Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
Heading into the last offseason, all the scuttlebutt had the Knicks making a big splash in free agency. New York was able to lure All-Star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire to the Big Apple, but fell short of its goal to add a LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or even Joe Johnson to form a dynamic duo, instead bringing on the likes of point guard Raymond Felton, former Warriors Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Randolph (both via sign-and-trade for the departed David Lee), ex-Bull Roger Mason Jr. and Russian center Timofey Mozgov.
In head coach Mike D'Antoni's third year with the team, patience is running thin, with fans in the city that never sleeps expecting to at least be a playoff squad by this season. The Knicks reportedly remain a prime candidate in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes (whether through trade or free agency next summer) and have been linked to superstar point guard Chris Paul after an infamous summer toast at Anthony's summer wedding. However, another alleged object of the team's desire, Tony Parker, is now off the board after inking a multi-year extension to stay in San Antonio. This is all evidence that the team is far from being the envisioned contender they intended to be after a seemingly decade-long rebuilding process.
This version of the Knicks features the virtually-anonymous Landry Fields (the rookie swingman was a second-round draft pick out of Stanford) and the aforementioned Mozgov starting alongside offseason acquisitions Felton and Stoudemire, as well as Italian sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, who is off to a not-so-stellar start to the season, after a promising previous campaign. That is significant because "Gallo" is reportedly a key piece to a potential Anthony deal and if the 6-foot-10 small forward is struggling, Denver would almost certainly look elsewhere for a more suitable swap, if they indeed opt for an in-season trade of its franchise player.
Meanwhile, Stoudemire has so far embraced the New York scene with boasts of bravado and while he is putting up sufficient numbers early in the season, it appears he is finding the going a bit more difficult without Steve Nash spoon-feeding him easy buckets. That's not to say Felton isn't acquitting himself well (Larry Brown would probably love to have him back in Charlotte), but as his playoff struggles against Orlando's Jameer Nelson last spring proved, he isn't a top-tier NBA point guard.
The aforementioned Randolph, regarded as having some of the best potential in the league by some observers, has been sidelined due to injury, but reports out of the preseason somehow pegged him as possibly a bad fit for D'Antoni's up-tempo system, despite his talent and versatility. Mozgov was pretty much an unknown, and while like Fields (who had an excellent senior year at Stanford), he might be a diamond in the rough, but isn't considered a starting-caliber player for a postseason contender at this point.
Bench players like the rugged Turiaf, backup point guard Toney Douglas, a Madison Square Garden fan favorite, and slashing wing Wilson Chandler may be the team's saving grace. In a shallow Eastern Conference--it's obviously very early, but the top six teams appear to be Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Milwaukee, Orlando, with a steep drop-off after that group--New York may have just enough firepower to sneak back into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
That said, it's a long season and the Knicks could overachieve, even completely flop or simply live up to expectations. But outside of acquiring a superstar like Anthony in a dramatically roster-altering deal before February's trade deadline, it's unlikely the end result will be enough for impatient New York fans eager for a return to past glory.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.