Last night, the New York Knicks concluded their best season in 13 years with a gutsy effort against the living matchup-conundrum that is The Indiana Pacers. Despite unacceptably sub-par performances from Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, and Jason Kidd, they managed to grab the lead during the late 3rd early 4th quarter and entertain the idea of bringing the series to yet another Game 7. If nothing else, it was fun to watch and a nice break from the bricklaying contests of the previous few games.
That being said, it needed to happen this way.
Nothing is worse than playing beyond your means (unless you win a championship). Professional sports are littered with examples illustrating how a few lucky bounces in the short term can derail a franchise in the long term. As a lifelong Knick fan, I point to Allen Houston, whose 1999 tear drop against the one seed Miami Heat propelled the Knicks to one of the biggest upsets in NBA history, ultimately sending them to The Finals, and the poor house.
Because he got a $100M deal after that season which should have NEVER happened.
For 10+ seasons, the Knicks fought off the ghosts of this contract. Was a 4-1 series thrashing by the vastly superior Spurs, who were on the cusp of a dynasty, worth it? Of course not. That’s why the Knicks getting ousted by The Pacers, in the fashion they did, is just what the doctor ordered, because it exposed the inherent weaknesses of this team. No lucky bounces. No J.R. Smith 20 point 4th quarters. Just mediocre team basketball.
Here are 5 takeaways and steps going forward for The Knicks, if they want to meet (and beat) LeBron next year:
1)Long perimeter defender. If you noticed over the series how inept The Knicks on-ball defense was vis á vis Indiana’s, it’s because Indiana has long perimeter defenders and New York doesn’t. George Hill has a ridiculous 6’9″ wingspan. Paul George is 6’9″ with a wingspan of 7 feet. Hell, David West can defend big three-guards and small forwards and has an insane 7’4″ wingspan and he’s 6’9″ as well. All strong, laterally quick players with defensive brains. The Knicks need to upgrade their guards with an eye on these type of attributes, because all series The Pacers out rebounded them, got in passing lanes, and contested every single shot.
2)Viable offensive post player. Unfortunately, they have two more years left on Amar’e’s contract, so a big signing here is next to impossible. But as we saw with Kenyon Martin — you don’t have to make a big splash to get in the pool. The Knicks need a legitimate big with literally one post move to diversify their scoring (sorry Tyson, tipping balls out to half court doesn’t count). It can’t be all fade aways and circus shots. A high percentage baby hook from the block is worth it’s weight in gold, as it prevents defensive centers like Roy Hibbert from wandering around the paint and blocking Carmelo Anthony’s dunk attempts.
3)Crafty passing PG. A lot of these suggestions are ubiquitous needs — partly because they’re hard to find. Every team wants a crafty passing PG. The Knicks, who struggle with ball movement, need one. Badly. Raymond Felton is about as far from a decent passing point guard as NBA PGs get (see: his patented drive, turn, start fast break from the other team method). This actualizes Tyson Chandler’s potential and keeps everyone awake in a inevitably isolation-centric offense.
4)No more J.R. Smith. I love J.R. Smith. He’s awesome. Both on and off the court. But much like your best friend from your freshman year of college, J.R. is the fun guy who hides his liquor bottles in your room (even though he’s not your roommate). Some players dramatically change the development of young players, and J.R. and Iman Shumpert party together. That’s gotta stop. NBA teams do the same thing with Zach Randolph, because he’s an animal and corrupts younger guys (apparently he sells weed). J.R. has a ton of potential, but mentally, he’s not qualified to wield it with enough reliability. Develop Shumpert to be his successor and ditch the pipe-master. Rihanna has suggested he’s an alcoholic. His ups and downs and posts on Twitter and Instagram corroborate this. Sorry, but he’s gotta go. For a veteran team, the 2013 Knicks were incredibly immmature (whined at 99% of calls). Cut out the frat boys and build the team with solid people — not work/release projects.
5)Get younger. Plain and simple. Jason Kidd came out of the gate shooting +50% from three, and finished the season without scoring in his final 10 games. He did not score in the month of May. Camby barely played. Dole the veteran leadership responsibilities to Tyson Chandler and Carmelo and fill Kidd’s spot with an athletic draft pick.
Photos via Getty