Culture of Hoops

Maybe the New York Knicks aren’t as dumb as we think


The New York Knicks spent the better part of a quarter-century as the most LOL-worthy franchise in the NBA… pick on the Los Angekes Clippers all you want – there’s plenty of material – but when David Stern said “they’re not a model of intelligent management,” he was talking about Madison Square Garden.

Problem is, after twenty-plus years of mocking the Shandon Andersons and Howard Eisleys, the Frederic Weises and Mike Sweetneys and Jerome Jameses and Eddy Currys and Isiah Thomases and Larry Browns and Stephon Marburys and “Are you gonna get in the truck,” it has become difficult to consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe…

The Knicks know what they’re doing.

Contrary to what you might have heard, there has been a lot more good than bad during the Donnie Walsh/Glen Grunwald era. They cleared a disastrous salary cap situation and assembled a roster that includes the 2012-13 NBA scoring champ and NBA Sixth Man of the Year, as well as the 2011-12 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Give Grunwald and company the benefit of the doubt, and suddenly some of this summer’s #LOLKNICKS moves look pretty good.

Re-signed J.R. Smith for three years and roughly $18 million
Smith’s dreadful run in the NBA Playoffs might have scared off some other suitors, but made more sense once we learned that he was dealing with a knee injury that required surgery. Smith might miss the first month or so of the 2013-14 season, but should make a full recovery. This deal could turn out to be a bargain; Smith’s new contract was initially reported as $24 million over four years.

Acquired Andrea Bargnani for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, a future first-round pick and two second-round picks
Fantasy players would call this a classic “buy low” move. Sure, Bargnani hasn’t lived up to his status as a first overall pick. He also spent his entire Toronto career playing out of position, in front of a fanbase that couldn’t wait to remind him what a disappointment he turned out to be. He might thrive as a stretch four alongside Anthony and Chandler, giving the Knicks a second scoring option more reliable than the notoriously streaky Smith. And what did Grunwald give up, really? Two players that couldn’t crack Mike Woodson’s rotation in the postseason, a future first-round pick and a pair of second-rounders.

The primary criticism of this move is that, once again, the Knicks gave up a pick. But bear in mind, all picks are not created equal… the first-rounder going to Toronto is one the Knicks were bound to swap with Denver if the Nuggets choose.

And while picks are nice to have, don’t forget that Grunwald and company have done a remarkable job finding quality players outside the draft in recent years – Jeremy Lin, Chris Copeland, Shawne Williams and Pablo Prigioni, to name a few. If you can repeatedly find quality, inexpensive free agents, you have a lot more flexibility to include picks in trades. That track record also tells me that one of this year’s free-agent pickups – C.J. Leslie or Jeremy Tyler – is likely to emerge as a significant contributor this season.

Acquired Metta World Peace (or whatever his name will be this season)
The Knicks’ defense, surprisingly good in Chandler’s DPOY season, regressed significantly in 2012-13, and they simply couldn’t match the defensive intensity brought by the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers or Chicago Bulls. The player formerly known as Ron Artest is… quirky, but he’s still a physical defensive presence. Combine him with the re-signed Kenyon Martin, a steadily-improving Iman Shumpert and a bounce-back year from Chandler, and the Knicks defense could be much better this year.

The signing raised some eyebrows because of Metta’s somewhat-colorful history and concerns that the team will have a hard time keeping him in line. The best counter to that concern is simply “Mike Woodson.” Woody might not be an elite x-and-o coach, but he has done an excellent job getting the most out of well-known knuckleheads like Smith and Rasheed Wallace.

Moved Carmelo Anthony back to small forward
Melo spent much of the 2012-13 season playing power forward, and his scoring title would seem to indicate the move was a success. But the acquisition of Bargnani and the need to find 20 or so minutes per game for Amar’e Stoudemire seems to indicate that Anthony will log most of his playing time back at the three this year.

But Anthony also finished the season with a laundry list of injuries, including a shoulder problem that caused significant problems in the playoffs. It seems reasonable to suspect that playing against bigger, stronger players so often may have contributed to the injuries. Moving ‘Melo back to the three could save some wear-and-tear on his body.

Besides, Woodson will still have the option of shifting Anthony to the four in some lineups, possibly when he’s in the frontcourt with MWP or Shumpert at the three and Chandler, Stoudemire or Martin at the five. It just won’t be the Knicks’ default look.

Also worth noting: Grunwald and company were able to retool without sacrificing cap flexibility for 2015 and beyond.

Now, New York won’t be replacing the San Antonio Spurs as the NBA’s model franchise any time soon. They may not be good enough to get past Miami, or even to hold off their big-spending rivals in Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division title.

But maybe… just maybe… they’re better than we think.

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