Friday, December 16, 2011

Knicks Plan to Ride MTA Towards Glory Road

Dec. 28, 2011

By Anthony Tripicchio

Sanity reigns at Madison Square Garden. No, that is not a misprint.

Following a decade marred by dreadful front office decisions, the New York Knicks are inching closer to championship contention. Elite scorers Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are now complemented by a pivot who camouflages their weaknesses.

Not only has interim GM Glen Grunwald secured a player who will eradicate many defensive lapses, the acquisition will hold culpable parties accountable (a winning principle neglected far too long by Knicks coaching staffs).

The addition of Tyson Chandler gives the franchise its first formidable defensive presence since Patrick Ewing and his cast of frontcourt enforcers. Dikembe Mutombo, although a renowned shot blocker and intimidator, was past his prime and relegated to part-time duty during his one year stint in New York for the 2003-04 season.

Chandler’s most favorable comparison may be Marcus Camby. Although they arrived in New York with varying levels of experience, both players bring rebounding and interior defense to the table.

Despite Chandler’s six blocks in the season opener, Camby is a superior shot blocker while Chandler is a more efficient offensive player. Chandler, cognizant of his limitations, will score on put backs and dunks rather than pretending to be someone he’s not. In his reassuring words, he “came here to defend.”

Brittle and frail in his younger years, Camby missed 99 games in four years as a Knick. Camby, immature in the early stages of his career, was physically and mentally unprepared to accept the demanding role of defensive court general. After being shipped to Denver with Mark Jackson and rookie Nene Hilario for Antonio McDyess, a trade that cemented the Knicks as a perennial loser, Camby flourished. He led the league in blocked shots per game in three consecutive years and was top five in rebounding three times.

Chandler encountered similar adversity from the outset of his career in Chicago. Like Camby, Chandler was a disappointment who failed to meet lofty expectations on a miserable team. He was reborn in New Orleans where he terrorized the glass and Chris Paul threw him countless alley-oops. A forgettable year in Charlotte followed, but led him to Dallas where Dirk Nowitzki credited him for changing the defensive culture of a notoriously soft team.
Chandler was the missing ingredient of a champion. Obliterated in its first two games this season, Dallas might still believe that: The Knicks certainly do.

Although Chandler fills a gargantuan void, there are pitfalls to obtaining him as the Knicks did.

First, the new collective bargaining agreement provided each team with an amnesty provision. Put in place in order to rid teams of woebegone contracts that strangled salary caps, the amnesty provision allows teams to waive a player and completely erase his contract from the cap. While the team is required to fulfill its obligation to the amnestied player with deferred payments, the added flexibility allows the team to discard a mistake and improve immediately.

Amar’e Stoudemire, signed through 2014-15, rejuvenated the franchise with his stellar play last season and laid the groundwork for more highly-sought pieces to join him. However, his health is a serious question mark over the full term of his deal and a substantial injury to him would cripple the Knicks title chances. With the amnesty provision, the Knicks could have protected themselves against such misfortune.

Rather than save it as insurance for Stoudemire, the Knicks chose to use it on veteran point guard Chauncey Billups. Billups, whose one year option was exercised in March by Donnie Walsh, was amnestied to make room for Chandler. Had the Knicks transitioned more seamlessly to Grunwald in the front office, perhaps they could have declined Billups’ option, signed Chandler and saved the amnesty provision for a rainy day.

Another alternative would have been to keep Billups for this season, let him walk as a free agent and pursue Dwight Howard or Deron Williams for 2012-13. Granted, this plan would leave them with size and rebounding deficiencies in the short-term and compel them to continue chasing an elusive utopian team.

Now the Knicks core is set, for better or worse. No more marquis moves will be made in the next few years, just supplementary parts shifted around the exemplary frontline.

Losing Billups left the Knicks shorthanded in the backcourt. Toney Douglas is not a pure point guard and Landry Fields struggled to find his way after the Anthony trade last year. Baron Davis, who’s out of action for another three to seven weeks with a herniated disk, is expected to play a significant role when he returns. First round draft pick Iman Shumpert may be the team’s best perimeter defender, but his erratic shooting will hinder his offensive consistency. Shumpert sprained a ligament in his right knee on Sunday and is sidelined two to four weeks.

While ignored by the media, Chandler is a durability concern. In his last three years alone, he’s sacrificed 86 games due to injury. He’s been healthier than Camby throughout his career, but that won’t earn him iron-man status. Since the Knicks are so thin, they can ill-afford to be without Chandler for any extended period.

Chandler is exactly the kind of player they needed; a no nonsense guy who will do the dirty work and require none of the glory that stars routinely desire. Opening a four-year window of contention, the clock is ticking on the Knicks.

In 2011-12, they should finish within the top four in the conference and win a playoff round at the very least. If not, Mike D’Antoni’s time is up.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Melodrama: Dolan Sounds Sirens for Anthony

Feb. 18, 2011
By Anthony Tripicchio

The New York Knicks just pushed the panic button.

In the latest chapter of the unrelenting Carmelo Anthony saga, the Knicks reportedly offered Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Eddy Curry's expiring contract and a first round pick (to be acquired for Anthony Randolph) to Denver in exchange for Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
Additional players such as Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman may also go to the Knicks for salary cap purposes.

For a team that was the overwhelming favorite to acquire Anthony all along, this desperation move has James Dolan's fingerprints all over it.

Dolan, the Knicks' bumbling owner, is poised to make the swap despite opposition from team president Donnie Walsh and head coach Mike D'Antoni, according to the New York Daily News.

Still not a championship contender if this trade is executed, the Knicks can't act as if Anthony is the final piece to the puzzle. Yet, Dolan is willing to surrender most of their assets as if they're a finished product.

You don't win a title in the NBA without an interior defender and rebounder: the Knicks don't have one. After this deal is consummated, New York will have minimal maneuverability until after the 2011-2012 season when Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Chris Paul are slated to become free agents.

Even then, however, it's no lock that they'll have cap room to sign a max player under the new collective bargaining agreement once Anthony has signed his three year, $65 million extension.

Make no mistake, New York should make a concerted effort to lure Anthony before Thursday's trade deadline, but it should be on its own terms. Chandler, Felton, Curry, and a first round pick is more than enough to sacrifice considering Denver's predicament.

Chandler, 23, has a lot of upside but will have to be paid substantially as a restricted free agent at year's end and therefore is expendable. Felton played exceptionally for stretches in the first half, is an excellent defender, and a soldier more than willing to fight through injury. Curry's contract provides cap relief and a first round pick enables Denver to add to its young corps.

The Knicks maintained leverage throughout the year in negotiations for Anthony because it's common knowledge that his preferred destination is The World's Most Famous Arena. Rather than allow Walsh to do his job, though, Dolan has abdicated all bargaining power and acquiesced to nearly all Denver's demands.

Dolan is undoubtedly petrified by the specter of the Nets landing Anthony and invading his turf with a marquee player to feature on billboards this time.

That could be construed as a rational concern if it weren't for the fact that the Nets and Nuggets have already agreed upon an Anthony trade on three separate occasions in the past five months. Twice, Anthony has refused to sign an extension with New Jersey and he's shown nothing to indicate that his stance has changed now.

Anthony wants no part of the Nets and the right play is to call his bluff.

Unless Denver is willing to be reasonable, the Knicks should step away from the table, allow the Nuggets to accept the rumored Nets' deal, and dare Anthony to sign his coveted extension with them.

I'm betting, as various reports including Newsday's Alan Hahn suggest, he won't put pen to paper if he's traded to New Jersey.

If Anthony does sign in New Jersey, he's demonstrating that his first priority is cash, not winning. As a 26-year-old star that's made about $100 million in his career already, it's time for Anthony to put winning above all else.

Imploding the Knicks' nucleus in order to get to Gotham won't get him championships either.