Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the New York Knicks, who are unfortunately owned by James Dolan.
Let’s not mince words here. Carmelo Anthony is the reason why the New York Knicks are screwed.
Not since Patrick Ewing perfected the missed-crunch-time-finger-roll have the New York Knicks been this reliant on such a fatally flawed superstar. Though Anthony has yet to play a true, full season in New York, the team’s record since gutting the roster for the prolific scorer is a head-scratching 51-53, including a playoff record of 1-8. This record would make sense if the team consisted of Carmelo Anthony and the other Carmelos from that Foot Locker commercial, but considering the team features the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Tyson Chandler and a six-time All-Star in Stoudemire, the problems that plague the Knicks clearly run deeper than just the talent assembled on the court.
Despite playing alongside the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant in this summer’s Olympics, Carmelo still hasn’t understood what it takes to be a champion – or even to compete for the title.
As evidenced by true “Big 3” teams around the league, the ones who get the farthest are those who play to the strengths of their teammates – not suck their shot attempts and playing styles into your own vortex of isolation. Carmelo thrives on his own on the block, while Amar’e and new/old point guard Raymond Felton were nearly an All-Star duo in 2010 utilizing the pick and roll together. Shooters like Steve Novak and J.R. Smith are best served drifting to the wings for open 3s, which only works if they get the ball from their teammates every once in a while.
The argument could be made that the Knicks made some serious changes to the roster and are not simply waiting for their star-crossed superstars to click. The team let itself be outsmarted by Harvard-educated sensation Jeremy Lin, telling the world they would match any offer up to a billion dollars for him before saying no to a contract worth a fraction of that cost. They picked up a slew of ancient role players in his stead, including some former Knicks who weren’t good enough to help the team win the title 13 years ago. And they retained Mike Woodson, a defensive-minded coach who commands respect – or so I hear.
That all sounds great. On paper.
But nobody cares what you look like on paper.
On paper, the Knicks are a talented, hungry team made up of veterans. In reality, it’s the shotgun marriage of many men with one stated goal (“Championship”) and many personal motivations. Amar’e wants to prove he’s still elite, having fallen on some frustrating, inconsistent and self-abusive times. Felton wants to prove he isn’t fat. Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and some Argentine want accolades and the early bird special at the Penn Station Food Court before each home game.
But even talented and veteran squads lose. Just ask the 2010-11 Miami Heat. It took a transcendent year and playoff run by their best player for the team to find success the next season.
Carmelo, who has longed to be the man in New York, to take on the league’s heavyweights, to play hero ball and win, is not nearly of the same caliber as LeBron at this point. He is now firmly outside the league’s crop of truly “elite” players, those you could envision building a championship-winning team around. His lack of commitment to defense, passing and sharing the spotlight will doom the Knicks this year, and likely for many years to come.
One reason you might not be screwed: Ironically, the team’s greatest weakness may also be its greatest strength. Despite his faults, when Carmelo is playing well, he can be a game-changer. The best case scenario for New York is Carmelo undergoing the kind of mental and physical transformation that LeBron James went through last year — raising the game of his teammates while still performing at an incredible individual rate. LeBron was a great player before last season, but the subtle shifts he made in his game are what helped him get his first ring. It will take a similar transformation by Carmelo for the team to get those same results.
And so the team will go as he goes. Will he defend, look for the open man, pick up his teammates when they’re struggling, get his shooters and low-post options involved? If so, the Knicks will soar. They may not have the talent of the Heat or the Celtics. But it’s been 40 years since New York has seen a championship parade. At this point, they’re simply due to come up big.
Actual season prediction: 4th in the East. Good for an appearance in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a long time. But not much more.
Photos via Getty