By Sean Hartnett
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In the summer of 2002, New York Knicks owner James Dolan ordered general manager Scott Layden to deal fan-favorite big man Marcus Camby.
It was the a move that set the ball rolling in the direction of disaster and disappointment for the majority of the next decade in Knicks’ history.
At the 2002 NBA Draft, Layden packaged Marcus Camby, veteran point guard Mark Jackson and freshly-drafted power forward Nenê to the Denver Nuggets for Antonio McDyess and 25th overall pick Frank Williams.
That deal has haunted Knicks fans more than any of those from the tumultuous “Layden Era.” As gut-wrenching as it was to see Patrick Ewing in a Seattle Sonics uniform, at least Knicks fans could point to sharpshooter Glen Rice as a valuable sixth man.
All the Knicks got in return for Camby and Nenê was the injury-plagued McDyess and an overweight point guard in Williams. Camby, meanwhile, continued be a double-double machine and won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2006-07.
The Camby trade not only set the franchise back, but it spiraled into a widening defensive hole that neither Layden nor his replacement, Isiah Thomas, could adequately fill. Things got so bad for the Knicks that in 2005-06, Eddy Curry led the team in total rebounds with six per game — a damning statistic.
While David Lee and Zach Randolph filled a temporary rebounding void, Thomas’ replacement Donnie Walsh began dealing long-term contracts in a vain attempt to clear cap space to sign LeBron James. Randolph and Lee were sacrificed, but it eventually cleared the space to sign Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
In present day 2012, the Knicks are finally armed with a genuine interior defensive presence. Chandler is the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and Camby will be a valuable role-player by taking the load off Chandler when needed and spelling Stoudemire to keep his knees fresh.
Stoudemire is set to work with legendary center Hakeem Olajuwon in August to expand his game. With Chandler, a healthier Stoudemire and the long-awaited return of Camby, the Knicks finally have the center/power forward depth that they’ve lacked since Jeff Van Gundy’s defensively-stout Knicks teams of the late 1990s.
Camby fits right in with Mike Woodson’s commitment to defense. Under Woodson, the Knicks became a more solidified defensive unit. The 2012-13 Knicks now boast Chandler, wise old vets in Camby and Jason Kidd, a returning Iman Shumpert in January and a renewed Stoudemire. For the first time in awhile, the Knicks have the look of a tougher, more rugged defensive group.
The sabotaging moves of Layden and Thomas have finally been undone by the capable hands of the outgoing Donnie Walsh and current GM Glen Grunwald.
Woodson’s Knicks have an entirely different makeup than Mike D’Antoni’s failed run-and-gun experiment.
Woodson has installed a defensive identity and the Knicks aren’t trying to outgun higher-caliber offensive opponents. They’ve finally become realistic. Obviously the Miami Heat are even better with Ray Allen added to the mix, and the Brooklyn Nets trio of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and eventually Brooklyn-bound Dwight Howard are the two undoubted best teams in the Eastern Conference.
But who is to say that the Knicks can’t be the third-best team in the East? Behind the Heat and the Nets, the Eastern Conference is wide open. Irreplaceable Bulls’point guard Derrick Rose will miss the majority of next season, the aging Celtics have lost three-point threat Ray Allen and the Orlando Magic aren’t so fearsome without Dwight Howard.
NBA experts shouldn’t overlook the 2012-13 Knicks.
Can the Knicks really be the third-best team in the Eastern Conference next season? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.