Fixing the Knicks and the 2012 myth
A month after the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Knicks are crumbling and have lost 8 of their last 10 – with 6 to under .500 teams (2 to Indiana, 2 to Milwaukee, 1 to Detroit, 1 to Charlotte). With the success of the post Carmelo Nuggets, the vultures are swirling and declaring the Knicks trade a failure. Advanced staticians are picking Anthony’s game apart.
What’s going wrong? Ball movement on the offensive end. D’Antoni teams rely on spacing and finding the open man and Carmelo’s ball reliant, isolation game is an awful fit for this. Billups and Amare have yet to find their efficiency legs in the new get it to the stars offense. The Knicks also have among the worst offensive depth I’ve ever seen. In their last loss to Charlotte they started Shawne Williams and Toney Douglas beside Melo, Amare and Billups and their bench was Anthony Carter, Roger Mason, Jared Jeffries, Shelden Williams, Landry Fields and Bill Walker. That’s not going to cut it.
But the biggest problem is a lack of defense and rebounding. D’Antoni’s systems have always strugged in these areas. With the Knicks lack of size and lack of defensive culture in general, they’re not getting it done on that end. Everyone expected them to struggle defensively, but thought offensively they’d dominate enough to carry them to wins. With the offense struggling the Knicks can’t win.
How do they fix this? Well, by becoming a defensive team. The biggest thing having an Amare and Melo combo can do for the Knicks is allowing them to slow the pace and send everyone to the defensive glass, then walk the ball up and rely on their halfcourt stars. With Amare and Melo the other players on the court have to be asked to solely expend energy on defense and rebounding. This is what the Celtics and Bulls do – dominating teams defensively and then scoring just enough to win with their halfcourt talent. This will likely take a coaching change, D’Antoni won’t be coaching a slow it down defensive team. They will need to make smart MLE signings on defensive players as well. As strange as it sounds, the Melo trade’s biggest effect may be turning the Knicks into a slow, slug it out defensive team again. With Melo and Amare carrying so much offensive weight the Knicks can put the rest of their eggs in the defensive basket.
Now I want to dip into a pet peeve – The talk of the Knicks adding a 3rd star in Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, or Chris Paul in 2012. This won’t happen because New York won’t have the capspace for a max free agent even if everyone’s but Melo and Amare’s contracts are off the cap. Using Dwight as an example, the only way New York can acquire him is in a sign and trade with Orlando. But this would cost Orlando at least 10 million more than letting Howard sign elsewhere as New York would have to send enough contract back to match Dwight’s new contract, Orlando wouldn’t get a maximum trade exception like Toronto and Cleveland did, and for what – Landry Fields and this year’s #15 pick? Meanwhile New Jersey can give Orlando Brook Lopez with the financial savings and trade exception. Or if Orlando wanted to sign and trade Dwight to a team over the cap, why choose Fields and #15 over what teams like Chicago, Oklahoma City, or LA can offer in Joakim Noah, James Harden/Serge Ibaka and Andrew Bynum. New York does not have the capspace or trade assets to land Dwight. Even if Dwight wants to play in New York, he or New York does not have the power without the option to sign straight there straight up. It’s the equivalent of Orlando believing they had a chance at Lebron a year ago. Likewise, they had neither the capspace for him or the assets to make Cleveland think about sign and trading him there without it. The Knicks bed is made with Melo and Amare. A 3rd max free agent is not in the cards and they are best off accepting that and building their plan without 2012.
I don’t believe the Melo and Amare era can be designated a failure yet. The way I see it they can turn this around in two ways. D’Antoni can find a way to make the Knicks move the ball again and become a dominant offense, or they can become a defense first team and win without it. But they made their job much harder by giving up so many trade assets for Carmelo. Having Felton, Gallinari, Chandler, Randolph to trade for supporting players would make it so much easier to build around this team. As I mentioned after the trade, the Carmelo trade was a missed oppurtunity more than a terrible trade and they are no closer to building a contender than before it.