New York State of Mind, Part IIIThe New York Knicks essentially tanked multiple seasons in order to put together the poorly constructed roster that just lost 4-1 to Miami in the first round of the playoffs; instead of trying to build a competitive team from the ground up, the Knicks cleared cap space in a futile pursuit of LeBron James but after James predictably spurned New York the Knicks acquired two max contract players--Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony--who are not legit franchise players (Anthony has never made the All-NBA First Team, while Stoudemire earned his sole All-NBA First Team selection five years and several injuries ago). New York's overall payroll ranks sixth out of 30 NBA teams, yet all of that money has bought just a single playoff win--not a playoff series win, mind you, but merely a victory in one playoff game. That victory--obtained after Miami had already taken a commanding 3-0 series lead--ended New York's NBA record 13 game playoff losing streak that lasted for more than a decade; Anthony and Stoudemire were on the roster for seven of those losses and Anthony owns the worst individual playoff winning percentage in the past 20 years among NBA players who have participated in at least 50 playoff games.
Three years ago in New York State of Mind, I warned that despite all of the media buzz about the Knicks the team would not become a contender unless then-Coach Mike D'Antoni emphasized the importance of defense and unless the front office seriously upgraded the talent on the roster:
The Knicks have not had a winning record since 2000-01. They have been bad for a long time and it may take a while before they are good again. No one should rush to judgment after D'Antoni's first season with the franchise but 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, as should be obvious by watching the teams who currently sit atop the Eastern Conference, Cleveland and defending NBA champion Boston.
A moronic member of the True Hoop Network responded to my article and simultaneously proved that he lacks (1) basic reading comprehension, (2) basic writing skills and (3) any idea of how to properly analyze basketball. I refuted his nonsense in New York State of Mind, Part II. "Stat guru" Dave Berri--who might as well be a THN member considering how often he is cited by True Hoop--then jumped into the mix, misquoting my article and citing his usual nonsensical "advanced basketball statistics" to allegedly show that the Knicks were in fact a team on the rise, an assertion that looks even more ludicrous now than it did when he first wrote it.
Kissing up to Henry Abbott may have generated page views for my antagonists but in the end all that means is that a larger audience had the opportunity to find out that those guys have no idea what they are talking about; in contrast, my predictions about the Knicks have been on the mark. Here are some of the key assertions that I have made about the New York Knicks in the past few years:
1) I pointed out that the much praised Mike D'Antoni actually posted a worse won-loss record in his first season as New York's coach than the much maligned Isiah Thomas did in his first season as New York's coach and I declared that unless D'Antoni emphasized defensive execution the Knicks would not become a legit contender.
2) I predicted that, contrary to breathless media speculation, LeBron James would not join the team that I referred to as the "Gotham Titanic":
It really looks like the Knicks are essentially tanking the 2009 and 2010 seasons in order to slash their payroll and have enough money to sign LeBron James and/or another big-time free agent--but why would an MVP-caliber player want to sign with a dysfunctional team? If there is one thing that James has learned after playing for Cleveland Coach Mike Brown it is the importance of defense--and that lesson was reinforced by James' Team USA experience when he witnessed firsthand Kobe Bryant's dedication at that end of the court.
How will the Knicks be able to justify to their fans the suffering of the 2009 and 2010 seasons if the Knicks do not sign an elite player in the summer of 2010? Moreover, even if the Knicks bring in an elite player they still would struggle to win more than 45 games without doing a major restructuring of the rest of their roster and a complete overhaul of their all-offense, no-defense/rebounding philosophy.
3) Some analysts gave the Knicks a puncher's chance to beat Boston in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, crowning the Knicks as the proverbial "team no one wants to face"--but I predicted that Boston would win and I dismissed all of the hype about the Knicks:
Has there ever been a more overhyped team than this year's New York Knicks? Yes, the Heat received too much hype but they eventually earned the second seed in the East and they are legitimate championship contenders. The Knicks have been terrible for the better part of the decade and they seemingly tanked the past couple seasons in order to free up enough cap space to sign LeBron James--who I don't believe ever had the slightest intention of going to New York--but instead they ended up with Amare Stoudemire, who teamed up down the stretch with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to...drum roll please...lead the Knicks to 42 wins and the sixth seed in a weak Eastern Conference in which two of the playoff teams don't even have winning records. It is mindboggling that Knicks' fans are still grousing about Isiah Thomas while acting as if the current regime has somehow performed a great miracle.
4) Many people expected the Knicks to emerge as a top four Eastern Conference team in 2011-12 but I picked them to finish sixth and lose in the first round of the playoffs:
Are we past the point of blaming Isiah Thomas for everything that goes wrong in New York? For better or worse, most of the players Thomas acquired are no longer on the roster but--despite all of the breathless hype and despite two seasons of clearing cap space in a futile attempt to lure LeBron James to the Big Apple--the 2011 Knicks won exactly nine more games than the 2007 Knicks did during Thomas' first season as their coach. As much as some people rave about the Knicks you would never guess that three full seasons after Thomas' departure--and despite the additions of Anthony and Stoudemire--the Knicks improved less in four years than the starless 76ers did in one year. Much to the chagrin of some Knicks fans/"stat gurus," nearly three years ago I expressed serious skepticism about the Knicks' rebuilding plan and I remain far from convinced that the Anthony-Stoudemire duo will ever accomplish much more than provide ESPN's talking heads a lot of fodder for unfounded predictions of greatness that never quite become reality.
Yes, Chandler's defense helped a squad not previously known for playing good defense to win a title but the Mavericks have a defensive-minded coach and several other defensive-minded players (including Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion). That foundation simply does not exist in New York, so the Knicks will have trouble doing much damage in the playoffs, though I predict that for the next several years the "experts" will annually dub them the "team no one wants to face."
posted by David Friedman @ 7:06 AM