Now that we’re 10 games into the New York Knicks’ 2013-’14 campaign, it seems like a good time to take stock of where the team stands. Fortunately, we’ve got some of our staff’s best and brightest on the case, so without further ado, welcome to this season’s first installment of The Knicks Wall Roundtable:
1. It’s probably too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but let’s do it anyway. What do you see from the Knicks this far?
Charlie Zegers (@CharlieZegers): I’m still cautiously optimistic. In recent games we’ve seen some of the style of play that served the team so well last season. Prior to last night, the energy had been better, the ball had been moving, even Andrea Bargnani had been playing something that looks surprisingly like defense. Combine that with the fact that the entire Eastern Conference — save for the Pacers — has been awful, and the Knicks just might be able to tread water until Tyson Chandler returns. Also, Carmelo Anthony has looked a lot more like himself of late. With his slow start, I was starting to worry that he was still having trouble with last season’s shoulder injury, but he seems okay despite the poor shooting percentage. I’d like to see Prigs get more run. I’d like some clarity on Amar’e Stoudemire’s status — I don’t see how he’s going to help this team playing 10 minutes in every other game. Oh, did I mention how I’d like to see Prigs get more run?
Jonathan Gerstein (@JonKnicksFan): Frankly, I see a mess. Yes, it’s early, but I see trouble everywhere. Our best overall player, and physical and emotional anchor, Tyson Chandler, is out for at least four more weeks. For reasons only Jim Dolan understands, we’re trying trade our best young player, Iman Shumpert. Our coach has probably already cost the them at least
two three four games, simply by playing the wrong guys. And this group doesn’t seem likely to ever defend with any consistency — except maybe poorly. One big early positive: over the past several games Bargs has shown signs of life (particularly against Atlanta and Houston, when he was terrific), so perhaps he can be important contributor. I was not expecting that. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a bit panicky. Hey, at least the Nets look even worse, right? Right??
@BandwagonKnick: It sure seems like a very bumpy road ahead. Individual players will get better — J.R. will shake off the rust, Shumpert, if he’s here, will improve, Hardaway Jr’s energy is should be a net-positive as the coaching staff continues to work with him, Felton will get healthier, etc. Team chemistry should improve with more time together. But the way this team is constructed, there is virtually no hope of reaching the heights of last season. It doesn’t help that Woodson seems to have reverted to his most conservative and peculiar tendencies this season, either, especially that his flawed roster demands more creativity with lineup management.
Jonathan Fishner (@TheRealKingFish): I see a team without an identity. Even allowing for the loss of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks don’t seem to know how they want to play. Last year, it was two point guards and jacking threes. This year, it’s…I don’t know what it is. They’ll always be Melo-centric, and that’s fine, but it isn’t clear what philosophy they want to build the rest of their offense around. It’s quite surprising, actually, because the off-season their roster changes seemed to be relatively minor, yet they now seem to be in the midst of a complete overhaul. At the same time, it’s hard to argue that New York is not capable of greater heights than their record indicates.
Dan Litvin (@KnicksFanBlog): After a brutal stretch to start the year, we finally started seeing some ball movement and proper spacing when the Knicks beat the Hawks
in Atlanta. It hasn’t been consistent since then, but if the Knicks can continue to spread the court and find their 3 point shooters and keep their turnovers down, we might see a reasonable facsimile of last year’s squad. I’m most encouraged by Bargnani, who I’ve destroyed in the past. If he continues to play with the efficiency he displayed against the Hawks and Rockets (8-15, 20 pts; 9-12, 24 points), I’ll be eating my hat with some red sauce. I’m most discouraged by the point guard play, though; whether it’s due to injury, or just suckiness, the Knicks need more out of Ray Felton.
2. True or false: Andrea Bargnani will play himself into being a “tradable commodity” by the end of the season.
Dan: I think Bargs is tradable regardless of how he’s playing since he’s on a short contract. Even if he’s playing poorly, the Knicks could attach him to Shumpert if they’re trying to land a player making $11-13 million, like, let’s say Rajon Rondo. Like most solid players on rookie deals, Shump’s worth on the court exceeds the value of his contract (that’s why, ahem, draft picks are so valuable), so you can’t bring back a prized veteran in exchange for Shumpert alone. That said, it certainly would grease the wheels of any trade if Bargnani is playing reasonably well.
Jonathan F: Since Chandler’s injury, Bargnani’s shot the ball well and been passable at times on defense, while (most importantly) preserving his gif-machine hilarity. Everybody wins. With Chandler out and Amar’e Stoudemire no longer breathing, it’s downright scary to think about where the Knicks would be if Bargnani wasn’t around. The chances of him living up to his fat price tag and being a desirable trade commodity, however, seem remote.
Jonathan G: While Bargs has been brilliant at times during the early part of the season, his eight-year-run of sub-mediocrity suggests that we shouldn’t consider his improvement a trend. That said, if Bargnani does somehow keep this going, the question might shift from whether the Knicks could trade him to whether they even should. Seven-footers who can score like he can and play passable post defense don’t grow on trees. The Knicks traded for Bargnani while the wounds were still fresh from the Indiana loss and it’s been easy to see these past few games how he might have swung that series.
Charlie: I’m not sure Bargnani has to do anything to become a tradeable commodity at the end of this season. Assuming he doesn’t exercise his ETO, he’ll be an expiring contract worth $11.5M, and big expiring deals are almost always in demand. Of course, the Knicks might be a lot better off letting that deal – and Stoudemire’s and Chandler’s – expire and taking their chances in the summer 2015 free agent market. But here’s the more important question: we’re assuming that Bargs won’t exercise that ETO. What if he does? What if he plays so well that he has a legitimate opportunity to sign for more than $11.5M or to land a multi-year deal? Unlikely, sure, but with each passing game that he shows well, it becomes more than theoretically possible that he could be off the Knicks’ cap after THIS season.
@BandwagonKnick: False, unless we lower the bar for “tradable commodity” dramatically. And sure, that may not be fair given how Bargnani has contributed some good minutes on offense, passable on-ball post-defense, and legitimate effort when other Knicks have floundered badly the first nine games. But the Italian remains such a defensive liability — Animal Planet has an upcoming special on the predatory behavior of opposing point guards that spot Bargnani on the pick-and-roll — that it’s unlikely he would ever yield anything that impacts the roster.
3. What in the world is up with Ray Felton? He’s an average league point guard when he’s right, but he looks terrible this season, and it can’t all be because of that sore hammy, can it? Does he carry any trade value in a package including (gasp) Iman Shumpert?
@BandwagonKnick: Felton has a history of downplaying injuries so as not to make excuses, but word is that he’s more hurt than he’s let on at the start of the season. That said, his performance last season (his best since 2009-10 as a Bobcat) felt due for a drop off, and his ability to get to the FT line continues to drop alarmingly. He may have some value packaged with Shumpert, but the market for an average (at best) PG is not huge, especially with the way he’s started this year. The Knicks would best be served to have him play his way back into shape.
Jonathan F: For a player like Felton, who isn’t much of a spot-up shooter and is a below-average NBA athlete to begin with, a sore hamstring can be a pretty big deal. It’s patently obvious that he can’t keep up defensively right now. Offensively, though, Felton just can’t get the offense to flow smoothly. That may be partly due to the injury, but it also has to do with the absence of Chandler and those monster screens. The 1-5 pick-and-roll with those two was so often the way the Knicks started their offensive sets last year and that’s all gone now. As for trade value, a healthy Felton at $3 million a year has some value, but not so much right now. And if it is the injury, it begs the question of when is Felton ever healthy?
Dan: I think the Knicks probably overvalue Felton — which is probably directly related to Dolan’s misplaced loyalty. Felton came to New York in 2010 and he “wanted” to be here. Dolan doesn’t necessarily consider that Felton just took the best offer. He “wanted” to be here again in 2012. And he hangs out at Dolan’s fourth of July BBQs. They’re chums and I don’t think the Knicks are dying to trade him. Beyond that, what kind of value does he reasonably have? Arguably 25 or 26 teams already have starting PGs superior to him.
Charlie: Felton’s greatest strength is his ability to run the pick-and-roll with a big that’s adept at cutting to the basket and finishing. Once upon a time, the Knicks had two of those, but with Chandler injured and Stoudemire a shell of his former self, that option is off the table. Chandler’s absence – and the near-total lack of rim protection – also makes Felton’s shortcomings as a defender a lot more obvious. I have no idea how much the hamstring injury is holding him back, but it kind of feels like a convenient excuse for his poor start. I mean, if he’s really hurting, why is Woodson playing him 40 minutes a night? Does he have trade value? Sure, but that might be limited to how other team’s view a veteran player with a very reasonable contract. He might have a lot more value if they wait until another team develops a pressing need at the point.
Jonathan G: When Ray is right, he’s an average point guard at best, and maybe a bit worse than that. If he is your backup, your point guard situation is likely pretty good. If he’s your starter, well, you need to upgrade your starting point guard ASAP. As for the dip his play thus far, I do think, in large measure, it’s the hammy. Felton’s had no burst or lift and on defense, he’s been even more of a sieve than usual. He’s a tough guy who wants to play but he should probably be sitting right now. I do think he has trade value, though, particularly if packaged with Shumpert, because the contract is very fair for a high quality reserve and that’s how I presume most teams would view him.
4. Amar’e Stoudemire looks like he shouldn’t even be on an NBA roster right now. From an ethical perspective, and maybe a legal one, what would happen if Knicks played Stoudemire for extended minutes in order to hasten his inevitable breakdown, this time perhaps for good?
Jonathan G: There might be an ethical component, but I don’t see a legal one. Amare’s a grown man with smart representatives watching out for him. He’s expressed a clear desire to play more minutes after extensive consultation with the team’s and, most likely, private physicians. If the Knicks believe that playing Amar’e 25 minutes-per-game could cripple him for life after basketball, then they should clearly act responsibly on his behalf. For me, though, it ultimately comes down to what Amar’e wants and what the Knicks honestly believe will be best for the franchise. While it might make things easier in the short-term, I’m not sure burning Amar’e to the ground is what’s best for the Knicks long-term.
Jonathan F: Any Knicks fan who has anything in their heart other than love for Stoudemire either wasn’t around for his first year in New York or needs to take a long look in the mirror. ICYMI, before “Melodrama,” Stoudemire brought the team almost singlehandedly brought the franchise back from the wilderness. Since then, it’s been nothing but disappointment and injuries and bad defense and everything else, but it hasn’t been for lack of effort or trying or a willingness to do whatever the Knicks have asked of him. And remember, no one held a gun to James Dolan’s head — at least I don’t think anyone did — and forced him to fork over $100M+ to a player with a long list of medical red flags. I mean, the owner could have Googled “effects of microfracture surgery” just like anyone else. The best thing for the Knicks and for Amar’e is to give him some additional minutes and let him try and show the rest of the league he still has some game.
Dan: I thought this was an innocent Q&A, not a Bond villain’s brainstorming session, geez. The problem with this scheme is that we’ve already crossed a threshold where it doesn’t matter if Amar’e breaks down permanently. Teams don’t get any cap savings from a player retiring due to injury until the 1 year anniversary of the retirement. His contract will be up (or close to it) by then. The benefit of this evil plan would start and end with his physical absence from the lineup.
Charlie: This minutes-restriction and platoon-scheme will be about as effective in preventing further injury as Joba Chamberlain’s pitch count was. Just give the guy 20-25 minutes a night to see what he can do. Rest him during back-to-backs and three-in-fours. That’s about the only way for anyone to get a sense of what he’s got left. If it becomes clear that he can’t handle the workload of a typical NBA player, he owes it to the team – and himself – to walk away. But the team owes him the chance to show what he can do. In all seriousness, it would be wildly unethical to overwork Stoudemire hoping for a career-ending injury. Then again, these are Dolan’s Knicks.
@BandwagonKnick: It is extremely painful for any Knicks’ fan to watch Amar’e play and rack up negative +/- stats in limited minutes. Between his wayward offense and defense, he alone makes other teams’ second units look like Miami’s starting five. I can’t say that it would be ethical to play someone hoping they’ll break, but there’s a legitimate rationale for seeing if Stoudemire can play beyond his minutes quota and recover some of his form. Unfortunately, however, that’s near impossible with Chandler hurt since the Knicks have no other defenders to play Amar’e with. Playing him big minutes would feel like a form of tanking at this point, even if it produced the desired — if morally dubious — cap savings that might ensue.
5. Coach Mike Woodson. Discuss.
@BandwagonKnick: Woodson has shown he’s a fine coach in terms of communicating with players. Important for any New York coach, he’s also always talked a good game with the media in terms of preaching a certain old-school sensibility – he sold Larry Brown principles to the New York tabloids much better than Larry Brown ever did. He’s also skillfully and creatively managed his lineups in the past — particularly after D’Antoni’s departure, by adopting the offensive principles of his predecessor. His creativity, though, has always been overstated and whatever touch he had seems to have deserted him this year. He does not deserve to be fired right now, but the seat is getting warm.
Charlie: I’ve never been a huge Woodson fan. I think most of his allegedly brilliant/innovative moves last season were made for him. The two-point lineup only happened because Shumpert was hurt. Anthony at the four happened because of Stoudemire’s injury. And Prigioni emerged because Kidd broke down. He has a terrible tendency to try and adjust the Knicks’ style to each opponent, rather than forcing the opponent to play to the Knicks’ strengths. The defense that supposedly got him this job in the first place hasn’t been terribly impressive in years – they’re still switching on every screen like they did in the Mike D’Antoni/Jared Jeffries years. But hey, it’s hard to criticize the coach during a 54-win season. This year, the gloves are off. My biggest complaints to this point have been the nonsensical Stoudemire/Martin platoon, the insistence on a “big” lineup – as opposed to the small lineups that were so effective last season, and the marginalization of Pablo Prigioni. I’d honestly love to know what Shump and Prigs did to land in Woodson’s dog house, or what Felton and Smith have done to earn his undying devotion. Strategy and rotation-management issues aside, Woodson always seemed to be good at managing the egos of his team, getting much more than expected out of mercurial personalities like Smith and Rasheed Wallace. But even that talent seems to be failing him this year. Complaints about roles and playing time seem to be surfacing daily. I can’t help but wonder if the special treatment some players seem to get (*cough* Chris Smith?!?) has bred jealousy and disrespect, or caused some players to tune Woodson out. Has he lost the team?
Dan: It sure seems like he’s not motivating the team, doesn’t it? Multiple players have described the issue as an effort problem. They already had a closed-door/players-only meeting, so it’s difficult to envision how they’re going to pull themselves out of the quicksand. I think once the coach loses the team, it’s
hard impossible to get them back. Part of it, I think, is that he’s been placed in a difficult position. Management has pet-players who need to be treated with kid-gloves — thanks, CAA! — and that leaves Happy Walter’s clients (STAT, Shump)…not so happy. I can understand the resentment, too, as there’s a clear double standard at play. Maybe the Knicks just aren’t any good. Who knows at this point.
Jonathan G: Where to begin? The rotations have been awful. Woodson is, by nature, a basketball traditionalist and he’s been handed a roster that functions optimally when it’s utilized in non-traditional ways. Worse still, he’s likely being told who to play by the team owner. The defense is embarrassing — mostly on account of: 1) poor defensive players in bad combinations; and 2) a haphazard, difficult-to-execute scheme. Woody metes out discipline and rewards to his players in ways that appear arbitrary but, in reality, are designed to cater to the whims of the folks in the organization who have more power than he does. To top it off, the team is playing crappy, lifeless basketball. I would be lying if I called any of this surprising, because Woody’s doing all the things that typically cause coaches to lose the locker room.
Jonathan F: I’d say Mike Woodson needs to be fired, but I’m not confident that Herb Williams is the guy to right this ship. So what available coach would agree to coach the Knicks right now? Guys like George Karl and Stan and Jeff Van Gundy know better than to get involved with Dolan and/or Melo (though Jeff’s relationship with T-Mac does make him seem like a very well-qualified candidate). John Calipari is busy coaching seven first round picks at the moment. And sure, there’s always the inevitable Phil Jackson rumor, but is that circus really what the Knicks need right now? Could they run anything remotely similar to the triangle? They can’t even run pick-and-rolls. Oy vey.