Tomorrow the NBA Playoffs will begin, and for the first time in four years the New York Knicks (37-45) will not be a participant.
The Knicks finished the season one game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth seed in the playoffs. The Hawks eliminated the Knicks from contention last Saturday with a win over the Miami Heat.
However, the Knicks have no one to blame for this nightmare season but themselves. The season started with high expectations after 54 wins and an Atlantic Division title last season. Those expectations quickly diminished after a 3-13 start to the season. Knicks’ center Tyson Chandler also broke his leg in the third game of the season, which forced him to miss 20 games.
The team was flawed from the beginning and as the season progressed the team experienced a bevy of issues that did not make things any easier.
Training camp began with Knicks’ owner James Dolan inexplicably firing last year’s general manager Glen Grunwald. Grunwald was fired despite the team winning 54 games. It was an odd move, and had to have an impact on head coach Mike Woodson who was close with Grunwald. Woodson also faced the prospect of being a lame duck coach, because the contracts of his assistants were not renewed prior to the season.
Grunwald’s firing came after the Knicks traded for Andrea Bargnani. The move that did not pan out, as the Knicks surrendered Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, two second round picks and a first round pick for the 7-footer. Bargnani did not fit well with the starting lineup and his poor three-point shooting (28 percent) hurt the team. Bargnani suffered a season-ending elbow injury when the Knicks were 15-27.
Supporting Cast’ Struggles
Bargnani was just one player who struggled this season. Key contributors to last year’s team regressed this season. Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith were important pieces last year. This year they all struggled to shoot for the majority of the season. Kenyon Martin — one of the team’s best defenders — only played 32 games due to a chronic ankle injury.
Smith and Felton also experienced issues off the court. Smith started the season sitting out the first five games of the season due to a drug suspension. Felton was arrested on February 25th for felony gun charges stemming from an altercation with his wife. Felton continued to play after the arrest but his performance all season was below average, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The supporting cast’s lack of production forced Mike Woodson to play Carmelo Anthony 38.7 minutes per game. Anthony was tied with Chicago’s Jimmy Butler for most minutes per game this season. Anthony had a good season averaging 27.4 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game, but he fatigued at the end of games.
Anthony, who was statistically the best end of game player a few years ago, was just 24-for-77 (31.2 percent) in the last five minutes of games decided by five points or less. In the last thirty seconds of games decided by three points or less he was 1-for-12.
For the first time in his NBA career Anthony missed the playoffs, and he has stated he will opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer.
Woodson was partially forced to play Anthony big minutes, but he did not do himself any favors with his rotation decisions. Injuries played a factor, but for much of the year the coach still did not know which players played best together. For example, Woodson often played Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire — the team’s worst interior defenders — at the same time. He tried to let players like Felton play through their struggles, but it never payed dividends.
Woodson can also be blamed for the late game execution the Knicks displayed this year. The team was 10-15 in games decided by five points or less. Even worse the team lost nine games by over 20 points, which shows a lack of focus.
The Knicks had enough talent to at least make the playoffs in one of the worst conferences in NBA history. They were unsuccessful, and that has a lot to do with the coach.
Now that the Knicks’ season is over, the Phil Jackson era has officially begun. Jackson signed a 5-year $60 million contract to become President of Basketball Operations.
Jackson will have to decide the fate of coach Mike Woodson. It is likely Woodson will be fired, and it is rumored Jackson will attempt to hire a disciple of his triangle offense, such as current TNT basketball analyst Steve Kerr.
Jackson and the Knicks signed former Laker Lamar Odom to a non-guaranteed contract for next season, and Jackson could attempt to bring in another one of his former players in Pau Gasol.
The Knicks don’t have a draft pick in this year’s draft, so Jackson’s main focus will be convincing Carmelo Anthony to come back to the team next season. The Knicks are not in position to significantly upgrade the roster until next summer when the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, and Tyson Chandler expire.
“I want to come back. But I also want to win,” Anthony said yesterday at his exit interview. The Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets could all potentially attempt to sign Anthony. Jackson will have to present a plan to Anthony that involves improving the team towards title contention. It helps that the Knicks can offer Anthony the most money in the offseason.
Although the Knicks will not be making a pick in this year’s draft, Phil Jackson is on the clock.
Looking Towards Next Season
Obviously the complexion of next season will largely depend on whether or not Anthony returns, but it is not currently possible to predict what moves or trades the Knicks will make before next season begins.
Players who are currently under contract that will be important no matter what happens are Tim Hardaway Jr. and Amar’e Stoudemire. Hardaway Jr. averaged 10.2 points per game in his rookie season and shot 36 percent from 3-point range. His progression offensively and defensively will be key for the team next season.
Stoudemire was on a minutes restriction for the majority of the season, but down the stretch he helped the Knicks get back to playoff contention in a starting role. If he can provide consistent minutes from the beginning of next season the Knicks will be a better team.