Taking into consideration that the Knicks had not been to the playoffs since 2004 and had not won a playoff game since 2001, this past season can be considered a success even though they got swept in the first-round by the Boston Celtics.
Playing in the playoffs this season ended a decade of futility on and off the court for the Knicks. During the past 10 years they won the second least amount of games in the NBA and there was negative news off the court with Stephon Marbury, Isiah Thomas, Eddy Curry among others. Mike D’Antoni might not be the right coach for the team since he does not emphasize defense but he certainly had a winning pedigree with the Suns. At least the team did not have any major off the court issues this season. The only distraction the players had to deal with whether or not the Carmelo Anthony trade would happen and who would be included. It would make sense if D’Antoni had a “defensive coordinator” on his staff so that he could handle the offensive side of the ball, and they could improve the defense, but if Phoenix he was unwilling to do this.
The Knicks could very easily have won the series in six or seven games if they did not suffer from two unfortunate injuries to two critical players. Amare Stoudemire injured his back attempting a dunk during warm-ups before game two. He valiantly played through the pain the rest of the serious but was not nearly at full strength. Chauncey Billups suffered his injury with less than a minute remaining in the 87-85 game one loss. He strained his left knee and was unable to play the rest of the series. Billups only had 10 points, four assists and two rebounds before his injury but they missed his leadership and point guard abilities the rest of the series. Landry Fields had a spectacular rookie season for a second round pick, and plays with all the intangibles that don’t show up in the box score, but it would have helped if he played like he did before the Anthony trade, in the playoffs.
A positive sign for advancing further next season is that the Knicks have their core of Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups. They should be able to have better team chemistry and know where everybody likes the ball because they will have a whole training camp and preseason to play with each other. The Knicks basically had two teams this season, one before the Melo trade with talented overachieving young players, and then one that was more talented, with two superstars, one star but few reliable players off the bench.
Even though the Knicks a talented trio of players, two in their prime and one nearing the end of his career, they will have to make some upgrades in order to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals or the Championship. They need a capable back-up point guard because Toney Douglas is more of a shooting guard. An acquisition that is even more crucial is signing a center that can block shots, score the basketball, play defense and be a reliable rebounder.
The reason a back-up point guard is not as important because Anthony Carter would be a decent last resort if the money does not work out. Carter is a veteran of many playoff teams, and he proved that he can drive effectively to the basket, make open jumpers and get his teammates involved. However, I am sure that the Knicks wish that they had Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler back because they would be a more reliable option at shooting guard than Fields. They have both expressed interest in returning, especially Chandler recently, but they could both get paid more signing with another team.
Playing a mixture of Ronny Turiaf, Jared Jeffries and Shelden Williams in the playoffs again simply will not work. The only way that the Knicks should bring back Jeffries is if it is in his contract that he will not take any lay-ups. It is ridiculous that he misses almost every shot he takes five feet from the basket. His best asset is probably drawing offensive fouls and playing defense. Turiaf is an effective hustle player and can score down low and Williams deserved some more playing time. The ideal fit would be a Marcus Camby type in his prime. Somebody who does not need set plays all the time to score since they already have Anthony and Stoudemire. Some options at center that the Knicks should go pursue include Nene, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, Reggie Evans, Spencer Hawes, or Samuel Dalembert.
Nene, Gasol, and Dalembert would be more expensive to sign but if one of them came to the Knicks that would make them into contenders to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Nene might have incentive to sign because he has played with many players on the Knicks and probably wants to get out of the first round. It would be ideal if Wilson Chandler returned to the Knicks because he is versatile and is used to the D’Antoni offense but other guards to consider would be Daequan Cook, Jose Juan Berea, Nick Young or Earl Watson.
Since the Knicks have picked up Billups’s $14.5 contract for next season and they also want to stay in the running for Chris Paul or Deron Williams, either at the trade deadline or in the summer of 2012, it will be key to not overpay. So, if the Knicks can sign Berea, who averaged 9.5 points and four assists per game this season, to be the back-up point guard, or Watson, since they will probably be the cheapest, and anyone of the centers listed above the offseason by Donnie Walsh will be a success.
The Knicks could look to upgrade the shooting guard position in the draft. It depends who the Knicks are able to get but Fields could still make sense as the starting shooting guard if he can play like he did before the All-Star break. Signing a reliable center would bump the Knicks up a notch to compete with the Heat and Bulls for the Eastern Conference championship.