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Chris Copeland and the spirit of the 2012-13 Knicks

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Get better, Cope

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The basketball world was shocked by the attack that left Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland in the hospital. While there doesn't have to be a connection with our New York Knicks for us to empathize with the victim of such a senseless act, the fact that it happened to Copeland certainly hit home for many of us.

Not only is Cope a former Knick, he was a part of a very special time in recent Knicks history. In many ways he embodies the spirit of that marvelous 2012-13 club. He came out of nowhere, a 28-year-old rookie who had plied his trade in the Belgian League. He couldn't guard a coat rack, yet he presented a matchup nightmare for opponents on offense as a big man with range out past the three-point line. Hell, Copeland actually started at center a couple of times in ludicrously small Cope/Melo/Shump/Pablo/Felton lineups. Nothing screams "2012-13 Knicks" quite like a Cope/Melo frontcourt.

If the Knicks never field another great team -- and every morning I wake up to a James Dolan interview, I have my doubts -- I will spend the rest of my life defending the 2012-13 club. They were the closest thing to a great club younger fans have seen. And they were legitimately very good: 54-28 record, second-best record in the East, 17-13 against the (eternally superior) West.

Let's put it this way -- LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers need to go 3-1 over their final four games just to match the record of the 2012-13 Knicks. And the two teams have performed remarkably similar, relative to the rest of the league:

  • 2014-15 Cavs: 111.6 O-Rtg (2nd in NBA), 106.1 D-Rtg (18th in NBA)
  • 2012-13 Knicks: 111.1 O-Rtg (3rd in NBA), 106.3 D-Rtg (18th in NBA)

Cleveland fans had better hope that a second-round loss to say, Chicago, doesn't spur the kind of panicked organization-wide backlash that we saw in New York.

In a funny way, it was that complete dismissal of the 2012-13 style by the Knicks' own brain trust -- and the horrible fallout that followed -- that leaves fans with such fond memories of players like Chris Copeland, Steve Novak, Rasheed Wallace. They weren't as essential to that team as coach Mike Woodson or players like J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton, but neither are they tainted by the collapse that followed.

The fact that Copeland, like Novak, has struggled even to crack an NBA rotation since he left New York somehow makes him even more endearing. They are truly one-dimensional players, but given the right environment, they made it work. The 2012-13 team caught so much flak for its size and mediocre defense, but there's something to be said for a unit of unheralded, flawed players fitting together seamlessly for greater good. The 2012-13 club was greater than the sum of its parts; it was a team. Isn't that what Phil Jackson has been babbling about all this time?

I hope Chris Copeland heals and resumes his NBA career. I hope he finds a better fit than the one in Indiana and raises his game to the heights we saw in New York. I wouldn't necessarily want him on the Knicks again -- the team could really use some bigs who can defend -- but I still love the guy. I love Novak and Sheed. In my own way, I still love J.R. and Tyson. They were part of a special crew -- a team that made the Knicks relevant, if only for a short while.

Chris Copeland's Knicks never played much defense. They didn't even make the conference finals. But they will always hold a special place in my heart. Get well soon, Cope.