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Mid-season Round Table

1) We’re just past the halfway point of the 2013-14 season and the Knicks’ record is a dismal 15-27… 7-15 at Madison Square Garden. What the hell happened?

Jared Dubin (@jadubin5/Bloomberg Sports): In short: they made an offseason trade that made very little sense and it completely altered the DNA of the team. That, along with a multitude of injuries, led to the coach (voluntarily at first, and then not as much after) abandoning the small ball, spread the floor and jack 3s identity that led to the sustained offensive success of last season, and resulted in the stagnant offense you’ve seen on a night-to-night basis this year. And the defense has been just as bad if not worse than it was last season, starting right at the point of attack with Felton and, to a lesser extent, Prigioni and Udrih. When you add in the fact that Chandler was out for a while, Martin’s been in and out of the lineup, and Bargnani and Amar’e can’t spell help defense let alone play it, you have a recipe for disaster.

Jonathan Fishner (@TheRealKingFish): Ugh. I think to start, everyone other than Melo has underperformed (JR, Shump, Woodson), been injured (K-Mart, STAT, Prigioni, Chandler, Artest) or both (Felton, Bargnani). More specifically, four things are killing the Knicks: 1) no one on the team can be relied on to score other than Melo, whereas last year they could count on JR; 2) they are getting significantly less production from Tyson Chandler and their point guards, thanks mainly to injury issues (last year they got so much out of their one-five pick-and-roll and got a lot from Felton, Kidd and Prigioni); 3) they’ve been decimated by injuries, pretty much everywhere; and 4) Mike Woodson hasn’t had his footing since the moment before JR Smith elbowed Jason Terry in last year’s playoffs. I guess the short answer is, it’s everything.

Dan Litvin (@KnicksFanBlog): Where to begin? Injuries? Woodson’s obstinacy? Bargnani’s mere presence? Let’s talk about Woodson’s obstinacy. This is a man who at times played a Smith/Shumpert backcourt instead of rolling the dice on Murry. Murry is no world-beater but you know what he is? A point guard!

Also the switching. We’ve heard a repeated refrain from foes who’ve vanquished the Knicks that they can basically get whatever matchup
they want just by running a series of simple screens. If I have to watch Bargnani guard another point guard I might remove my eyeballs
with rusty safety pins. Speaking of Bargnani…

Scott Davis (@WScottDavis): A combination of things. The roster is more poorly constructed than many people believed, with a line of fragile big men up top and a reliance on unremarkable jump shooters in the back-court. The Knicks had great success with this core last year, but the team relied on a career year from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, a solid year from Raymond Felton, and just additional excellence from the rest of the crew. Many of those guys — Felton, Smith, and Shumpert mainly — have fallen off this season. The — dare I say it – veteran leadership of guys like Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace is missed, and Mike Woodson’s borderline innovative coaching from last season seems like an aberration, forced upon him by circumstances.

2) Can this season be salvaged? If so, how?

Jared: Depends what you mean by salvaged. To the point where the team is a championship contender? No. To the point where they make the playoffs? Yes. They don’t even really have to change anything. I think they’re only a game or so out. If they get a few different bounces in the second half, they’re in.

Jonathan: I really don’t think it can be salvaged. The only path I see is the Knicks getting healthy, staying focused through the dog days of the season and putting together a strong stretch to push their way all the way to the sixth seed in the east. They’re only four and a half games out of that spot now, so it isn’t quite unfathomable. From there, it’s not hard to envision them beating any of the not-Indy or -Miami teams in the first round. After that, though, it’d be a second round matchup with the Heat or the Pacers and it’s damn near impossible to imagine the Knicks getting closer to the Eastern Conference Finals than they did last season. And if that’s the case, how is this season not a failure?

Dan:  I am VERY interested to see how the team plays in his absence. He’d played every game before ‘Melo’s 62 point outburst…just saying’. And I know it’s just one game for Jeremy Tyler but is there anyone out there who’d prefer to see Bargnani play a single minute over him?

Scott: It depends on the definition of “salvaged.” Can this team make the playoffs? Yeah, probably, but from there, I wouldn’t expect much. But the Eastern Conference is so weak that putting together another little win streak pretty much puts the Knicks right back in it. Better production from people not named Carmelo Anthony would help, and just a tad of defensive know-how could turn them around.

3) Would you trade Anthony? Chandler? Anyone else?

Jared: Not unless I got a clear signal that Anthony definitely wasn’t re-signing. You can always sign-and-trade him this summer if he wants to leave. Chandler’s a good defensive big man on an affordable contract that expires after next season. He’ll continue to have value, so you don’t need to trade him just yet. The only trades I’d make are ones where the Knicks acquire young players with star or sub-star potential and/or future draft picks. Any other trade is a mistake, in my opinion, including one for Kyle Lowry where they have to give up a pick to get him. Even if he re-signs, you don’t give up a pick five years out for a point guard in the 8-15 range in the league hierarchy. That’s nonsensical.

Jonathan: The Knicks should think about trading everyone on the team other than Melo and maybe Tim Hardaway Jr. Without some major moves they won’t have the cap room to solve any of their problems this offseason, so they may as well see what kind of assets they can get for what they have on hand. I’d start with Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert, probably the only players they have with any real value. From the Knicks’ perspective, Chandler’s on the back end of his career and Shumpert could definitely use a change of scenery. But Tyson could help a contender and Shump is far from a lost cause, which means they both have trade value. I think Melo’s good enough that you don’t ever trade him, even if you think there’s a chance he’ll leave. But the rest of these guys are showing they aren’t good enough to be the ones who help him get to the next level so why wait until 2015 to start reloading?

Dan: It’s hard to say this after the man just gifted fans with a 62 point monsoon, but I’d hate to change my opinion regarding what’s in
the best interests of the franchise’s long-term health based on a single performance. It’s safe to say ‘Melo answered a lot of questions
about his game on Friday but one that’s still hanging out there is: Can you win with a single player (well into his 30s), taking up about
50% of your cap space? I’m still dubious.

Plus, what if he doesn’t commit (privately) to the franchise before the deadline? Then you’re risked with the prospect of him walking away
with nothing to show for it. That’s the worst possible outcome.

As far as Chandler goes, I’ve argued that the Knicks should trade him because he can’t be part of the team’s post-2015 plans unless he takes
a ton less money, and I just don’t see that happening. So as it much as it pains me to say this, trade him for an expiring contract and a
player on his rookie deal or a future first round pick.

In an ideal world, the Knicks would be able to properly build around ’Melo and Tyson, but things are far from ideal at Madison Square
Garden.

Scott: I hate to say it, but I think the Knicks should explore trading Chandler. As much as he’d be missed, the Knicks need a way to find assets. The Knicks would get rid of the 2 years, $28 million they owe him, and at the least, they could probably get back a serviceable big man and a draft pick, hopefully a first-rounder if they play their cards right. Anthony is too valuable to this team right now, and at least the option of a sign-and-trade this offseason remains if he’s bent on leaving.

4) Fire Woodson? Or fire Woodson?

Jared: Sure. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: Woodson’s not necessarily THE problem with the team, but he, his rotations, his defensive schemes, etc. are A problem, so if the decision is made that he’s got to go, he’s got to go. I don’t like advocating for anyone to lose their job, but he hasn’t exactly done great work with this team this season. That said, I don’t think firing him would make much of a difference.

Jonathan: Unless retired center Herb Williams seems to you to be the kind of guy who understands the modern NBA and is willing to play small, two-PG lineups, what’s the point? That said, I’d rather see Isiah Thomas coach the Knicks next season than Mike Woodson. Still, firing the guy just seems like a waste. The replacement will be worse, there’s no telling what kind of madness JR Smith will get into with an interim coach and no one who can fix this mess is coming aboard now. My money’s on Tom Thibodeau coaching the Knicks next season. How about sending Iman Shumpert home for CAA client and former Knick assistant Tom Thibodeau and a second round pick? Who says no to that?

Dan: Fire him.

Scott: Fire Woodson. The man seems like a decent guy, and he’s done some good things as a coach, but he’s past his expiration date here. The team publicly supports him for the most part, but they play like they want him fired. There aren’t many great, realistic replacements on the market right now, but I truly think a new voice with a better game plan could make this team better. Woodson’s strategies and ethics this year are so obviously flawed, it’s kind of amazing he still has his job.

5) How does Bargnani’s injury impact the team for the rest of this season? Will we finally see the small lineup on a regular basis? Will it matter?

Jared: Whether or not we see the small lineup on a regular basis, I believe his injury will turn out to be a net positive on the court for the Knicks. The proof is in the numbers. I don’t believe we’ll see it exclusively once Amar’e and/or Kenyon return, though. We already saw Woodson go big for portions of Sunday’s game against the Lakers to match up with Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre. What’s he going to do when they play against real big men?

Jonathan: Bargnani’s injury doesn’t seem to have slowed them down much so far. Apparently his injury is all Melo needed to start averaging 48.5 points a game (and for the Knicks to average 117.5.) At this point though, with Martin and Stoudemire out, they need every NBA-sized body they can get, so losing him hurts but I can’t help but think this guy’s an anchor, and not the good kind. I knew he couldn’t defend and I knew Raptors fans hated him but I had no idea he was such an incredibly stupid basketball player. His court instincts, whether it’s clock management or defensive rotations or deciding not to try and dunk from the foul line, he just appears to be a basketball idiot. If they were healthy and getting last year’s production from JR, they wouldn’t miss him at all. Now they’ll miss him a little.

Dan: As I mentioned, I’m excited to see the Knicks play without Bargnani, who has continued to participate in net-negative lineups as
per his career-long trend. His on-off numbers are gross, and he crowds the front-court. He’s a terrible help defender and on offense he’s
primarily concerned with getting his own shot. If you look at the “Air Bargs” reply, check how many open guys he missed on his demolition
derby to the hoop.

Against the Bobcats, Woodson was forced (shouldn’t have to be forced), to start two point guards and ‘Melo at the 4. The team looked pretty
good. Let’s see if it continues.

Scott: Well, in Bargnani’s first game out, sliding Carmelo Anthony to the four, ‘Melo broke the Garden record in scoring, dropping 62 points. I believe there is some kind of correlation there. Bargnani’s defense is particularly atrocious on an already sieve-like team, and his offense isn’t really all that impactful. Bargs is a solid jump shooter, but he can’t hit from beyond the line, so he hurts the spacing, and his will and desire comes and goes like the seasons. I don’t wish injury on anyone, but I could think players I’d miss more than Bargnani.

6) Give a prediction for the second half. How does the rest of this year play out?

Jared: I think the Knicks sneak into the playoffs as the one of the 6-8 seeds and bow out in the first round. Then Melo re-signs for 5 years, $129 million and the Knicks start going after whoever their next big name savior is supposed to be.

Jonathan: The Knicks are definitively better than the Cavs, Pistons and Bobcats, the teams they’re battling for the eighth seed so I think they’re going to get in the playoffs. But it’s hard to see how they’re going to win enough to get much higher than that, especially with Brooklyn playing so well. So I see a first round matchup with the Pacers and I see the Knicks fighting hard and losing in five or six games. It’ll hurt. And it’ll have been a lost year. Actually, it’ll have been the most disappointing season in Knicks’ history. So there’s that.

Dan: Do I have to? This team can’t get out of it’s own way. Win 5 and look great? Lose 5 and look despicable. I’m going to demur here.

Scott: The Knicks were 3-12 at the end of November. Since then, they’re 13-15, which is still poor, but certainly an improvement. Again, if the Knicks can piece together another little four or five-game win streak, they’ll be right back in the playoff picture. They’ll need slightly above .500 ball to make the playoffs, and they can’t lose any more than back-to-back games if they want to avoid Miami or Indiana in the first round of the postseason. Ultimately, I don’t think the Knicks will make any major trades or changes to the roster; I just don’t think management is looking far enough into the future to forgo trying to save this season. I’m going to guess the Knicks finish with the 6th seed in the East and a 38-42 record.