The New York Knicks find themselves in a particularly interesting position this season. Donnie Walsh gave up a great deal to land Carmelo Anthony last year rather than waiting for him to become a free agent in 2011. The move was more than likely due to some shrewd gamesmanship from Melo's agent Leon Rose. Rose is no fool and the writing was on the wall that NBA player contracts would be considerably less under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, particularly given the miserable economic climate in the country. While it is impossible to know if Rose or Anthony could have been able to predict that the "sign and trade" would be eliminated or that max contracts would be greatly reduced for players signing with a team other than the one that drafted them, one can say without hesitation that Rose got his client the most money possible from the team that he wanted to play with. Knicks fans crying in their beers over the lack of depth on this current roster should be reminded that that is his job.
Would Melo have re-signed with the Nuggets? Gone elsewhere? Who knows? No one doubts that Melo sincerely wanted to come to New York, but it is naive to think that any athlete in the prime of their career in the midst of a recession would leave $50 million sitting on the table. Consequently, the Knicks were forced to part way with Raymond Felton, Timofey Mosgov, Wilson Chandler, and Danilo Gallinari. They now have few Draft picks to replace them with young talent or trade for veteran help. An injury-prone and undersized Rony Turiaf becomes the Knicks' primary big man, a difficult task playing alongside inconsistent rebounders and defenders in Anthony and Stoudemire.
The larger plan, to all of those who put a great deal of stock in the infamous wedding toast incident from last year, was to land CP3 in 2011. The visions of a Big Apple Big 3 with Chris Paul running the fast break alongside Anthony and Stoudemire danced in Knicks fans' heads. The strain that Melo and Amare put on the Knicks' cap space make this seem like a pipe dream, especially with the new salary cap and luxury tax rules. Amare and Carmelo got their $100 million contracts. Should we expect Chris Paul to come to New York for less than half of that? New Orleans will gladly pay him $100+ million and any other team in the league would gladly sign him to a max contract.
How will the Knickerbockers fare without Chris Paul? Right now the Big 3 in the Big Apple are Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Mike D'Antoni. Not quite the sexy Big 3 that many fans had anticipated. It seems as though $200+ million doesn't quite buy what it used to. In the Knicks case, maybe it does.......
Let us examine this Big 3 for a moment.
After the Decision, much has been made about the 3 Superstar teams. What some forget is that every team that has won a championship in the last decade has had a great coach who preached defense. Rick Carlisle, Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, and Greg Poppovich are cut from a similar mold. All of them are Hall of Fame caliber coaches and all were integral parts of their respective teams' success. How much faith should Knicks' fans have in their current head coach? Those Phoenix Suns teams that D'Antoni had success with (if one considers making the Playoffs each year without ever getting to the Finals) were absolutely loaded with talent. D'Antoni benefitted greatly from having Steve Nash in his MVP days. Let us not forget about Marion, Diaw, Thomas, and Barbosa. Those Suns teams got very close to the Finals but ultimately got beat by better defensive teams and better coaches.
Last year the Knicks put up lots of points. Melo averaged 26ppg. Billups played well and Landry Fields showed some flashes of brilliance. Amare (I refuse to call him STAT) played like an MVP for much of the season but, in the end they were still a .500 team that got swept in the first round of the Playoffs. Most of their losses could be directly attributed to poor defensive effort. Should the blame be placed on D'Antoni's coaching or the lack of defensive pieces on the current roster? Do bad defensive players get sent to D'Antoni or do players play defense poorly because of D'Antoni and his system? Bad coaching or bad GM'ing? The chicken or the egg? Can a team running this system ever beat the Celtics, Bulls, or Heat of the East?
What can we expect from the Big Apple Big 3 this year? If Melo and Amare get more comfortable in the system and improve their play by a reasonable margin, will they be much more than a .500 team that gets beat in the first round of the Playoffs? How much better can Landry Fields and Chauncey Billups play? Do we expect much more focus on team defense and toughness from D'Antoni when that has never been his M.O.? Can we expect a giant leap forward from Melo and Amare's defense and rebounding when that has never been a part of their game? Without a third star player, we may not be able to expect much more from the Knicks of 2011 than what we saw from the Knicks of 2010.