Losing Williams hurts the Knicks for many reasons, but perhaps none bigger than the fact that he is a very capable post defender that had deadly 3-point range. That’s hard to find in this league.
After losing big on Crawford and Williams, the Knicks brass is well aware that it has some holes to patch. Mainly, the team needs a playmaker off the bench and a front court player that can stretch defenses and spell either Amar’e Stoudemire or Chandler.
Iman Shumpert, Josh Harrellson, and Jerome Jordan are all rookies who haven’t played in a single minute of NBA action. It’s way too soon to count on any of them for a meaningful contribution. Anything they give should be considered a bonus.
Mike Bibby—though he shot over 40 percent from behind the arc last season—is a shell of his former self. He will probably be most effective playing with Carmelo and benefitting from catch-and-shoot opportunities. He won’t create plays for Carmelo, or in the absence of Carmelo.
Bill Walker and Renaldo Balkman never carved out spots in the rotation because of their ineptitude and inconsistency.
Jared Jeffries—while capable on the defensive end—is absolutely miserable on offense.
So what does that mean?
That means that the Knicks have a weak bench and little depth. In this lockout shortened 66-game season, young legs and depth will pay huge dividends. For sure, a successful team will need one or the other, if not both.
So for those Knicks hoping to be partying like it’s 1999, keep your fingers crossed that over the next seven days, Grunwald has better luck with his newest targets: Davis, Michael Redd, DeShawn Stevenson and Troy Murphy.
Armed with the $2.5 million room exception, Grunwald will look to add a rotation piece and give the Knicks a chance to contend. Davis and Redd have the most upside, but Stevenson and Murphy are more healthy—and thus—more likely to make substantive contributions.
At best, this team is two solid pieces away from having a chance to contend for the Eastern Conference. Fortunately, Grunwald seems to know. And as badly as Knicks fans want to hear talk of contending for a championship, this team is just not ready.
But cheer up, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And less than 2 weeks ago, the Knicks Plan A was to bide time until the Summer of 2012 and hope that Chris Paul would accept 80 cents on the dollar.
Today? He’s playing for the other team in Los Angeles and we’re discussing what holes the Knicks need to plug to be able to seriously contend.
Your general manager has $2.5 million burning a hole in his pocket, a fair amount of attainable veterans on the market, and one of the league’s most formidable front lines.
Clearly, there are worse places to be. So let’s see how things look next week.