HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The ending was a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the New York Knicks last season. Falling to the Indiana Pacers the way they did in the Eastern Conference semifinals, getting pushed around and basically overwhelmed by a healthier and more defensively sound team, exposed the weaknesses that were there all along.
That crash landing in the playoffs might explain the lack of buzz surrounding these Knicks as the start of 2013-14 season nears. As we get closer to tip-off of the regular season, you hear about the Pacers, Chicago Bulls and even the Brooklyn Nets as teams the Heat need to worry about before anyone mentions the Knicks.
There’s no love for the Knicks these days and you have wonder: Why?
The reasons for the lukewarm interest in the Knicks are varied. There was no free agent splash over the summer (sorry Metta World Peace). There was no miraculous recovery for Amar’e Stoudemire. Carmelo Anthony needed time to heal his battered body in an attempt to recover from the pounding he took last season. J.R. Smith didn’t exactly distinguish himself in the offseason either with a five-game suspension looming at the start of the regular season.
It’s a lesson plenty of would-be contenders learn when their results don’t match the expectations. And for a time last season, the Knicks, not the Pacers, looked like the team that would challenge the Miami Heat for that trip to The Finals.
Everyone seems to have forgotten all of the positive work the Knicks did last year, finishing with a 54-28 record, winning their first playoff series in over a decade and coach Mike Woodson finishing third in Coach of the Year voting.
Woodson’s teams in Atlanta got progressively better in each of his six seasons without the Hawks ever making the sort of free agent splash that usually spurs a dramatic rise in a team’s fortunes. Woodson, despite a legion of vocal critics, is one of a handful of coaches in the league with a proven track record of taking a disjointed group and making sure they compete at a high level.
And disjointed might be a kind word for the group the Knicks will suit up this season. The Raymond Felton–Pablo Prigioni backcourt tandem is interesting, to say the least, and the Iman Shumpert-Smith battle at shooting guard promises to deliver plenty of drama (and potentially headaches for Woodson) throughout the season.
(Shumpert insists he’s playing with a “chip on his shoulder” that could help fuel the Knicks early on, and that’s a good thing.)
Call me crazy, but I think World Peace is going to be a fit and rookie swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. is certainly going to be a factor. The only glaring question for me is if Andrea Bargnani can revive his career as the floor-spacing stretch-4 the Knicks need to free everyone else up to play to their specific strengths?
You never know what you’re going to get with Amar’e because of his injury issues and even with an offseason worth of work on his jump shot it’s hard to lean too hard on Tyson Chandler for the offensive help Bargnani should be able to provide immediately.
Ultimately, the pieces are in place for the Knicks to battle for a top four spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. That’s just a fact, even if no one outside of the Knicks’ locker room believes it.