This season is lost for the Knicks, but that's okay
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
Teams can't really be judged until after their first 20 games of the season. The story is out on the New York Knicks, they can't defend and they can't score. They've lost a lot of close games that in theory could have gone either way, but there's a reason they are losing so many.
Some people, including myself, thought the Knicks would be a lock to get one of the eight playoff spots in the weak East. In this conference you don't even need a winning record to advance, but a franchise-worst 4-17 start is really pushing it.
Mathematically the Knicks are still very much a possible playoff team, but there's been no evidence so far this season that suggests this team can make a run as they get further into season. Instead, let's look at what has gone wrong with this team.
Players usually play their best, or at least try to, during their contract years but it's had the opposite effect in New York.
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Iman Shumpert is the most troubling case of this for the Knicks. After being selected to the All-Rookie First Team in 2012 he hasn't been able to live up to the promise. To his credit, Shumpert had a nice start to the season in which he averaged 13.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists, but he injured his hip and hasn't found that form since.
What's more disconcerting is that Shumpert hasn't become the All-World defender he was expected to be. According to NBA.com, players are shooting over 40 percent on three-pointers and nearly 50 percent on twos when Shumpert is guarding them. Obviously playing defense is a lot tougher when you have a bad hip, and especially when no one else on your team can defend, so this season's numbers aren't truly indicative of Shumpert's ability on that end.
But Shump couldn't have picked a worse year to have a drop off in his numbers. It's even more disappointing when seeing how fellow shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who was taken 13 spots after Shumpert in the 2011 draft, has transformed himself into a star this season.
The two big contract years that stand out belong to Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, who are owed a combined $35 million this season. Bargnani strained his hamstring in the preseason and hasn't yet played a second in the regular season, while Stoudemire has been adjusting nicely to his role off the bench.
Head coach Derek Fisher rewarded Stoudemire by starting him the last three games. In his past five contests, Stoudemire averaged 16.2 points (on over 64 percent shooting) and 8.8 rebounds, and turned back the clock to his sprier days with a poster over Anderson Varejao.
However, it's clear to everybody that the front office is waiting for that $35 million to disappear, whether by trade or waiting for the season to end. This is where the Knicks become an interesting team, because along with the Lakers they are the team most dependent on next year's free agency class.
New York will have major cap space next offseason. Even if they re-sign Shumpert, depending on his value when they re-sign him, the Knicks could still have well over $20 million to play around with. That's a chance to make a lot of noise in a summer that features unrestricted free agents Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, and Paul Millsap.
Of those five names, Rondo is the most likely to leave his current team. But don't underestimate how far a big offer and the grandeur of New York City can take you, especially if the Blazers, Grizzlies or Clippers suffer early playoff exits or low ball their respective potential free agents.
That being said, Portland will almost assuredly lock up Aldridge and it looks like Gasol isn't going anywhere either but ask a Knick fan if they'd be happy coming away with Rondo or Jordan or both to team up with their top draft pick and Carmelo Anthony and see if they break down in tears just thinking about it.
Speaking of Melo, maybe it's time to talk about him. Legacy is a word that's become incredibly popular these days when discussing the league's stars. The past 14 months haven't just sent Anthony's legacy into a downward spiral, he's damn near entering the Bobby Valentine zone.
Over the past season-and-a-quarter, Anthony failed to make the playoffs last year, made the unpopular choice to take the money with New York instead of leave to a form an instant title contender in Chicago and has made his critics who believe he's incapable of leading a team deep into the playoffs feel good about themselves this season.
I think Anthony's given an unfair shake. We shouldn't blame a player for taking more money to stay with his hometown team, especially when that town is New York City. Not to mention the team is now presided over by Phil Jackson, who has more championship rings than fingers.
It's clear now that this year's Knicks were going to be bad with or without Anthony. There's only so much you can do when the best players around you are an over-the-hill Stoudemire and J.R. Smith, whose only contribution on the court is scoring and he's not even doing that well this year.
Anthony expects, or at least hopes, this team will become a contender through the draft and free agency by the 2016-17 season. For Melo's sake that better happen, because, despite being a seven-time All-Star, he's advanced past the first round of the playoffs only twice in the 10 trips he's taken.
Anthony's numbers have taken a dip as he gets used to the new offense being installed by Jackson and Fisher, and the way that Melo and his team are playing so far, it's hard to imagine that he will be elected an All-Star starter this year.
Melo will be in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done, based on numbers and international (as well as collegiate) success alone. Anthony has a very legitimate shot of being one of the top 10 all-time scorers if he plays about five or six more years, which will cement him as one of the best pure scorers to ever play the game.
However, his lack of success in the playoffs as well as not making a single All-NBA First Team certainly puts a stain on his legacy.
This season may be a wash, but the groundwork for what will determine how people will remember Carmelo Anthony all depends next summer.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo