Amar'e Stoudemire (© Michael Ivins)
The Knicks will play two more games – minimum – this season… but 2011-12 is effectively over. They aren’t beating Miami… not with the mummified corpse of Mike Bibby logging significant minutes at the point, and not with Iman Shumpert’s knee and Amar’e Stoudemire’s left hand in tatters and Jeremy Lin in street clothes.
Let’s face it… even if the Knicks’ top nine players were completely healthy, they’d have a hard time beating Miami. Erik Spoelstra’s club can effectively neutralize Anthony – both as distributor and scorer – with the LeBron James/Shane Battier defensive tandem. Without ‘Melo as primary scoring threat, the rest of the Knicks’ offense falls apart. Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler and Steve Novak can’t create their own shots – they need someone else to break down the defense and create openings. Bibby can’t do that. Neither can Baron Davis, who is probably playing at about 60 percent of his capacity right now. J.R. Smith can drive, but he’ll make as many bad passes as good.
What does that leave? A whole lot of contested jump shots.
Maybe the Knicks steal a game at Madison Square Garden. Maybe ‘Melo goes into hero mode, or someone else – Novak? Smith? – gets white-hot from three. But that’s about the best possible outcome for the Knicks at this point.
That out of the way, we can look to next season. What will the 2012-13 Knicks look like? General manager Glen Grunwald – just recently freed from the “interim” tag – has a lot of questions to answer. Questions like…
How Do You Fix This?
Monday night’s bout of bone-headdery won’t have any lasting impact on STAT physically – early reports say that he has no ligament or tendon damage, so we’re really just looking at a bad cut. The bigger impact could be to his role as team leader and one of the faces of the franchise.
Theoretically, a trade might be the best thing for the Knicks and for Stoudemire. That would allow Anthony to move to the power forward spot full-time – where he has thrived this season – and free up the paint for Chandler. Problem is, Stoudemire has about $60 million – uninsured – remaining on his contract. It might not be impossible to move him, but it’ll be pretty darned close. So let’s assume that STAT is back with the Knicks next season.
Chandler and Anthony will be back as well. And combined, those three will be making roughly $53 million – with the salary cap in the neighborhood of $60 million. So let’s throw out the “Anthony and Stoudemire and Chandler can’t play together” talk right now. They’re going to be playing together for the next two seasons at least… the trick is figuring out how to help them play well.
That brings us to Mike Woodson.
I don’t blame Woodson for what has happened in games one and two. I don’t think he’s been out-coached as much as I think the Knicks have been out-personnel-ed. But I’m also not sure that Woodson is the man that can remodel the Knicks’ high-priced frontcourt into a winning combination. He had some success in Atlanta running everything through Joe Johnson, and some in New York running everything through ‘Melo. But as Mike D’Antoni learned early this season, running an office through Anthony is not the way to get production out of Stoudemire.
Given Jim Dolan’s well-established fascination with big names, I suspect the job is Phil Jackson’s – assuming the Zen Master wants it. And Jackson’s legendary triangle offense might actually be an ideal set-up for this roster. Anthony would take the Kobe Bryant role. Stoudemire becomes Pau Gasol, and Chandler channels Tyson Chandler. Iman Shumpert could potentially be the point guard in that set-up… modeling his game after Ron Harper or Derek Fisher.
If it isn’t Jackson, I’d be more than happy with either Van Gundy brother… though I worry that bridge wasn’t just burned… it was exploded like the one that used the cross the River Kwai.
Filling the Roster
The next problem – and the one getting a lot less press – is this:
Here’s a list of players – besides Stoudemire, Anthony and Chandler – that are under contract to play for the Knicks next season and expected to participate in training camp:
- Toney Douglas
- Jerome Jordan
(I’m excluding Shumpert, who will be rehabbing that ACL until December or so, to make a point. The team has an option to retain Josh Harrellson as well, and it seems a mortal lock that they’ll do so.)
Here’s a list of Knicks that will hit free agency this summer:
- J.R. Smith
- Baron Davis
- Mike Bibby
- Jared Jeffries
- Steve Novak
- Landry Fields
- Jeremy Lin
Fields is the only one of those free agents that the Knicks can exceed the salary cap to sign via the Larry Bird clause. Smith could choose to stay – he’s got a player option for $2.5 million – but that seems unlikely; he’ll make more on the open market.
Also worth noting: the Knicks don’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft.
Grunwald is going to have to fill roughly half the roster… and he’ll have to do it using the mid-level exception, veteran minimum deals and maybe a second-rounder or two. He did a masterful job assembling this year’s bench with similar constraints… but this year offered unique opportunities, with Baron Davis becoming available via the amnesty clause and J.R. Smith returning from China at mid-season.
The decision on a coach has to come first; Grunwald’s roster needs will be very different if the Knicks succeed in luring the Zen Master out of retirement. If Jax is the coach… maybe Jeremy Lin isn’t the number one priority. Maybe it makes more sense to try and get Lamar Odom on the cheap instead.
No matter what happens next, this promises to be yet another interesting summer.