As the Knicks bravely limp toward the finish line of this season, clinging lustily to the #8 seeding and a chance to face those top two teams who have had their shit together all season in a playoff series, it suddenly hit me this afternoon....
THIS TEAM IS SERIOUSLY GOING PLACES.
When D'antoni was fired, the Knicks were in very tough shape. But after riding the new coach bounce to a few wins and gaining some optimism, we lost a resurgent Amar'e for most of not all of the remainder of the season, and we lost Lin, seemingly until some mythical, nearly impossible to imagine second round of the playoffs. Baron Davis' injuries seemed to multiply, and any hope of him returning to his past athleticism seemed dashed. A surging Bucks team needed only to knock us off in one of two meetings to claim the head to head tiebreaker against us, and our schedule was filled with tough matchups.
But something odd happened between then and now. The Knicks kept competing, and kept coming up with wins. Not every game but enough. They beat Milwaukee. They crushed Orlando. They beat Orlando again. They beat the Bulls one of two, and they beat Milwaukee again.
All with half a point guard. All while missing one of the best offensive power forwards in the NBA.
Seeing Lin play, I believe in this kid. Regardless of where you rank him among NBA point guards, it's obvious that the guy can run a team. He's got balls, he's got flair, he's got swagger and he's got size and skills. And his teammates love him and rally behind him - you can see it happening. The kid is a point guard, and a good one. And he's young. And he loves the Knicks' players as much as they love him.
As for Amar'e, he's had his ups and downs this year. He's probably overrated and has always been less than great at defense and rebounding. But he was showing a lot of skill and competing well on both ends of the floor before he got hurt. I believe that Amar'e isn't done. He's still capable of dominating.
And the Knicks won several tough, tough games without these guys.
I'm not sure what will happen over the rest of the year. The Knicks could still miss the playoffs. They could get swept out of the playoffs. But the recent stretch of games has shown me a few things.
1. Woodson can coach. The guy has got them consistently battling on defense and rebounding, and it's kept them in games. He's shown trust in guys and he's gotten on guys, and they're playing well. He's sent in some really good plays when we needed to get something going. And it's been enough to keep us in the drivers seat, headed toward the postseason.
2. Shumpert is a special player. His defense is uniquely excellent. He raises his play when the stakes are high. And though he's not at Lin's level as a point guard by a long shot, he's shown he can play the position in a pinch and keep the Knicks in games.
3. Chandler's not only as awesome as we think - he's even more awesome.
4. The Knicks, as a team, have heart.
I fully expect that Lin will be back next year. I'm starting to feel that it's likely that the Knicks make the playoffs, win one or two games, and that Woodson will be brought back. The Knicks are going to have a training camp. They have an awesome young point guard and floor leader. They have an awesome young shooting guard/perimeter defender. They have an awesome center and defensive leader in his prime, who inspires offensively minded athletic players to D up. That's enough - right there - for the Knicks to kick some serious ass in the next few seasons.
But on top of that, they have Carmelo, who's shown a willingness to D up and rebound on this team in addition to the unguardable offensive skills he can provide. And they have Amar'e, who's looked less athletic and lost at times this season, but who is tremendously skilled and who is tremendously hard working and who has shown a tremendously awesome team-first attitude throughout this whole season.
As for our bench, no one is going to be able to take Fields away from us. J.R. Smith has a player option and a coach who believes in him. And though Novak can likely get more elsewhere, he obviously loves this team and his career had blossomed here. Jeffries has shown his value and his loyalty to and love for Lin. Jorts will be with us. And even Baron Davis, playing hurt, has not enhanced his value as a starter, wants a chip, and will still get paid by Cleveland no matter what he makes next year. So he might just stay as well, and I think he can get healthy and play at a much higher level than what he's shown.
I know we are struggling to keep our heads above water right now, but think about it - the Knicks are going to trot out a lineup of Lin - Shumpert - Anthony - Stoudemire - Chandler for the next few seasons. That's very awesome.