July 17, 2012
The New York Knicks enter the 2012-13 NBA season with a myriad of questions surrounding their team. After losing to the Miami Heat in five games in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, there are plenty of people, both close to the league and casual fans, who wonder if the Knicks have what it takes to become a viable contender in a fast improving Eastern Conference.
The Knicks once upon a time were an Eastern Conference powerhouse that was capable of going toe to toe with Isiah Thomas’ Pistons and Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams that were among the league’s elite. Things have gone sour since the days of Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley however; the team has not won a division title since 1994 and their last playoff series victory was back in the 1999-00 season when they defeated the Heat, four games to three, in the Eastern Conference semifinals before being knocked out by the Indiana Pacers.
New York not only hasn’t won a series since that 1999-00 campaign, they’ve made the playoffs only four times in that stretch, winning a combined three games. Two of those wins came in a first round playoff series loss to the Toronto Raptors in 2000-01; the Knicks would go on to lose their next 13 playoff contests before a Game Four victory against Miami this year. After the season ended, there was talk about changes that were going to be made, perhaps starting with the coaching staff.
Rumors flew hot and heavy that the Knicks were interested in former Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who spent part of his playing career with the Knicks. That quickly dissolved when Jackson stated that he had no interest in coaching the team in its current fashion, saying that the way the roster was comprised was “clumsy” as playing styles of superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amare’ Stoudemire did not mesh. Following that revelation, the Knicks offered a new contract to Mike Woodson, who took over the team on an interim basis after Mike D’Antoni resigned in March.
With no change in the coaching staff, that means player personnel would have to be where the Knicks made potential changes. They were hotly pursuing point guard Steve Nash among other pieces to try and find parts to work with Anthony and Stoudemire. How have the Knicks done so far in free agency and the like? Let’s take a closer look at what New York has done as they attempt to remain relevant in not only the league and the conference, but in their own city.
Knicks Acquisitions: PG Jason Kidd, PG Raymond Felton, C Marcus Camby, PF/C Kurt Thomas, G/F James White, SF Steve Novak (re-signed), SG J.R. Smith (re-signed)
Knicks Departures: SG Landry Fields (Toronto, Knicks declined to match offer sheet), C Dan Gadzuric (traded to Portland), PF Jared Jeffries (traded to Portland), PG Jeremy Lin (Houston has offer sheet out, Knicks are reportedly not going to match), PG Mike Bibby (unsigned), PG Baron Davis (unsigned), SF Bill Walker (unsigned), SG Roger Mason (unsigned)
The Knicks have gone the route of going after battle tested veterans so far in free agency. Kidd, Camby and Thomas all have plenty of experience under their belts but with that experience comes a ton of miles. None of them are capable of being starters or logging heavy minutes with any sort of success these days and their offensive numbers for their respective clubs was minimal last season.
Case in point: Kidd averaged career lows in points (6.2), rebounds (4.1) and assists (5.5) per game last season while playing a career low 28.7 minutes per game. The assist number was more than two FULL assists per game than his previous low of 7.7 that he recorded during his rookie campaign. He lacks the ability to slash to the basket and create opportunities via dribble penetration and settles for far too many jump shots. Last season marked his second consecutive year of shooting below 37 percent from the floor.
Camby averaged 4.9 points and 9 rebounds per game in a season split between Portland and Houston. He’s not an offensive threat; his best scoring average of 14.8 points per game came back in his rookie season. He averages 9.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in his career and his rebounding and defensive ability (he led the league in blocks per game four times) will help the Knicks close to the basket. He’ll be a backup to Tyson Chandler and may slide into the power forward slot should the Knicks decide to go with a big lineup.
The well-traveled Thomas makes his second stop in New York after coming over in the sign and trade deal that brought Raymond Felton to the Big Apple and sent Jared Jeffries along with the expiring contract of Dan Gadzuric to Portland. He averaged a mere 15 minutes per game last season and posted averages of three points and 3.5 rebounds per contest. At 39, Thomas has little left to offer but is a physical presence that the Knicks can use to put notoriously poor free throw shooters like Dwight Howard on the line.
After being spurned by Nash and seeing Deron Williams re-sign with the Nets, the Knicks went and signed Kidd from the Mavericks. The premise was that Kidd would serve as a capable reserve and could be a valuable mentor to Lin, who set the NBA on fire with his hot start to his career as a starter last season before going down with a knee injury that eventually required surgery. While the Knicks hold “early Bird” rights on Lin, the Houston Rockets, a team that waived Lin last season, extended an offer sheet that would pay Lin more than $25 million over three years, including a $14.8 million salary in the final year of the deal. That sort of number would cripple the Knicks and put them in a hefty penalty with the luxury tax.
In a move that very well may signal the end of the Lin-sanity era in New York, Jared Jeffries and Dan Gadzuric’s expiring contract were sent to Portland in exchange for Thomas and Raymond Felton, who agreed to a three year, $10 million deal. It’s Felton’s second run with the Knicks, he played 54 games for the team in 2010-11, averaging 17.1 points and 9 assists per contest before becoming part of the gargantuan package that the Knicks sent to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal. He spent last season with Portland, averaging 11.4 points and 6.5 assists in 60 games, 56 of which were starts. The biggest issue with Felton is his shooting; he’s a 41 percent career shooter from the field and has more seasons shooting worse than 40 percent from the field (two) than he does hitting better than 45 percent (one.)
The majority of the other pieces the Knicks have lost were fringe players at best. Mike Bibby averaged 2.6 points and 2.1 assists per game in 39 appearances for the Knicks. He shot an abysmal 28 percent from the floor and looked nothing like the point guard that averaged 21.1 points a game for Sacramento in 2005-06. Baron Davis was picked up for the short term and missed more than half the season to injury, averaging 6.1 points and 4.7 assists in 29 games. He suffered a major knee injury in the postseason and is not expected to be ready to play until late in the regular season at best. Walker was waived by the team on April 20 and he averaged 5.9 points and 2.5 rebounds per contest.
The Knicks got off to a rough start as Kidd was arrested for DWI over the weekend. While it will have little effect on the team with this being the offseason, one has to wonder if Kidd is mentally ready for the challenge of playing in the Big Apple under the media glare. With the splashes that the Nets made as they prepare to play in Brooklyn with the re-signings of Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace along with a deal that brought shooting guard Joe Johnson from Atlanta, the Knicks were behind the eight ball as far as the court of public opinion goes. With their biggest name caught in trouble with the law so quickly, it adds another ding on the perception of the Knicks.
Are the Knicks better than they were in the 2011-12 season? It’s hard to fathom how adding three of the five oldest active players in the league to the roster improves a club that was challenged offensively at times and defensively at others. Woodson is a defensive oriented coach who got the most out of the players he had to work with last season but there are too many pieces that don’t fit together in the grand scheme of things. There were talks that Grant Hill had spoken with the Knicks, which would add another aging veteran well past his prime.
One thing is for certain, if the Knicks get off to a slow start while the Nets get rolling in the early portion of the season, there will be plenty of scapegoats to point fingers at. There will be no one to blame but the decision makers for the franchise and while things like this tend to run downhill, sooner or later James Dolan and company will need to be held responsible for their poor choices.