As Bulls players begin to trickle in to the Berto Center to prepare for what could be a very special season, CSNChicago.com is getting fans ready to hit the ground running, too.
NBA training camps don't open until the end of the month, but from Monday through Friday up until Bulls' media day, we're discussing everything from Derrick Rose's comeback to the top competition in the Eastern Conference--with a twist.
CSNChicago.com has compiled the insights of anonymous behind-the-scenes league insiders (an assistant coach, a front-office executive, a retired player and an advanced scout), to go along with in-depth reporter breakdowns and complementary statistical analysis to ensure that diehard hoops fans are up to speed when the balls officially start bouncing.
Today’s Topic: Are the Knicks still an East contender?
"The Knicks are going to be still formidable, but are they going to be as good as they were last year? That remains to be seen.
"Without [Jason] Kidd, without Steve Novak, they’ve made some other personnel changes. Amar’e [Stoudemire is] another year older, never really contributed the last couple of years for them in the playoffs.
"But they are still definitely one of the five better teams in the East."
That was a succinct, accurate synopsis of one of the four teams in the East (along with the Bulls, Nets and Heat) that had an opportunity to make a big splash in the summer of 2010, hopefully putting themselves in position to make title runs. Miami was the clear winner of that free-agent frenzy, but the Bulls acquitted themselves well and after initially striking out, Brooklyn has transformed its roster to become one of the conference’s power teams, as did Indiana, which combined less high-profile veteran acquisitions with savvy drafting.
[RELATED: How much of a threat are the Nets?]
The Knicks seemed to have done well for themselves, picking up Stoudemire (an MVP candidate during his first season in New York, though that feels like it was ages ago now), then adding an eventual Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, coming off a title in Dallas, and via trade, superstar Carmelo Anthony. While they haven’t had the star power of the Heat or the defensive identity of the Bulls, New York still felt like a viable threat in the East, though last season, with Derrick Rose absent, the Pacers not yet acknowledged as a legitimate contender, crosstown rival Brooklyn still inconsistent and Miami experiencing moments of vulnerability, seemed like the Knicks’ biggest window.
In a top-heavy conference, they should still be penciled in as a playoff team, but they’re obviously a notch below the true contenders. Stoudemire looks like he’ll never regain his previous form and while Anthony is one of the game’s premier scorers, the rest of his supporting cast, as a group or individuals, isn’t a bunch that strikes fear into the heart of elite opponents. New York’s second option on offense, reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, hasn’t had a great offseason, despite receiving a new contract, and although the additions of former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani and Big Apple native Metta World Peace should contribute, those moves don’t compare to what other teams did over the summer.
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, with Chandler as an anchor inside, has made the squad less of a sieve defensively, but it’s certainly no juggernaut on that side of the ball with such poor individual defenders. Anthony can opt out of his contract after the season and with that prospect looming, it’s hard to say that things are looking up.
Even last season, sans Rose and facing various injuries throughout the course of the campaign, the Bulls appeared to have the Knicks’ number. That shouldn’t change anytime soon. Brooklyn looks poised to seize the mantle of New York’s best team for the time being, so until next summer, when the Knicks have a chance to get creative (and pay the piper, better known as the hefty luxury-tax penalties) in an attempt to hold on to Anthony, as well as get him some help, it appears that the team’s small window of opportunity has slammed shut.
Tomorrow: Is this the year the Bulls finally get past the Heat?