By Steve Kallas
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It’s a little early to write off the “bright” future of the New York Knicks before it has barely started. But what Miami has done in these playoffs, irrespective of whether they win an NBA title, doesn’t bode well for the future of the Knicks as a championship organization.
Sure, Miami has the “Big Three” and they have been the key to this potential championship run (here’s a vote for the Dallas Mavericks to win it all based on the hunger factor (and window-closing factor) for superstar Dirk, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, all looking for their first title). But Miami has a little more than the “Big Three” and that is what has propelled them to the top in the Eastern Conference.
You’re still not sure who is going to take the last shot for Miami and, more importantly, who is going to make it. But that hasn’t been much of a problem in these playoffs (unlike the regular season). While Miami exposed the Bulls for what many thought they were – offensively, a one-man show –Miami showed it’s completeness as a team throughout the playoffs.
PAT RILEY’S VISION COMES TO BEAR
A polarizing figure, especially in New York, the great Pat Riley (as a coach) changed the way that basketball was played in the NBA, going from the Showtime Lakers of Kareem, Magic and James Worthy to the rugby-scrum Knicks of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and John Starks. After undercutting Stan Van Gundy and winning another championship in Miami with the Wade-Shaq Heat of 2006 (beating Dallas, by the way), Riley eventually moved upstairs, apparently never to return.
While he deserves to be Executive of the Year for somehow getting Wade to stay and LeBron and Chris Bosh to come to South Beach (maybe it was Bosh’s refusal to go to Cleveland that really sealed the deal), Riley’s additional skill was filling in the blanks of a roster to complement the “Big Three.”
He thought he had his big man in Udonis Haslem, but Haslem was hurt virtually the whole season. He thought he had a valuable swingman in Mike Miller, but Miller also was hurt for a long time and just wasn’t the shooter he was supposed to be – until the Bulls series. These two were incredibly valuable against the Bulls (more on that later).
SO, WHERE DOES ALL OF THIS LEAVE THE KNICKS?
In deep trouble, that’s where. Whatever you think of Amar’e and Carmelo, they can’t defend anywhere near LeBron and Wade. In fact, no Knick got a vote for NBA All-Defensive team this season while LeBron was first-team and Wade just missed second-team. You are also seeing what defense does in these playoffs. What LeBron did in shutting down the NBA MVP (Rose) in the Chicago series the last two games is just not something you see very often and was the turning point of the series.
It looks like the Knick championship future ended when they couldn’t get LeBron James to come to New York last summer. The power in the East (and, arguably, in the NBA) shifted so dramatically to Miami after Riley worked his magic (no pun intended) that it may result in a championship in Year One, a scary thought for the rest of the league and for the future.
All of this is bad for the Knicks. Assume (a big assumption) they get their third star (you pick the point guard: Chris Paul, Deron Williams). What does that mean against the Heat (or the Bulls or the Celtics for that matter)?
Answer: very little.
THERE IS ONE SMALL (BIG) HOPE LEFT?
The only hope left for the Knicks or just about anyone else is Dwight Howard. A defensive beast and an improving offensive player (no matter what you hear from the “experts”), Howard holds the key to NBA power for another team.
Will Dwight Howard leave Orlando? Well, the Laker rumors have been out there for some time. Orlando blew up their team mid-season to bring in Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas and to bring back Hedo Turkoglu. But it didn’t work as they lost a four/five matchup to the up-and-down Atlanta Hawks. And even though Howard stated yesterday that, maybe, he wants to stay in Miami (“But I can’t do it alone”), it will be extremely hard for him to win a title in Orlando.
If the Lakers get Howard, they become instant title contenders again, after being made to look old and slow by the getting old and not really athletic Mavericks in an unlikely sweep (that’s not to knock the Mavericks; they are just not as athletic (or young) as the Heat or Oklahoma City). Kobe gears up for another title run or two, Gasol corrects his girlfriend (or whatever) problem he had (if not traded with Bynum for Howard) and Lamar Odom returns to tough match-up, star level.
Can the Knicks get Howard? Very unlikely, but you can’t give up hope if you are a Knick fan. Howard did make a negative comment about the cold weather in New York. But, more important, if he wants to win a title, he’s looking to L.A., not New York, unless, somehow, Orlando can bring in a superstar to complement him (again, see his comments from yesterday). Even Chicago, seeing their offensive deficiencies once Rose was limited down the stretch in big games, is now rumored to be thinking about taking a run at Howard.
So all of this looks bad for the Knicks. While all Knick fans will be happy to see a pretty good (rather than terrible) Knick team on the floor, it’s all about winning championships, especially after the putrid run the Knicks have had this century. They went out with a whimper, not a bang, against a going-the-wrong-way Celtic team (even coach Doc Rivers said the Celtics made a mistake by trading Perkins to Oklahoma City – that trade only hastened their demise (this season) and will hurt them long-term unless Jeff Green becomes a star).
BACK TO THE HEAT AND RILEY
The reason Miami is winning now as opposed to the regular season is not because they have a sure shot to win or tie games down two or three very late. Frankly, they have rarely been in that position in the playoffs. As we have discussed in the past, LeBron James is the greatest player today if he’s hitting his outside shot (and, frankly, he’s not the greatest player today if he’s not hitting his outside shot). Still not a great three-point shooter (nor is Wade or Bosh for that matter), James has taken over a few games late both offensively and defensively, especially against the Bulls.
But it’s the return of the two injured, non-“Big Three” players (Haslem and Miller) who really contributed to changing the Bulls series. Haslem, out virtually all year, came out of nowhere to score 13 (with two monster dunks) with five rebounds, two assists and a block to turn the tide in Game 2 (on the road) against the Bulls. He then had eight points and four rebounds in Game 3, shooting a collective 9-17 in Games 2 and 3.
Mike Miller, for his part, seemed unable to shoot well virtually the whole season after missing time with a (shooting-hand) wrist injury. But he was huge in Game 4 with 12 points and nine rebounds (Haslem also had nine rebounds) and in Game 5 with seven points and six rebounds, shooting a collective 8-15 in Games 4 and 5.
That’s what the Riley-constructed Heat were missing all year. And that is, in this writer’s opinion, what put the Heat over the top against the Chicago Bulls.
CAN THE KNICKS FILL IN THEIR BLANKS?
Well, it’s going to be very hard. That’s why intelligent basketball people, including, of course, Knicks GM Donnie Walsh, thought it was a bad idea to give up so much for Carmelo Anthony. Many of the holes, to some extent, were already plugged. And that’s why Walsh did not want to give up Timofey Mozgov. While you couldn’t hold off of the Carmelo deal to keep Mozgov, he is either going to be a starting NBA center or, at least, a solid 15-20 minute back-up. As the saying goes, you can’t coach seven feet – and there are less and less of those guys all the time.
So, to lose Raymond Felton, a good NBA point guard, Danilo Gallinari, a tough match-up improving all the time, Wilson Chandler, a very good NBA player already AND Mozgov, arguably the most valuable down the road to the Knicks because of his size, was a lot to give up (the question, of course, will always be whether Walsh could have traded less for Anthony had there been no owner interference; probably yes, but we will never know for sure).
WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE FOR THE NEW YORK KNICKS?
The Knicks, despite a fantastic job by Donnie Walsh (pathetic the way he’s been treated by the organization), are still far, very far, away from an NBA title. And absent injuries to the Heat and the Bulls and whatever team Dwight Howard winds up with, it doesn’t look like an NBA championship is anywhere on the horizon for the Knicks for the next few years.
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