New York Knicks Must Have Plan B

By Chris Ippolito

Since Donnie Walsh’s first day as president of the New York Knicks, he made it clear that the best way to end the team’s streak of futility was to get under the salary cap for the first time since 1996.  Although it has been two painful years since his April 2008 proclamation, Walsh has executed his plan.  Today the Knicks are approximately $35 million under the salary cap, an enviable position considering the plethora of talent in this year’s free agent class.  Only the Miami Heat, who essentially dismantled their team for this purpose, have more money to spend this off season than the Knicks.

Apparently, fair weather fans of the Knicks, who probably spent the last five years or so denying their orange and blue affiliation, look at this cap space only as an opportunity to sign LeBron James, by far the most coveted free agent on the market.  This idea is not a far-fetched one.  In my opinion the Knicks should do everything they can to recruit James to New York.  He is a physical specimen who I believe will end up averaging a triple double for a season at some point in his career.  The problem is that Chicago, Miami, the L.A Clippers, and James’s former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, all want the King as badly as the Knicks do.

To me, it is pointless to predict where James will choose to play.  People have been trying to do this for months, yet, I honestly don’t believe that even LeBron himself knows what the outcome is going to be.  However, I will admit that I am not nearly as confident in Walsh’s ability to bring in James as I was a year ago, when the New York media made it seem as though it was a formality.  With this said, I think it is important…extremely important…for the Knicks to have a back-up plan.

People seemed surprised that James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson are discussing their future plans with one another.  To me, this just shows that these players are serious about winning.  Ask LeBron James (probably the second best player in the game today to Mr. Bryant in L.A) how easy it’s been to win a championship with the likes of Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams as Robins to his Batman.  Ask Chris Bosh how easy it’s been for him to even make the playoffs with Andrea Bargnani as his primary running mate.  The obvious point is that since these guys are serious about winning (and they all seem to be pretty tight because of their USA basketball affiliation) they are going to attempt to relocate so that each has a great chance to be successful.

Let’s assume that what everyone thinks is going to happen will happen: LeBron chooses PF/C Chris Bosh as his running mate for the next 5-7 years and they go to Chicago, L.A, or even Miami.  What should the Knicks do?  I’ll tell you what they should not do, and that is panic.  Undoubtedly, the Knick fan base will feel as though another 10 years of infamy is inevitable.  However, it will be up to Walsh construct a team capable of beating the James/Bosh squad.  Unfortunately for Knick fans, it will probably be a two year process.

First and foremost, the Knicks need to put together a formidable front court.  Even more so than a point guard, interior defense and center play is essential to winning NBA basketball.  With Bosh off the table, the Knicks would have to choose between Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, or David Lee as lynchpins for the Knicks front court.  I would go with the former Dukie,  Boozer.  He is a much better rebounder and defender than Amare and also is less likely to be distracted by New York’s bright stage.  In my opinion, Lee needs a change of scenery anyway.  Perhaps the incessant losing has made winning in New York unimaginable for him. Offering Boozer a max-contract is something that Walsh will have to think long and hard about, yet I may oblige Boozer in the end because of his tenacity, effort, and relative durability.  However, at 6’9, despite the fact that he is very thick, Boozer will have trouble guarding the NBA’s larger 5’s.  Thus bringing in a Brad Miller or Brendan Hayward on a one or two year deal would make a lot of sense.  Nonetheless, the Knicks need to make it a point to improve their front court drastically this offseason, especially from a defensive perspective.  To me, this is a bigger priority than bringing in a superstar scorer not named James.

If you can’t tell by my last sentence, I do not want the Knicks to feel the need to overpay for anyone, let alone a player who is injury prone.  In other words, Mr. Walsh, be very weary of Dwyane Wade.  I love watching him.  He plays with reckless abandon, and nearly every game he makes a play that the common fan has never seen before.  He’s one of the best scorers in the game and is as clutch as they come.  The problem is, that in his seven years in the league, he’s only played in 75+ games four times.  Compare that to Lebron who has done it in all seven of his NBA seasons and Dirk Nowtizki who has done it in every season since the 99-00 campaign.  I would be really tentative to sign Wade to a max contract, while also keeping in mind how frequently Wade dives, crashes, and bounces on the floor.

This said, the Knicks need to add to their team offensively.  Adding Nowitzki would be silly, since they have the big German reincarnate in Danilo Gallinari.  I would go after Joe Johnson, but only if he would accept a deal worth less than the maximum.  I look at Joe Johnson, a former Mike D’Antoni disciple himself, as the Ray Allen of this potential Knick dynasty.  His scoring would be essential, and his court sense and veteran presence would help win a lot of games, yet on a championship team, he can be no better than the third best player on the squad.  I feel like Johnson would be the perfect fit for New York; a quiet killer who goes about his daily business without setting off any fireworks.  He knows how to succeed under Mike D’Antoni and would help to teach his younger teammates the system.  Without assuming any of the other pieces, a team with Johnson, Boozer, Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler is a .500 basketball club, easily.

I feel as though the point guard is overrated in the D’Antoni system to begin with.  Half the time, when the Knicks are pushing the ball up-court, the point guard is not the first or second person to touch the ball anyway.  Sure, if Raymond Felton or Rafer Alston want to come play in Madison Square Garden for the right price, I’m all for it.  However I feel that the Knicks should have their team in place, then find their floor general, not the other way around.

I understand that if the offseason plays out this way, many a Knick fan will be somewhat disappointed.  My advice is to do your best Donnie Walsh impression, and be patient and realistic.  Don’t feel that the offseason is lost because LeBron didn’t come.  More importantly, don’t feel as if you need Wade to battle the hated LeBron. Basketball is a team game and it will take a lot more than doling out money to Wade to beat a James/Bosh combination.  Instead, understand what it takes to win an NBA championship.  Realize that interior defense is the be-all, end-all in the NBA.  Understand that on championship teams, former superstars sign on to become role players and in certain games, become superstars again.  Just ask Ray Allen about game two of the NBA Finals.  And lastly, realize that next summer, when Eddy Curry’s fat ass and fat contract leave New York for good, know that Carmelo Anthony and potentially Kevin Durant will be free agents.  Those are two guys who are comparable to LeBron and are probably better than Wade.  But that topic is for next summer, after a 2010-2011 Knick playoff run.

By the way, how many championships has LeBron James won in his career?  I forgot.

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