Thursday, June 7, 2012
What Do The New York Knicks Need Most This Offseason?
Members of the Knicks have been forced to watch at home as the NBA's top teams make valiant efforts towards making it to the NBA Finals.
The league's final four teams--the Thunder, Celtics, Heat, and the Spurs (who were eliminated from contention last night) all have strong teams from A to Z. Of course, each team is led by multiple stars, but they also have specialty players as well. An array of defensive specialists, sharpshooters, and bruisers fill out each contender's roster, making it possible for them all to have such long-lasting runs.
As the Knicks aim to better themselves and make a stronger run towards contention, there's no doubt they should be looking at each of these teams to draw some inspiration. Obviously, New York is led by two stars in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire (whether or not they can truly co-exist on the court will continue to be explored during the pair's first full 82-game regular season later this Fall), and their elevated defensive effort is paced by anchor Tyson Chandler.
Despite his own recent struggles, Stoudemire has been correct in asserting that the Knicks' "Big Three," collectively, ranks amongst the best in the league. But building a championship contender obviously does not end there.
Looking at the rest of the roster, Knicks fans should be content enough with Jeremy Lin. Though the negatives to the young stud include not knowing exactly how high or low his ceiling for success is (following such a short stint as starting point guard), Lin not only displayed immense potential, but also seemed to have continuity and strong chemistry with his teammates.
With so much offensive firepower already on the roster, the most important thing for a Knicks' floor general is that he fit with the personnel. Though Lin showed the ability to fill it up offensively during "Linsanity," he won't need to perform at such a high level with everyone else healthy. The Harvard product will likely succeed most by using his array of different skills, keeping the defense off balance by having good court vision, and opting to drive to the basket when no one appears open.
Given his mass marketing appeal both in the Big Apple as well as internationally, the Knicks will probably opt to bring Lin back this summer. Making sure the rest of the roster is filled out becomes more tricky. Bench production is obviously crucial, especially considering the huge boost the team received whenever "Mobb Deep" came alive. J.R. Smith has the ability to heat up offensively and never look back, and Steve Novak's sweet stroke from downtown spaces the floor like not many others can.
Though they both experienced difficulty in the postseason, their impact on the Knicks' overall success is undeniable. Newsday is reporting Smith's return next season is becoming more and more likely, whether he opts in to his contract, or opts out simply to sign a new pact for more money instead. Novak's fate on the Knicks rests in the hands of an arbitrator who will soon make a ruling as to whether or not players like Novak and Lin should retain their Bird Rights after being claimed off waivers.
Should the arbitrator rule in favor of the players (who obviously want to retain the Bird Rights), the Knicks will have a much easier time retaining all of Novak, Lin, and even Smith, while still being able to explore additional free agent options as well.
Going deeper down the bench, New York would be smart to invest in a veteran playmaker too. Baron Davis certainly had his ups and down this season, but due to his knee injury that will keep him out the entire upcoming season, he is not up for consideration. Given the failed Toney Douglas experiment (and the already present scoring production off the pine), it's imperative the Knicks seek out someone who get pace the second unit by getting his teammates involved. Derek Fisher, who is making his eighth career trip to the NBA Finals this postseason, and Ramon Sessions, who has thrived in a key role for the Lakers, both stand to be strong candidates New York should pursue this summer.
The Knicks obviously have some nice young talent and a couple of key veterans (like Mike Bibby and Jared Jeffries, who could both return for veteran minimum contracts) who will help balance out the roster too. Building on mostly in house talent, the team appears pretty set towards making a stronger run next season. But there is still one glaring issue I've omitted thus far...who will start for the Knicks at shooting guard next season?
Though he first emerged as a member of "Mobb Deep," Iman Shumpert's defensive prowess propelled him into the starting lineup for much of his rookie year. His explosiveness and athletic ability helped him leapfrog Landry Fields at the two guard position as the season came to a close.
Fields has served as a key in the Knicks' engine for the past two seasons, putting in effort on both sides of the floor, playing intelligent defense and pounding the glass to grab rebounds. His glowing chemistry on the hardwood with Lin doesn't hurt either. Both Shumpert and Fields have their strengths, but it will be Fields who will likely be the Knicks starting two guard when the 2012-13 begins. Shumpert will likely still be rehabbing from his knee injury, and isn't expected back until about a month into the season.
Even so, who's to say Shumpert won't be a little rusty out the gate? Can the Knicks instill so much faith in Fields next season, after he struggled to build up consistency in the recent months? Between Shumpert's injury and Fields' journey to find the success he experienced as a rookie, the Knicks might be better off luring in an outside option while both young players continue to come into their own.
Enter 37 year old-to be Ray Allen. Should the Players Union win their arbitration hearing and the Knicks seamlessly retain Lin and Novak, the team's Mid-Level Exception will be readily available. If they chose to forgo using the exception on a veteran point guard (and instead lure one in for the vet's minimum, ala Davis), New York could focus on their most glaring other need at shooting guard. The ironic thing is that neither Shumpert or Fields display a sharp shooting touch. On the other hand, Allen is arguably the best shooter in NBA history, and though he's aging, still sank 45% of his shots from downtown (the highest percentage of his career) through 46 games this season.
Allen would help spread the floor for the Knicks' offensive stars who enjoy posting up and/or penetrating, and his veteran presence wouldn't hurt either. Given the MLE is available, a two-year contract worth $8-10 million wouldn't be unreasonable in the least.
The Knicks have a very strong core already in place, but as this past postseason showed, a little tweaking certainly won't hurt. It's important to keep all key players intact, but the team should look to use all of its possible resources to not only make improvements simply skill-wise, but also to put as much depth in place as possible to withstand any type of adversity. As we've seen in this year's playoffs, the top contending teams truly have no holes.