Jan 19, 2014 12:23 PM EST
Time flying she the same person, never matures /
All her friends married, doing well /
She’s in the streets yakkety yakkin like she was 12 /
Selfish in her own right for life, guess she’s in her second childhood.
No matter where they go in their careers, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith can’t seem to escape one another.
The two basketball prodigies have been teammates for eight seasons, all on good teams one step below great. In five seasons with the Denver Nuggets, their teams averaged 50 wins but won only two playoff series. In their first two seasons with the New York Knicks, it has been the same story. Lots of regular season wins, not much playoff success.
Eleven seasons into a Hall of Fame career, Carmelo has been overrated for so long he’s now underrated. A 6’8, 230 pure scorer with a lightning-quick step and unlimited range on his jumper, he has been able to score at will from the moment he came into the league. He is a six-time All-Star with a career PER of 20.9, yet many would have you believe he’s a loser who can’t help a team win. If you don’t believe Carmelo is an elite player, ask his peers and see what they say.
At 6’6, 220, J.R. is a miniature version of Carmelo, smaller but more athletic. An elite athlete with elite shooting and ball-handling ability, he can create his own shot against any defender in the NBA. There’s no reason he couldn’t be one of the best SG’s in the league, but gunners who get buckets at the expense of the team concept on both sides of the ball usually wind up as 6th men. J.R. averaged 18 points per game last season, winning the 6th Man of the Year Award.
Very little has gone right for him since. A week after signing a three-year contract extension this summer, he underwent two procedures on his knee, not all that uncommon for a guard entering his 10th season in the NBA. For a player who relies on athleticism, knee surgery is never routine. Compounding the problem with a five-game marijuana suspension to start the season, J.R. looked like a shell of himself over the first three months, which the stats bear out.
For all the hysteria surrounding the Knicks, injuries have been the biggest story of their slow start. J.R., Carmelo, Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton have all missed significant amounts of time, putting too much pressure on their depth as well as Mike Woodson’s questionable grasp of the talent levels of his second and third-stringers. As a result, New York is off to a 15-24 start that has seemingly everyone in the organization’s job in jeopardy.
Since the start of the New Year, the Knicks have quietly begun to right the ship. They went 6-3 through one of the most difficult stretches of their schedule, with wins at San Antonio, at Dallas, vs. Miami and vs. Phoenix. They don’t have a bad loss in the bunch, dropping games at Houston, at Indiana and at Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back. With the schedule easing up before the All-Star Game, the Knicks have a chance to make up ground in a hurry.
In the top-heavy Eastern Conference, there isn’t much preventing them from making a run at home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat have established themselves as a cut above and the Toronto Raptors continue to impress, but everyone else has as many problems as New York. The 4th seeded Atlanta Hawks have a +0.9 point differential while the Washington Wizards check in at -0.9 in 5th.
When everyone is healthy, the Knicks have a fairly complete team. They have two point guard in Felton and Pablo Prigioni, a host of athletic 6’6+ wings in J.R., Iman Shumpert, Toure Murry and Tim Hardaway Jr., a versatile combo forward in Carmelo as well as a stretch 4 (Bargnani) and a former Defensive Player of the Year (Chandler) upfront. With an $87 million payroll, it’s hard not to have a lot of talent, no matter how poorly you are managed.
In the court of public perception, New York has been the victim of the mob mentality and groupthink that so commonly afflicts Basketball Twitter. Beyond everyone assuming they were idiots, there was no thought put into why they traded for Bargnani. If you break down their playoff loss to the Pacers, the thinking becomes clear. Bargnani was brought in to spread the floor and guard David West, as his size wrecked the Knicks small-ball line-ups last May.
While most people viewed Miami as the team to beat in the East, New York spent the summer worrying about Indiana. As it turns out, building a team with the idea of matching-up with the Pacers in a seven-game series may not have been so crazy after all. Chandler and Bargnani are one of the only frontcourt duos with the size to bang with Hibbert and West, which means a playoff series could come down to Carmelo and JR vs. Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
For most of their careers, Carmelo and J.R. would have responded to the challenge in one way, trying to go point-for-point and outscore Indiana’s dynamic wing duo. However, the problem with getting offense off 1-on-1 moves is that it prevents everyone else from getting into a rhythm and allows the defense to load up on one side of the floor. In the modern NBA, the only way to beat the best defenses is to spread the floor with shooters and swing the ball from side-to-side.
For the Knicks, it really is that simple. If Carmelo and J.R. move the ball and play defense, they have a chance against anyone. If they don’t, they could lose in the first round and they will lose in the second. When Carmelo has more than four assists, New York is 11-2. Carmelo and J.R. both average 3 assists a game, so it’s not like they are incapable of reading the floor and finding the open man. It’s just their talent has always bailed them out when they played selfishly.
However, as J.R. found out in the first three months, physical talent doesn’t last forever. More importantly, there’s no telling how long this team can stay together. Even without the staggering luxury tax bills to worry about, the specter of Chandler’s health hangs over everything. Chandler isn’t the Knicks most talented player, but he is their most valuable. If he can’t go, turn out the lights because the party is over. At the age of 31, he only gets more fragile with time.
If you ask most people around the league, New York made a foolish gamble betting on J.R. and Carmelo in the first place. However, it’s worth remembering that this season is the first time everything has been taken away from them. They have seen their basketball mortality, which has a way of concentrating the mind. J.R. Smith is 28 and Carmelo Anthony is 29. They still have time to turn the perception of their careers around, but it grows shorter by the day.
“Don’t goof around, I guess. Be serious. Be a professional. And just don’t take this opportunity here you have for granted,” Smith told reporters last week. “There’s a lot of people in this world that want our jobs. You can’t take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast.”
Dec 03, 2013 9:06 PM EST
After a disappointing start to the season, the New York Knicks’ front office has to be figuring out their best path forward. While winning now and winning later are not necessarily mutually exclusive, having a clear priority between the two becomes necessary when evaluating all but easy decisions about constructing the team.
While the Knicks are capped out for 2014-15 regardless of what happens with Carmelo Anthony thanks to the final seasons on current contracts for Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani, New York looks to have plenty of financial flexibility in the summer of 2015. As of now, the only players on the ledger are J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton’s player options, Pablo Prigioni’s partially guaranteed deal, and Tim Hardaway Jr’s first team option on his rookie contract. With all but Hardaway Jr. expiring that season, 2016 has even clearer books as of now. Of course, any deals added between now and then will likely run that far and thus reduce the space they can work with.
New York unquestionably has a few major advantages in the current CBA landscape. While the individual max contract may have been designed for other aims, the functional result has actually been advantageous to major markets since they can offer more off-court money/fame opportunities and the on-court money has to be almost the same. Those factors coupled with the aura of New York City culturally provide the Knicks with plenty of reasons to have high hopes with cap space when they have it. While the assembled group from 2010-2011 has disappointed in terms of results, much of that can be attributed to the horrendous decision to give Amar'e his huge non-insured contract.
The lesson of that Amar'e deal should be that teams with advantageous situations and the flexibility to wait absolutely should do so if necessary in order to maximize their peak. Miami got almost all their pieces in one summer while Houston built brilliantly over the course of years in a process that ended up netting James Harden and Dwight Howard.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, they will not be able to have every piece of information before making decisions that will affect the long-term ceiling of the team. Carmelo Anthony’s upcoming opt-out and free agency forces a part of their hand in 2014 since any contract they sign him to takes up space that cannot be used on other players in 2015 and beyond. That does not mean necessarily that the team should not re-sign Anthony- rather it means they need to assess what signing him to the inevitable max contract he expects makes the most sense for the franchise moving forward.
Carmelo Anthony turns 30 before hitting free agency, so the likely four-year deal (with a potential player option for a fifth if he re-signs) covers his age 30-33 seasons. While we never know exactly how an individual will age, it stands to reason that Anthony will not be better over the course of his next contract than he has been the last few years with the possibility of downside based on aging and/or injury just like for anyone else. At this point, we have a pretty good idea what Carmelo is and thus do not need to spend a ton of time debating it.
Instead, the pivotal question should be simple to state and potentially hard to answer: Can the Knicks do better than a 30-33 year old Carmelo Anthony for their No. 1 or No. 2 player for the next four years and beyond?
Without a definitive answer one way or the other due to the unpredictable nature of free agency and the continually changing landscape of the league, the answer in all likelihood should be yes.
Since elite Restricted Free Agents simply do not change addresses in the current CBA, it makes sense to focus on unrestricted players.
The 2015 free agent class should include Kevin Love, Brook Lopez (player option), Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert (player option), LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay (if he picks up his player option) and Rajon Rondo.
The 2016 class should include Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard (player option), Al Horford, Mike Conley, Deron Williams (player option- possible he picks it up), Ryan Anderson, OJ Mayo, Brandon Jennings, Thaddeus Young (player option) and Eric Gordon (if he picks up his player option).
While Carmelo plays offense well (particularly as a scorer though he has been underrated as a passer), he will not become an all-around player overnight after turning 30. On top of that, his role as a ball-dominant scorer makes adding a wide variety of other elite talents a more difficult proposition that parallels the problems the Los Angeles Lakers have had wooing high end guys to play with Kobe Bryant after Shaquille O'Neal's departure since those guys will not have the ball as much as they would like. Considering the wealth of talent that could be available to woo in 2015 and 2016, the Knicks can have a reasonable expectation to have a one-two punch that yields a better team than one with Carmelo Anthony filling one of those two spots.
In some ways the factor that looms even larger over the question of having Anthony as the No. 1 or No. 2 Knick for the next four-plus years is the fact that a team with him as a top-two player cannot be reasonably considered a true championship contender in a league with other top-heavy franchises. There are very few franchise-changing talents that could make this true (I can think of two off-hand) and I doubt having Anthony on the team makes them more likely to become Knicks.
Since Anthony appears wholly unlikely to take a substantial pay cut necessary to become the third-best player on this team, especially when necessary to do before the other pieces are at MSG, the question becomes what to do over the next year.
If the Knicks makes the correct decision that he should not be a key part of their future, there are three potentially relevant time periods to consider:
1. From now until the trade deadline- The Knicks could trade Anthony to another team that likely would expect to retain him on a new contract after the season. Ideally, the Knicks would focus on long-term assets and avoid reducing their cap flexibility for 2015 and 2016 for everything but a special offer.
2. Next summer- The Knicks could either let Anthony walk or try to engineer a sign-and-trade to a team under the apron. Considering the current CBA rules on sign-and-trades, that seems like an unlikely option particularly with New York’s desire to keep money off the books for 2015-16 and 2016-17.
3. After next summer- What I refer to as the “Nene Special” – signing a player without the intention of keeping him for the duration of his contract. Certainly possible but a dangerous game because of factors like injury or poor performance.
If I were the decision-maker for the Knicks, I would be focusing on the first time period because it has the least risk and potentially the greatest return. Under previous CBA’s, a sign-and-trade would have been an interesting option but the limitation to teams under the luxury tax apron and the fact that Anthony cannot get more money that way undercuts the team pool and their leverage. While hard to answer firmly without a clear understanding of his trade value in the immediate, deciding that Carmelo Anthony does not make sense as one of the Knicks’ top two over the next four years makes a more immediate trade the best path to take. Even though that could make the Knicks worse this year yielding a benefit in draft position they cannot reap since Denver has it unprotected, a likely larger return in terms of assets could tip the balance. While making this season worse could be a little hard for Knicks fans to swallow, the vision necessary to make the decision and the intestinal fortitude to make the move would send a clear sign that the Knicks see themselves as a championship organization with the willingness to sacrifice to make it happen.
Nov 20, 2013 11:08 PM EST
Before you write any piece about the New York Knicks, it’s a good idea to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of James Dolan. From top to bottom, the Knicks are not the most well-run organization in the league. That we can all admit. That said, the latest crisis isn’t directly the result of his mismanagement. As soon as Tyson Chandler got hurt, the whole thing fell apart. Few NBA teams can survive the loss of their most valuable player.
Carmelo Anthony is their leading scorer, but the Knicks have managed without him before. In the regular season, it’s fairly easy to redistribute field goal attempts and stay afloat for a few weeks when a volume scorer goes down. Linsanity was the ultimate proof of that. The NBA is like the NFL -- people focus too much on the guy with the ball in his hands. As the Knicks are finding out, the irreplaceable guy was the seven-footer anchoring the defense and finishing on the pick-and-roll.
There are not many players in the NBA who can do what Chandler does. At 7’1, 235 with a 7’2 wingspan, he is a physical marvel. When he’s healthy, he’s usually the tallest and the most athletic player on the floor. He has the strength to defend the post without a double team, the quickness to cut off dribble penetration and the length to play above the rim. There’s a reason he went No. 2 overall at the age of 18, even without much discernible basketball skill.
Over the last 13 years, he slowly turned himself into an effective two-way player. While he will never be a featured scorer, he’s very efficient on offense: in the last three seasons, he shot 66 percent, 68 percent and 64 percent from the field. He’s got the hands and leaping ability to catch alley-oops and he can knock down free throws, shooting 69% from the line in 2013. He’s the rare big man who knows how to play -- where to position himself and how to create space by cutting.
A big man with Chandler’s skill-set makes everyone on the floor better. His defensive impact is obvious -- it’s much easier to play poor defenders when you have a Defensive Player of the Year as the second-line of defense. On the offensive end, the pick-and-roll with Chandler creates ball movement. The defense has to react to his cut to the rim, which creates a gap for one of the perimeter players. From there, you rotate the ball to an open shot, preferably a corner 3.
There’s a reason the Knicks and the Mavs liked to start the game by throwing lobs to Tyson Chandler. It’s a reminder: if the defense doesn’t shade over, they can do that all night. The four-out offense allows Chandler to play in space just as much as Carmelo. When there’s more space on the floor, there are fewer people in the way of the lob at the rim. It’s an opening move: there are ways to defend it, but that leaves the defense open to counter measures.
Chandler is the kind of big man who can turn around a franchise. If that seems far-fetched for a guy who averages 10 points a game, look at the Dallas Mavericks. In the four years before Chandler got there, the Mavs won a grand total of one playoff series. That had nothing to do with Dirk Nowitzki either -- he was pretty much the same player he was in 2008 as he was in 2011. He added a post-game after the Golden State loss; after that, he could score at will.
Nevertheless, just like in New York, as soon as Chandler left Dallas, things crumbled quickly. A year after they won it all, the Mavs got the No. 8 seed and were swept out of the first round. Two years later, they missed the playoffs entirely. Dallas is only now starting to recover from that decision, with the signing of Monta Ellis adding a new element to their offense. The real irony is that the one thing their current roster is missing is a dynamic two-way center.
There were a lot of similarities between the 2011 Mavs and the 2013 Knicks, a point Chandler and Jason Kidd made many times. There was, however, one overriding difference -- in the playoffs, Dallas had Dirk defend quality 4’s, something New York was unwilling to do with Carmelo. In 2011, Dirk matched up with LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. In contrast, the Knicks did not want Carmelo banging with a guy like David West for seven games.
For many Knicks fans, that’s where they went wrong in 2013 -- not going with the small-ball line-ups that got them to the second round in the first place. Knicks management, though, learned the opposite lesson -- if they were going to beat a team like the Pacers, they would need a second big man to match up with the likes of West and Roy Hibbert. At the same time, he also had to stretch the floor in order to maintain their offensive spacing. Thus, Andrea Bargnani.
There is a certain logic to the moves they made in the offseason, although it may not hold up to much scrutiny. The presence of Bargnani isn’t going to move the needle much in a hypothetical playoff match-up with the Miami Heat. In the regular season, bad teams have an easier chance of matching up against Bargnani at the four than Carmelo. That’s the trade-off with one-dimensional players: improve one facet of the line-up and subtract from 2-3 others.
Either way, it becomes a moot point if Chandler misses too much time. Even in the East, if the Knicks have another 3-7 stretch over the next few weeks, they will be digging themselves out of an awfully large hole. They might want to try Cole Aldrich: he’s 26 and he has the size (6’11 250) of a center picked in the lottery. Last season, in 15 games with the Sacramento Kings, he had a 15.7 PER. He’s still young enough to turn his career around.
If Chandler gets back quick enough, New York can still salvage a 45-win season with him, Carmelo and their shooters on the perimeter. From there, they just have to bide time until some of the dead weight comes off their salary cap. In a best-case scenario, Chandler and Carmelo can lure Aldridge or Kevin Love in the summer of 2015. It’s unlikely, but as long as Chandler is healthy, they are only 1-2 moves away from being a legitimate contender.
Oct 29, 2013
The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.
Oct 21, 2013
While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.
Oct 04, 2013
The days of the $6 million per year role player may be all but over. Mo Williams, Mike Miller, Beno Udrih and Wayne Ellington are at the forefront of the new market inefficiency in the NBA -- veteran role players from the free agency bargain bin.
Sep 30, 2013
Health is why every deep playoff run is precious; it can be taken away at any time. To figure out which teams will reach The Finals, one question stands out above all the rest: who will keep their stars healthy?
Aug 01, 2013
The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.
Jul 01, 2013
Andrea Bargnani had been on the trade block for months, bridging the tenures of Bryan Colangelo to Masai Ujiri. In the GM seat for less than a month, Ujiri not only traded Bargnani but managed to pick up a few draft assets in the process to a Knicks' team limited in how to improve.
Jun 27, 2013
Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.
Jun 26, 2013
In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.
Jun 24, 2013
The 2013 free agency class won't stop everything the way 2010 did and 2014 will, but it is strong and deep with many different possible outcomes. Here is what the top-30 players 'should' do.
Jun 23, 2013
Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.
Jun 03, 2013
Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.
May 21, 2013
The Bulls, Knicks, Warriors and Thunder won their first round series, but fell short of reaching the NBA's Final Four. Each team faces a pivotal offseason with many decisions to consider.
May 12, 2013
J.R. Smith had gotten a virus on Friday night and sat for dinner here, wondering how worse it would get, wondering if he’d play. Sure enough, there was no flu game out of Smith on Saturday – just shots going awry, shots falling short, and a teetering, welcomed walk out of the Fieldhouse and into recovery time to find any resemblance of the Sixth Man.
Apr 19, 2013
Along with Duncan, Garnett, Webber and Dirk, Rasheed Wallace redefined the power forward position and revolutionized the game. But while he was as talented as his four contemporaries, he's the only one who won't wind up in the Hall. Wallace never cared much for his image or his legacy, which is why, paradoxically enough, he became such a beloved countercultural figure.
Apr 09, 2013
While starving Bernard King fans naturally celebrate his call to the Hall of Fame, something just isn’t right. King’s 15 minutes of crumbs come too little, too late – 15 years to be exact. We could only hope this week will help raise the debate to a whole new level.
Jan 17, 2013
What made the Lakers so intriguing this offseason was that they were zigging when most of the NBA was zagging. With Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol upfront, they were gambling they had the size to punish teams with small-ball front-courts on the block, making the Mike D'Antoni hire more puzzling.
Dec 20, 2012
Without Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki never gets his ring. Without him dominating the paint on both sides of the ball, “Linsanity” never happens. And if he had stayed in Dallas, Carmelo Anthony would be battling the tabloids on a .500 team, not competing for an MVP award on a contender.
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