Team Name: New York Knicks
Last Year's Record: 54-28
Key Losses: Chris Copeland, Steve Novak, Jason Kidd
Key Additions: Tim Hardaway Jr., Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Glen Grunwald had only mini-MLE money and minimum salaries to work with (again), but he managed to refill some roles vacated by departing players and restock the bench. The Knicks used their 24th pick on Tim Hardaway Jr. out of Michigan. Hardaway joins a team well-stocked at his position, but with J.R. Smith sidelined due to knee troubles and pee troubles, Tim could have a chance to prove his worth right from game one.
Right before free agency began, the Knicks acquired Andrea Bargnani in exchange for the spotty and misused Steve Novak, the ineffectual Marcus Camby, and the bottom of their draft pick barrel. Bargnani is also a bit redundant-- if not potentially detrimental-- but, again, should at least assume some minutes when Amar'e Stoudemire gets his prescribed rest (and, conversely, shouldn't be saddled with a crucial role or a lot of responsibility).
J.R. Smith (three years, $18 million), Pablo Prigioni (three years, $6 million out of the mini MLE), and Kenyon Martin (one year, minimum) were all re-signed at reasonable prices, which is nice, because the Knicks would have had trouble replacing them.
Perhaps Grunwald's best moves of the summer came later on, when he had just minimum contracts to share. First he added Metta World Peace-- not the stopper he once was, but more defense and shooting than the Knicks could have hoped for at a minimum salary. Then he convinced Beno Udrih to come aboard, perhaps to replace Jason Kidd in New York's regular point guard tandems.
That, ultimately, was Grunwald's project for the summer: He replugged holes such that Mike Woodson can play small and weird and shot-happy if he still pleases while stocking the bench with sturdier veterans than last year's.
Of course, the summer's seismic move didn't come until days before training camp, when the Knicks rewarded Grunwald for a savvy summer by firing him and replacing him with James Dolan's old friend Steve Mills. The Knicks remain the Knicks.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
The Knicks should still be a top offensive team. Last year, they rarely turned the ball over and made the most of their surplus possessions by creating an unprecedented excess of open threes. They appear to have recouped or replaced most of the shooting, plus the extra distribution necessary to find those looks. New York should still be able to hoard possessions by forcing turnovers and covering the defensive glass, though losing Kidd hurts somewhat in those regards.
Additionally, whether or not this year's team is deeper than last year's, it appears stabler beneath the surface. Last year's clan of weird uncles-- Kidd, Camby, Rasheed Wallace, and Kurt Thomas-- crumbled with use. The group of "Key Additions" mentioned above should hold up better, and based on the training camp invites, the last three roster spots should go to promising youngsters, not depressing fallen stars.
Still miss u, Sheed and Kurt. Don't take any of the above the wrong way.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
This roster boasts better (and healthier, for now) individual defenders than last year's, but the Knicks probably won't be a top defensive team. Mike Woodson still has to play a lot of careless individual defenders, and will still probably have them switching all the time, which means there will be open shots aplenty for the opposition.
The Knicks should still derive a lot of their points from threes and even more from isolation, both of which are bound to falter on occasion. Inconsistency could be an issue, and we saw in last year's playoffs how the Knicks can shrivel when all those threes and isos fail them at the wrong times.
Oh, and remember how the Knicks lost their minds on occasion, crashing against certain teams (Chicago in particular) because of foul trouble and ejections? Now they have Metta World Peace, too.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Go further. I mean, they'd probably tell you the goal is to win a championship, which...of course that's the goal. it's the right goal. I'd be happy to see them get to the next round. They need to make the Eastern Conference Finals and at least get that shot to challenge the Heat (or whoever). I feel like I said something similar in my 2012-2013 preview. But yeah, they made progress last season by winning a playoff series. Progress this year would be winning TWO playoff series, though I would not turn down three or four series victories. Not at all.
5. Will Mike Woodson stay weird?
I've alluded to this a few times, but Mike Woodson built a system last season that, for a famously stodgy coach, was remarkably unusual and produced some historic weirdness. It started, perhaps out sheer circumstance, with two-point guard lineups that featured extra shooting around Carmelo Anthony and only one true "big man" in Tyson Chandler. Woodson directed groups like those to shoot more threes than any NBA team has ever. And even though the Knicks played mediocre defense, they were able to outpace teams by, as I've mentioned, hoarding possessions through a massively beneficial turnover differential and sound defensive rebounding.
This season, Woodson still owns the resources to play small and loose. Prigioni is back and Udrih is in to replace Jason Kidd, so point guard tandems can still happen. The option to play natural two-guards at the three remains, though new forward alternatives like World Peace and Bargnani may provide enough shooting to let Melo behave like a four again on offense while allowing for cross-matches as needed on defense.
Is the above what Woodson wants? Will he lean harder on what made the Knicks extreme and unusual (and ultimately pretty successful), or will he strike for a more balanced, traditional approach? Or does the best course lie somewhere in between, with true "twos" like Shump and Smith aiming to distribute more or Melo disguised as a "three" when the "fours" beside him just hang out behind the arc? Play small, or play regular-sized and merely behave small? Or just normalize things completely?
I guess I just responded to my own question by repeating the question a lot, but I don't have an answer. I'm waiting to see what Woodson does.