The wild ride is over.
Whether you look at the wider scope of the 2011-12 season for the New York Knicks or look at their first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat through a microscope, it’s been a crazy journey.
At the beginning of the season, the story was the Knicks were going to get Carmelo Anthony for a full season. So, coming off a playoff sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics in 2010-11, the Knicks were ready to show the NBA that Carmelo and Amar’e Stoudemire could became a dynamic duo. Throw in free-agent acquisition Tyson Chandler as a defensive anchor, and there was a chance a team coached by Mike D’Antoni might actually have a formidable defense for once.
Then, the season started. Melo and Amar’e were like oil and water, never really finding a way for co-exist in the offense. Then Linsanity swept across New York City, the country, heck…the world.
But, the Knicks still kept losing. After losing eight of 10, D’Antoni gave way to Mike Woodson as head coach. Let the winning commence.
New York rattled 18 wins in their final 24 games to earn the 7-seed in the playoffs and a matchup with the Heat. New York was a team that not many teams wanted to face in the playoffs because of the threat of Melo, Amar’e, and company having the star power necessary to make a deep playoff run. Unfortunately, the Heat were a team nobody really wanted to face, either.
Right from the get-go, things got crazy in the playoffs. The Knicks were without Jeremy Lin, still nursing a torn meniscus. Chandler was on the mend from the flu. And, in Game 1, Iman Shumpert went down with a torn ACL and the Knicks were down 1-0 after a 33-point loss.
After a Game 2 loss, Amar’e decided to see if he could beat up a fire extinguisher, costing him quite a bit of blood and any chance of playing in Game 3. So, New York lost their 13th consecutive playoff game (a new NBA record in futility) in the third game of the series.
Bandaged hand and all, Amar’e came back for Game 4, Melo scored 41, and the Knicks pulled out a win in The Garden. But, not before losing Baron Davis to a gruesome knee injury. Then, in Game 5, the Knicks succumbed to the Heat, losing the series in five games.
So, now what? Where do the Knicks go from here?
After the dreadful start and the recognition that D’Antoni wasn’t the answer as coach, this season has to be considered a success. But, still, there are a lot of questions left to be answered.
One question that looks to be close to being answered is who will coach the team going forward. Reports say the team is in negotiations to remove the interim tag from Woodson’s title. He has Melo’s blessing. And, quite frankly, he probably deserves the gig.
But, as a native of Atlanta, I’ve seen Woodson’s work over the long haul. It’s generally uninspiring. He improved a Hawks club every year for five seasons. But, never once did it feel like Atlanta was on its way to contending for the title. If you wanna argue the Knicks’ roster has more firepower, OK…I’ll give you that. But, if you can tell me what kind of offense Woody runs in more than three letters (I-S-O), you get a cookie. It’s bland. He’s bland. And his teams don’t win ENOUGH to make bland OK.
If I were James Dolan, I would make sure I got a definitive “no” from Phil Jackson before I let Woody sign on the dotted line. Dolan is never afraid to loosen the purse strings. Jackson’s the guy who could take this talent to the next level, a level Woodson has never, and I’d argue will never, get to in his career.
Speaking of that talent, let’s take a look at the roster for next season:
Under Contract: Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, Shumpert, Toney Douglas, Jerome Jordan (J.R. Smith has a player option at just over $2 million and Josh Harrelson has a team option at just under $1 million).
Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler are your building blocks, as solid a frontcourt as you will find. Shumpert was quickly becoming one of the best perimeter defenders and a very intriguing player before his knee injury. You always wonder how explosive players will bounce back from major injuries to their legs. But, with the success rate of ACL surgeries these days, expect Shumpert to be a solid piece moving forward. And, Douglas can be a useful backup point guard.
Of the guys not under contract for next season, Lin will most certainly be back. So is Landry Fields, most likely Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries, and maybe even Bill Walker. And if Woodson has a warm, fuzzy feeling for Mike Bibby still, he may bring him back for sentimental reasons.
That’s most of the roster. There may be some tweaks here and there. I don’t foresee any huge trades coming down the line.
Next year’s roster will depend on two things:
1. Coaching – If Woodson stays, this team seems capable of being in the lower half of playoff teams in the East. If Jackson can come aboard, this team can turn the corner and become an upper echelon squad.
2. Lin – When Linsanity was at its peak, it was being done in the offensive schemes of D’Antoni. D’Antoni’s system is tailor-made for a point guard. There were times when even Douglas looked like a stud point guard in that system. Woodson’s system is not geared like that. It’s more an offense for wing players.
Will Lin be able to adjust? Or, perhaps the better question becomes: is Lin as good as D’Antoni’s system made him look?
From the official start of Linsanity, Lin averaged 20.4 ppg and 8.5 apg in 19 games until Woodson took over. Once Woodson was the coach, Lin averaged 13.3 PPG and 5.4 APG until he hurt his knee.
Those are vastly different numbers. Some people (myself included) believed that once the craziness of Linsanity settled down, Jeremy was probably an above-average backup. If he was as big a superstar as that Linsane stretch indicated, why had he been an unknown in the league before that? Surely, not THAT many people evaluated him incorrectly.
But, that may be the driving force in how much better the Knicks can be next year. If Lin regresses and settles back down to more of a reality, the Knicks are not much better than where they finished this season. If he is, indeed, a rising star, well…then the Knicks become pretty formidable in the East. You could do far worse than a Lin, Shumpert, Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler starting five, even if there do not seem to be enough basketballs to go around for three guys (Lin, Anthony, Stoudemire) who all need the ball in their hands to operate to max out their talents.
This season was quite the roller coaster ride. When Stoudemire came to New York a couple years ago, it made the Knicks relevant again. Melo helped solidified that last season. Linsanity gave relevance a capital “R” this year. Even in a first-round playoff exit, the Knicks are one of the buzz teams in the league. They just have to find a way to make some noise by making a deep run in the playoffs and maximizing the immense talent on the roster.