Holy hell there’s nothing happening in the NBA. I know the Masters are coming up and Tiger just won a tournament for the first time in a century, baseball starts…sometime soon, the Final Four starts on Saturday & the NFL is dominating the headlines with its typical non-news story bullsh!t. But it’s like the NBA realized all this was happening and simply stopped trying to do anything interesting. What we have on the docket now is a slew of noteworthy players out with injury or playing injured, about the only similarity between them is that 80% of these players happen to be employed by the New York Knicks.
In the past couple weeks the Knicks have sustained injuries to Baron Davis (after he had been injured all season), Jeremy Lin, and now Amar’e is out indefinitely with a bad back (my guess is for the year) and Melo has a “tweaked” groin, which, while it sounds painful, the word “tweaked” should never be associated with a groin injury. This has just been part of one of the more peculiar seasons for a team in NBA history. Why, if the Raptors were having a season similar to the Knicks, it might even make a couple headlines on ESPN. That’s how abnormal it has been. Even if a small market NBA team experienced the same highs and lows people would acknowledge it.
Their season started with tremendously inflated expectations. Somehow, they were supposed to compete with Miami & Chicago for the Eastern Conference Title, despite the fact that they had no depth (which Chicago has in spades) and their three best players were all arguably worse than the three best players for Miami.
To recap, their season has gone as such:
- When it became clear that none of the above was going to happen — not only due to a lack of quality/star personnel, but an offensive scheme that demanded a capable point guard and a mismanaged roster that didn’t have one – the team started dovetailing. The Knicks plodded along for about two months hoping Toney Douglas or Landry Fields would find themselves capable of managing a point guard dependent offense.
- Finally, for whatever reason, right around the time speculation was calling their coach’s job security into question, D’Antoni decided to give Jeremy Lin substantial playing time.
- The Knicks preceded to go on an 10-1 run against mostly bottom-feeding to middling NBA teams (three wins were against playoff teams). As it turned out, all D’Antoni needed to run his offense was a past-first point guard with decent peripheral vision who can throw a serviceable alley-oop and score on occasion. He doesn’t even need to really play defense beyond simply stand in the way, and it’s ultimately cool if you commit eight unforced turnovers a game because you dribble the ball up to your chest.
- Coinciding with Lin’s emergence was a two week injury that sidelined Carmelo Anthony. When he finally returned the Knicks almost immediately backslid, part of which was due to more regularly playing a higher caliber of opponent, but even an untrained eye could tell you that Melo’s presence was throwing off team chemistry, just as everyone suspected might happen during his absence (to the point it felt prematurely harsh).
- After that, the Knicks went back to being a .500 team. There were rumors Melo asked for a trade, rumors he adamantly denied, but then morphed into rumors that D’Antoni was on the chopping block (shades of what happened with Westphal and Cousins in Sacramento). Only, D’Antoni beat James Dolan to the punch and quit.
- The Knicks then brought in former Hawks coach Mike Woodson, since then they’ve gone 7-1.
And that more or less brings us to date.
With the exception of maybe the Heat last year (who experienced a lot more success), I can’t recall a team experiencing a more tumultuous & media-plagued season. And I don’t think there’s a useful barometer for any outsider to accurately diagnose the problem with. It’s one part bad luck and one part combative personalities, but more so than anything the Knicks simply need to find one healthy, consistent rotation that works. It was easy to say Melo’s the problem since they had their best run of the season without him. Now it’s just as easy to point the finger at D’Antoni, since they’ve been successful since his departure.
But it runs deeper than that. For a team constantly mired in change it becomes almost impossible to develop a sound nucleus that will result in a convincingly winning record. Adding to the problem is their two stars in Stoudemire and Anthony aren’t nearly as good as they think they are. They went to NYC fancying themselves two-thirds the northern iteration of the LeBron-Wade-Bosh triumvirate in Miami, but that’s problematic because neither of them distribute, neither are particularly good defensively and they both need the ball at specific spots on the court. You can’t say the same thing about either LeBron or Wade.
Currently, the Knicks are the eighth seed in the East with a two game lead on Milwaukee with a 25-25 record. But even if they sneak into the playoffs and maybe win a couple games against Chicago, the season will feel like a tremendous under-achievement considering they were eying a deep playoff run and a regular season in which they left a large footprint in the win column and on the league.
We’ve talked a lot on this website about how the glamor markets are eating away at all the quality free agents every season and the league climate is almost becoming untenable for the smaller markets. Well, if your team resides in the biggest city on the planet, you brought in every free agent you set your eyes on and you’re still treading water, then obviously the problem starts at the top. Because even if those goals were unreasonable and misguided from both the team and its fans, just missing the lottery and just making the playoffs isn’t matching their potential, nor is it getting them anywhere close to where an NBA team in New York City should be in the league hierarchy.