For much of the last decade, the New York Knicks have been a franchise marred by poor executive decisions, mainly stemming from the ownership of James Dolan and his relationship with Isiah Thomas.
From grossly overpaying Eddy Curry, to giving up what seemed like every other draft pick, the Knicks made plenty of hard-to-justify decisions, each hampering the team’s long-term flexibility.
Things finally started to look up when Donnie Walsh came in and fixed things in the space of only three years, but when the team traded for Carmelo Anthony and Walsh subsequently resigned, things were expected to go back to how they were. It appears that we’ve underestimated Walsh’s predecessor, though, as Glen Grunwald has quietly done a great job of finishing off this Knicks roster.
So far in 2012-13, the Knicks are off to a hot start as the only undefeated team in the league, and a lot of that success has stemmed from their depth – the depth which Grunwald spent all summer building.
The main story of the offseason, of course, was the departure of Jeremy Lin, but as controversial as that was, it really was overblown by the media. Though clearly talented, Lin was just another member of the supporting cast, and whether letting him go was the right move or not, the Knicks had the ability to continue building a strong supporting cast with or without him.
That’s exactly what Grunwald and co. did, and when you take a step back and look at this roster, you can see just how far the team has come talent-wise since he took the reins.
Once Walsh left after the 2011 Draft, the Knicks had Chauncey Billups, Landry Fields and Ronny Turiaf joining STAT and Melo in the starting five, with Iman Shumpert, Derrick Brown and Toney Douglas expected to play key roles off the bench. With the team already well over the salary cap at that point, the Knicks weren’t expected to have the chance to improve their squad too much, but somehow we sit in 2012-13 with every single one of those key supporting roles having been upgraded.
As you’ll remember, Grunwald’s first big move was to bring some much-needed defense to New York in the form of Tyson Chandler; a move that came with a huge risk factor. To afford Chandler, the Knicks needed to use the amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups, meaning that they wouldn’t have it as insurance for the injury-prone Amar’e Stoudemire. With Chandler himself also having a worrying injury history, it seemed like anything but a perfect move.
One Defensive Player of the Year award and fifth-placed defensive efficiency ranking later, the move has been completely justified, even with Stoudemire currently sitting with injury as we speak.
With the lockout obviously restricting free agency in 2011, the rest of Grunwald’s moves had to come during the season. He went on to pick up two of the league’s surprise packages in Lin and Steve Novak for only the veteran’s minimum, as well as making an under-the-radar move to bring J.R. Smith back to the NBA after a season in China.
That laid the foundation for the strong finishing touches Grunwald applied this past summer.
With the point guard position needing an affordable upgrade with Lin receiving a “ridiculous” offer and Mike Bibby being Mike Bibby, Grunwald got to work. Due to their cap situation, New York had only the mini mid-level exception to spend, and that went on future Hall-of-Famer Jason Kidd. Considering it was a multi-year deal, it looked like a questionable decision, but only five games into the season the intangibles Kidd has brought to MSG are making a huge difference.
Creativity was needed to continue making quality signings, and a sign-and-trade for Raymond Felton ensured that the Knicks would have a solid point guard capable of playing starter’s minutes. Little-known Argentinian point guard Pablo Prigioni was also brought to town, and after watching him in the Olympics, signing him for the rookie’s minimum already seemed like a bargain. He may just be the best third-string PG in the league.
Next on the wish list was size off the bench, and though they make up three of the six oldest players in the league, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas can provide just that. As individuals, they can be seen as injury worries, but with three of them that problem fixes itself, as when one is out, his spot in the rotation can just be filled by the other.
It appears that the Knicks had invested quite a lot in overseas scouting, as they Grunwald’s moves were rounded out with the signings of James white and Chris Copeland from Europe. White is looking like the one blemish so far, after a poor summer league and preseason, but it’s not like the Knicks have much invested in him. Copeland, however, was the star of the show in preseason, and though he’s barely played in the opening few games, the energetic depth that he can provide will be invaluable down the line.
Looking at things now, this team is a lot deeper than we ever could have expected, and a far cry from the depleted post-Melo trade roster we had in 2011.
Since we’re only five games into the season, it’s hard to tell whether or not choosing experience over youth and durability was the right move, but so far it’s looking that way. The Knicks are winning convincingly with two starters out of action for the time-being, and it’s because there are rotation-quality players from 1 through 15.
If injuries to the older bench players pile up over the course of the season, then obviously New York will run into some trouble, but so long as health stays at a reasonable level, there’s more than enough talent for the Knicks to continue to make some serious noise in the East.
So while we continue to rightly credit Mike Woodson for his coaching and Melo for his changed attitude, remember that Grunwald, too, has played a huge role in getting this team where it is now. For a franchise that just can’t get things right off the court, the culture is rapidly changing as we approach the end of Grunwald’s first 12 months on the job.