Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Future of New York Knicks Basketball

Like the rumors that swirl annually regarding the status of Yankees GM Brian Cashman, the anticipation that fans build for their seemingly hopeless New York sports teams (i.e. Mets, Islanders), and even the Isiah Thomas files, more dramatics have commenced in NYC.  Talk is spreading that Knicks Head Coach Mike D'Antoni may be headed out of the Big Apple after this year.  The speculation is coming while the Knickerbockers enter their first playoff series in 7 years, and the first time a winning record has been posted in 10 years.  The last time the New York Knicks reached the playoffs came in the 2003-2004 season, just before their deep plummet during the Isiah Thomas years. 

D'Antoni was hired near the end of these years, and while many argue that it would be best to completely clean house, that may not be the best option.  Upon Mike D'Antoni's arrival in New York during 2008, everyone was aware of the dark depths that the Knicks had sank into, and understood that rebuilding would take at least 2 solid years to have any chance at a winning season.  Now 3 years following the hiring, it is safe to say that the Knicks are now close to becoming a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.  However, D'Antoni doubters still remain.

Not only does attracting Amare Stoudemire from Phoenix act as a bargaining chip in favor of Mike D'Antoni, but it represents a turning point for the Knicks franchise, a franchise that intends to make D'Antoni a part of the legacy.  Stoudemire and D'Antoni proved to be a successful tandem in Phoenix, and have now been reunited.  The main goal in this past off-season was to lure LeBron James from Cleveland, but he of course had plans to take his talents elsewhere.  Instead, the Knicks were able to sign Amare Stoudemire, and trade pieces that were seemingly built for the move to acquire Carmelo Anthony.  Immediately following the mid-season trade for Melo, some Knicks fans' hopes were set as high as a Championship this year, a typical dramatic over-exaggeration by New York sports fans and media.

Being a lifelong Boston Celtics fan, it is easy for me to observe the Knicks and compare them to the Celtics of the early 90's through mid 00's.  For twice as long as the Knicks, the Celtics were plagued with bad luck, from the deaths of promising young stars Reggie Lewis & Len Bias, Paul Pierce's stabbing, poor management, etc.  However, on draft night of 2007, Celtics GM Danny Ainge was able to deal many of the players that contributed to the prior year's abysmal 24-58 record, for Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and a second-round pick that turned into Glen"Big Baby" Davis.  The "Big Three" had the remainder of the summer to work with each other before the trek for banner 17 began.

Even the deals sending Kevin Garnett to Boston, and Carmelo Anthony to New York can be compared in the sense that numerous promising young talents were exchanged for a superstar in each trade.  For example, Al Jefferson (to Minnesota) and Wilson Chandler (to Denver) can be claimed as similar pieces.  This being said, obviously each team has lost their share of young talent, but did that hold the Celtics back?  No.  In one year, the Boston Celtics were able to successfully mesh together and win a championship in 2008.  For any fan to expect a phenomenon like this is simply outrageous, let alone a championship after playing only half of the season together.

If I were a Knicks fan, I would welcome Mike D'Antoni back to Madison Square Garden (absolutely not the most famous arena in the world), and finally enjoy the stability that the Knicks organization has long lacked.  Wake up.  The Knicks are back in the playoffs, just a few role players away from great success.  Two areas that the Knicks will be sure to address this off season include shooting guard, and center.  Landry Fields has underperformed since the blockbuster trade for Carmelo Anthony, and let's face it, Ronny Turiaf & Jared Jeffries at center will never lead a championship team. 

At shooting guard: Michael Redd, Leandro Barbosa, and J.R. Smith are all unrestricted free agents this summer. 
At center: Tyson Chandler, Nene, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Samuel Dalembert are all unrestricted free agents this summer.

Each of the few names listed can be seen as potential serious targets for the Knicks this off-season.  Depending on what happens between management and Chauncey Billups will decide how they draft.  If the Knicks are able to re-sign Billups for less than his option, the Knicks would be smart to draft a point guard in the first round to develop under "Mr. Big Shot".  As hot as Toney Douglas can get, someone inconsistent on offense, and non-existent on defense is not the answer as a franchise point guard.  If a deal cannot be reached with Billups, look for the Knicks to seek a veteran point guard instead of addressing the position in the draft (Chris Paul anyone?).  If this were the case, the Knicks would instead target an efficient 3-pt shooting guard in the draft.

Time is running out for the aging Boston Celtics.  Between the lingering retirement of Doc Rivers and injuries, the future is up in the air.  Regardless of winning or losing in the 2011 playoffs, the Knicks

The second half of this year has been a stepping stone to the next few years of success in New York, and the pieces are falling into place, molding together one game at a time.  Keeping Mike D'Antoni on board as Head Coach to stay his current course is crucial to New York's success.  The confidence, stability, experience, and depth of the New York Knicks will determine their future for years to come.