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When you think of this past season for the New York Knicks, a couple of things must come to mind. Amare Stoudemire, the Carmelo Anthony trade, making the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons, the Carmelo Anthony trade, getting swept in the first round by the Celtics and the Carmelo Anthony trade. Yes, the Carmelo Anthony trade was a pretty big deal last year, but it was pretty clear the team lost a little cohesiveness when they blew it up in the middle of the season.
Former Knicks GM and President (now a team “consultant”), Donnie Walsh, is not a fan of major midseason trades, but he understands that this was a move that was made to build the team for the future. The Knicks weren’t going to win the NBA Championship last season whether or not that trade had been made, but Donnie Walsh’s recent comments make it clear why that deal was made, and what he thinks the team is capable of moving forward:
“We have a core of players we can build around to build a [championship contending] team. We’re not finished. There’s more pieces. But I think we got some really good players that can lead and form a core of that team. What we have are the most important things.”
I think these comments from Walsh are extremely realistic. He didn’t make any outrageous Prokhorov type championship winning remarks, he was stating facts. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire could certainly be the core of a championship contending team. Can you win a championship with these 2 guys as your best players? I have no idea, only time will tell. Can you contend for a championship (top 4 seed, with a couple breaks make it to the finals ect..) with Stat and Melo as your 2 best players? Yes you can.
The people reading this and laughing are all thinking the exact same thing. You need to play defense to win in the NBA. This is of course, entirely true. But couldn’t that be the same reason why Donnie Walsh said championship contending and not “multiple championship winning”? I am not saying he doesn’t have faith in the team he helped build, but he knows some serious changes and additions need to be made before this team can reach that next level. Mike D’Antoni successfully proved that “offensive” teams can contend for championships in his years in Phoenix. At the same time, he also successfully proved that you need to play defense to actually win championships, so I’m really glad to have him as our coach. Wait…what?
That is where the other part of his statement comes in. He acknowledges that they are not finished, and that pieces need to be added. What are these pieces, and how will the Knicks choose to go about filling the team out? If they choose to take the “big 3” approach and go for either Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Deron Williams in the summer of 2012, that’s going to be it, there will be no room for anyone else (if it is even possible…). I addressed this thought at an earlier time, including the need for a coaching change to truly become a championship favorite. My solution was defensive-minded Jeff van Gundy as coach, along with defensive minded Dwight Howard playing center. Would you include Amar’e in a package for Howard, and build a more traditional team around Melo and D12? I sure would.
What if they don’t take the “big 3” approach, and they fill out a team around Anthony and Stoudemire in a more traditional way? I don’t think Chauncey Billups will be around after this season, so they will need a point guard, shooting guard and center who can play solid defense. What if they fill out a team with a Marc Gasol or Nene at center? Or a solid, but non-superstar point guard like Jrue Holiday, or maybe even Tony Parker? I’m not saying the Knicks will ever have a serious shot at any of these guys (or that they play great defense), but I think these “pieces” being referenced need to be different than what they did in Miami. Look, Lebron and Dwade are both better than Stat and Melo, and they play above average defense, no point in denying that. If you want to build a team around 2 guys that don’t play good individual defense, you have to create a system that will work for them. This comes down to coaching, and the other players on the team.
Donnie Walsh’s closing words were true. They have the most important things. It’s very tough to get two multiple-time all-stars in the prime of their careers on the same team, so building around them is certainly a heck of a lot better than where the Knicks have been the last 10 years. That said, and it hurts for me to say this, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this core of Anthony and Stoudemire never won a championship. They will contend, but winning will take a couple of changes that may never be made. No one has any way of knowing what this team will look like at the beginning of the 2012 season and beyond, but they have a core that is better than most of the NBA. Only time will tell where this core can take them.