Attention has gradually made its away from the New York Knicks since their second-round playoff elimination against the Indiana Pacers in last season's playoffs. At least in the Eastern Conference, the focus shifted towards the blockbuster and sudden contender in Brooklyn, the anticipatory return of Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, how Brad Stevens and Rajon Rondo plan to sustain in Boston, and so forth. As my man Sekou Smith from ESPN entitled his recent post on Hang Time Blog, "No love for the Knicks?"
Not much was made of the Knicks' roster moves this offseason. Their biggest (or most subtle) splash was the acquisition of Toronto Raptors forward and former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, a 7-foot forward who at the very least, provides another scoring option and floor spacer for the third-rated offense in the NBA last season. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith was re-signed along with veteran Kenyon Martin. The Knicks signed free agent point guard Ben Udrih to a one-year deal as back up for Raymond Felton and veteran Pablo Prigioni. After clearing waivers and becoming a free agent, New York also signed Queensbridge native Metta World Peace to a two-year deal after being amnestied by the Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks' draft pick of Tim Hardaway Jr. at 24th overall suggested their uncertainty of being able to re-sign J.R. Smith at the time, but Hardaway Jr. has gained some confidence in this preseason and could be another bench spark with Smith.
World Peace's presence could be the invaluable temperament the Knicks need most. From a basketball standpoint, he'll be a reserve called upon to do the things he can do -- scrap, claw, intimidate, defend, and make a few open shots. But I now also think World Peace might be the Knicks' most willing and reliable post player outside of Carmelo Anthony. He's a bruiser and a capable passer from the block, which frankly was not present in any of Mike Woodson's personnel last season. Unfortunately, Amar'e Stoudemire can't seem to overcome his digression of health and regressive impact on this team when he's on the floor. The Knicks were most successful last season with Anthony creating mismatches at that 4-spot as opposed to going big with Stoudemire and Chandler. With Bargnani, World Peace, Udrih, and Hardaway Jr. the Knicks have a little more offense, a little more defense, and a bit more for Mike Woodson to work with in terms of line ups and depth.
Despite trading Steve Novak in the Bargnani deal and losing Jason Kidd, who were the Knicks' third and fourth-leading three-point shooters from last season, and losing Chris Copeland to the Pacers, I think this Knicks team now has a tougher build. Last season's playoff elimination was only a disappointment because New York gave ample reason to believe they were the only credible opposition to Miami in the Eastern Conference; finishing the season with 54 wins, good for second best in the East, and winning their first playoff series in over a decade was still a success. Frankly, improving from last season would now mean advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. The experiential progression of assets such as Iman Shumpert, who I feel has emerged as their most reliable two-way player, Raymond Felton, and J.R. Smith are vital for such an improved Knicks season. I want to see their identity early on with these new additions and, as always, how effectively they diversify their efforts around Carmelo Anthony, who has just stated his desire to explore the free agent market next summer.
- Martin S. @marley_mcfly