Can Jeremy Lin Really Save the Poorly Constructed Knicks?Prior to the spectacular rise of Jeremy Lin from bench player about to be cut to international sensation, the New York Knicks were a sub-.500 team that lacked both style and substance; they were painful to watch because of their isolation-based offense revolving around Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire and because of their aversion to consistently doing the dirty work--rebounding and defense--that is essential to create a winning program. "Linsanity" briefly provided some excitement for the fans and some wins in the standings but now the Knicks are, to borrow the overused and yet entirely apt Dennis Green quote, "who we thought they were": an overrated and overhyped team.
The Knicks essentially tanked the 2009 and 2010 seasons to position themselves under the salary cap in order to make a run at LeBron James--but I never believed that there was a realistic chance that LeBron James intended to become captain of the Gotham Titanic. I expected him to stay in Cleveland--where he had a great chance to lead the Cavaliers to a championship--but in my 2010 All-Star Game recap I mentioned the only scenario that I thought could convince James to leave Cleveland:
"Despite all of the feverish speculation about James leaving Cleveland to play in New York or New Jersey, neither of those scenarios makes any sense; James understands that his resume will not be complete unless he wins an NBA title--10 or 15 years from now he does not want to be the butt of jokes on TNT a la Charles Barkley (with all due respect to the ring-less Round Mound of Rebound) and James is smart enough to realize that the New York and New Jersey franchises are not built to win championships. However, if James and Wade work out a way to play for the same team as a package deal then that team instantly becomes very formidable, assuming that the rest of the roster is not completely gutted to pay the two superstars. The only way that I see James leaving Cleveland is if the Cavaliers fall short of winning the 2010 title and he is able to partner with Wade in the aforementioned manner."
Cleveland's worst sports nightmare came to life in the months after I wrote those words--the 2010 Cavs fell apart in the playoffs as LeBron James quit and then James bolted to Miami to team up with Wade and Chris Bosh. Meanwhile, the Knicks--who apparently felt compelled to do something with all of that salary cap space they had cleared--signed Amare Stoudemire and prayed that he could be the franchise's savior. The 2011 Knicks feasted on a soft early schedule to start out 16-9 but they were barely above .500 (28-26) when they traded four players, three draft picks and $3 million in cash to acquire Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams. Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups were supposed to comprise New York's "Big Three" to match the "Big Threes" in Miami and Boston but it took quite a stretch of the imagination to believe that New York's trio compared with the Heat's three All-NBA caliber studs or Boston's collection of future Hall of Famers. New York went 14-14 after the trade, including 14-13 when Anthony played. The media then portrayed the Knicks as the proverbial "team that nobody wants to face in the first round"--and the Boston Celtics made that assessment look foolish by sweeping New York, 4-0. Portland was also considered a "team that nobody wants to face in the first round" last season and in my 2011 Playoff Preview I wrote, "Someone should go through the archives and find out the winning percentages of such teams, because I suspect that most "teams nobody wanted to face" actually did not go particularly far in the postseason (I think that Carmelo Anthony's Nuggets received that title several of the years that they lost in the first round)."
Before the truncated 2012 season began many media members continued to hype up the Knicks as a potential Eastern Conference power, while I picked the Knicks to finish sixth in the East. The Knicks "amnestied" Chauncey Billups and limped to an 8-15 record without a legitimate starting point guard before Lin led the team to seven straight wins--but now reality has set in again and the Knicks are currently 18-23, clinging to the eighth playoff spot. The media, the fans and the "stat gurus" relentlessly blamed Isiah Thomas for everything that went wrong with the Knicks a few years ago but the Knicks were 33-49 in 2006-07, Thomas' first season as coach. Granted, those were hardly the franchise's glory days but in the subsequent seasons the Knicks exceeded that win total just once (last season) and they are currently barely above that winning percentage now.
I wrote these prophetic words at the beginning of the Mike D'Antoni era:
"...there are two interesting dynamics to watch with the Knicks, namely what roster changes new team president Donnie Walsh makes in the next year or two and whether or not D'Antoni is willing/able to coax a better defensive performance out of this team.
'Defense' may be a four letter word to D'Antoni but if the Knicks want to spell a certain 12 letter word--'championship'--for the first time since 1973 then defense will have to become a part of their collective vocabulary."
Knicks Buy Ticket for "LeBron Lottery"
New York State of Mind
New York State of Mind, Part II
Why Would LeBron James Become Captain of the Gotham Titanic?
posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 PM