Projected record: 39-43 (9th in East)
Head coach: Derek Fisher
2013-14 record: 37-45
2013-14 ORtg: 105.4 (11th)
2013-14 DRtg: 106.5 (24th)
Players in: Derek Fisher (coach), Quincy Acy, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Cleanthony Early, Travis Outlaw, Jason Smith, rights to Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Players out: Mike Woodson (coach), Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin, Toure’ Murry, Lamar Odom, Jeremy Tyler
Projected Starting Lineup: Jose Calderon, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire
Let’s start with the best-case: Amar’e Stoudemire rediscovers some offensive magic, Jose Calderon hums along and keeps erratic Knicks shooters in check, Iman Shumpert puts together a full season of locking down opposing scorers, efficiency bursts out of Carmelo Anthony for the second straight year, Andrea Bargnani is only kind of terrible, and they score enough points game in and game out to offset their average defense and surge into the playoffs behind first-year coach Derek Fisher.
Worst-case? Stoudemire can’t stay healthy and can’t defend the paint when he is, Calderon’s efficiency drops back to earth after two incredible seasons, Bargnani is fully terrible, Anthony sulks through a season with disappointing teammates, Fisher tries to usurp Phil Jackson’s job, gets “released,” and heads off to coach the Milwaukee Bucks while Spike Lee takes his job on the sidelines.
The truth will probably lie somewhere in the middle.
Is that a playoff team in the East?
A lot comes down to new head coach Fisher, who’s got as many questions on his plate as some guy who coached the Nets last year. Along with the pressures of being a new coach in New York City, how will Fisher manage egos and temperaments on his roster? Can he instill some semblance of the Triangle under president Jackson’s tutelage and to Anthony’s satisfaction?
Then come the roster questions. Can Amar’e Stoudemire play any shred of defense? Can Tim Hardaway, Jr. build on his rookie season? Can a bench that boasts Travis Outlaw and Andrea Bargnani provide anything but GIFable hilarity?
There’s something to be said for their sudden stability. They’re not hard-wired for any particularly bad controversy. Anthony, a superstar offensive player in his own right and the undisputed best player in New York City, signed a five-year deal that’ll keep him in Manhattan through the 2018-19 season. Fisher and Jackson have a particular mentor-mentee bond that’s bound to work better than the disastrous Jason Kidd-Lawrence Frank pairing a season ago. The upgrade from Raymond Felton to Jose Calderon is as immense as Felton himself.
But the Knicks’ biggest issues last season came on the defensive end, ranking near the bottom all season, and it’s hard to see that improving given their personnel. Calderon’s impact is almost exclusively on the offensive end. Even an ambivalent Tyson Chandler protects the rim better than Amar’e Stoudemire on his best day, and new defensive-minded backup Samuel Dalembert is an aging veteran who’s averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game over the last three seasons. Andrea Bargnani is underrated as a post defender, but, uh…
Offensively, Fisher has a chance to bring real structure and stability, and Carmelo Anthony could flourish in a triangle offense a la Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. But everyone around Anthony has their own host of issues: J.R. Smith never met an offense he couldn’t dovetail, Stoudemire has missed 105 games in the last three years, and any system as complicated as the Triangle takes time to implement.
And if they start losing? Fisher’s walking in Jason Kidd’s footsteps, but Manhattan is a bigger media empire than Brooklyn, and if the Knicks start to flounder, he’ll hear it from all directions. Not every point guard turned first-time coach is ready to handle that spotlight right away. Only time will tell how Fisher can handle it.
It’s possible that the Knicks put it together. As we’ve mentioned, there’s murky territory between 11th seed and 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, and they could easily slide up or down. But they’ll need a complete code switch from last season to make that work, and with largely the same players and a new-to-coaching head coach, it’s easier to see the Knicks on the outside looking in.