By John Schmeelk
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I hate typing it, but it’s the truth: A season where the Knicks were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the hated Boston Celtics can only be considered a success.
Let’s grade some of the aspects of New York’s 2010-11 season to figure out where the Knicks are — and where they go from here.
The Playoffs: It’s hard to say anything else but “total failure” when a team gets swept in the first round, but the Knicks had extenuating circumstances.
They lost Chauncey Billups in the first game of the series, and then had to endure a crippled Amar’e Stoudemire for the final three games after he injured his back. With those two players out or ineffective, the Knicks had no right to even play the Celtics close.
Other than the second half of Game 3, the team played extremely hard despite being completely outmanned. The worst part of the series was the last two minutes of Game 1, when the Knicks fell apart, lost Billups and a very winnable game. Grade: B-
The Trade: Even though a lack of depth resulting from the Carmelo Anthony trade eventually cost the Knicks any chance of winning in the playoffs, it can’t be considered anything other than a success.
With two stars, the team is set up for years to come and still have cap flexibility in the years ahead. The players New York traded away haven’t exactly been standouts in the playoffs. In fact, both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have been virtual no-shows. Grade: A-
Amar’e Stoudemire: Everyone, I’m sure even Donnie Walsh, was nervous when the Knicks brought in Stoudemire this offseason.
STAT was to be the first building block of the Knicks’ franchise. There were doubts about whether he could carry a team without Steve Nash. Would his knees hold up? Could he handle New York?
Like Anthony, he has flaws, specifically on defense and on the boards, but he passed almost every test with flying colors. Fans will never forget he was the first one in — and started the process of rebuilding the Knicks. Grade: A
Carmelo Anthony: Carmelo has his flaws. He doesn’t play hard on defense all the time. He can hold the ball too much, doesn’t push the ball, and his shot selection can sometimes be shaky.
His strengths, however, far outweigh his weaknesses. There’s no better player in the halfcourt offense, and he turned out to be a more willing passer than I expected. His penchant to pass (almost to a fault) when he was double-teamed against the Celtics was very telling. He also showed that when he wants to play defense, he can be very good at it.
He’s not perfect, but nobody is. The Knicks can win a championship with this guy, period. Grade: A-
Chauncey Billups: This didn’t go quite as well. Billups started with a bang for the first few games, and then got hurt.
Billups was terrible after he returned from a deep thigh bruise inflicted by Dwight Howard. He finally improved during the final two weeks of the season, but then got injured again in the playoffs.
The Knicks have a $3.7 million buyout on Billups. They would have to exercise it by the end of the week to cut Billups loose and save about $11 million on next year’s cap. Due to a potential lockout and the lack of upcoming free agents, the Knicks will likely keep him around for another year.
Billups’ expiring contract could also be valuable next season when guys like Chris Paul become available. Grade: C+
The Supporting Cast: There’s no reason to think Landry Fields isn’t the guy that played well the first four months of the season — rather than the final two stinkers.
Toney Douglas is what he is, a streaky shooter with limited play-making ability.
Shawne Williams was a good find as a solid three-point shooter and defender.
Ronny Turiaf is a good 15 minute a game “energy guy” off the bench.
Everyone else is expendable and could be on their way out. Depth is where the Knicks need to make their greatest improvement, especially at shooting guard and center. Grade: D+
The Coach: The potential lockout helps D’Antoni’s already good chances of coming back as head coach. And he deserves to lead this team next season.
There’s no question that D’Antoni has his flaws but he hasn’t been given a fair chance to succeed yet as head coach. During his first two years with the team, he had very little talent to work with and constantly rotating rosters. This year he had the team playoff-bound early. And that was before half his team changed with less than half the season left to play.
When he finally got to the playoffs, two of his best players got hurt. He deserves a chance to coach the same team for a full season. He might not get to run a training camp with the potential work stoppage, but next year will be his final chance.
If he fails to make the second round next year, he is gone. Grade: B
The Front Office: Walsh revitalized this franchise. They wouldn’t be where they are today without him.
If he chooses not to come back or James Dolan chooses not to bring him back, it proves that the specter of Isiah Thomas is much more reality than fantasy. Unless someone like Kevin Pritchard is brought in to replace Walsh, Knicks fans should be very afraid.
Walsh deserves to see his Knicks make a true run at the finals. Grade: A
How would you grade the Knicks? Let Schmeelk know in the comments below…