ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York Knicks are trying yet again to be relevant, because there is no margin for rebuilding in the basketball Mecca. The organization has to continuously retool and compete, even though many of the pieces they have gathered are aging, ill-fitting, or declining.
There is brimming intrigue with these Knicks, however. They acquired Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, and Kurt Thomas, making for an impressive senior-league core, although the Knicks are banking that all of this quartet has something left.
Back are Amar’e Stoudemire, hand completely healed from that moment of temporary insanity when he sliced his palm punching a fire extinguisher cover after a playoff loss to the Miami Heat, Carmelo Anthony, who will attempt to prove he is not the first member of that 2003 draft class on the decline and Tyson Chandler, fresh off helping Team USA to a Gold Medal.
Last year was tumultuous, even for the ever-dramatic Knicks. The Mike D’Antoni up-tempo, no-defense system never adapted to New York and his relationship with Anthony quickly soured because he asked the perennial All-Star to avoid his time-consuming post-ups.
And just when the Knicks were becoming irrelevant, Jeremy Lin was inserted into the lineup to replace an injured Baron Davis and suddenly reached Justin Bieber-like status in mere days. D’Antoni was fired, Anthony returned to prosperity under new coach Mike Woodson, and Lin missed the last 17 regular-season games and the playoffs after knee surgery. The Knicks were promptly wasted by the Heat in five games.
It was an eventful, if not successful, season for the Knicks, who haven’t been a legitimate Eastern Conference contender in 15 years.
The core of Stoudemire, Anthony, and Chandler return with a full training camp under Woodson and a chance to atone for the miserable ending, while also taking a major step in resurrecting the reputation of Knicks basketball.
There honestly appears to be a feeling of relief in the Knicks organization. The Brooklyn Nets with their relocation, sparkling new arena, and slew of acquisitions, are attracting the back-page headlines in New York. Excitement is tempered at Madison Square Garden because the fan base is unsure of there are the same ol’ Knicks.
The players insist they’re not.
“With a full season and an opportunity for Woody to put things in and for us to get to know one another and compete every day in practice, it will make a big difference,” said Chandler, who was dropped into this drama after being acquired from the Mavericks last summer. “If we’re not the deepest, we’re one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Every spot on the roster, we have multiple guys who can do big things. Every position you have two starters who could be starting on any team. I think that’s the exciting part about this year.”
The Knicks are indeed an experienced bunch and the question is whether Woodson is capable of harnessing their talent — and guile — into a competitor in the Atlantic Division. With the Celtics, 76ers, Nets. and even the Raptors having ramped up, the Knicks hardly appear a cinch to even finish second in the division.
The critical factor is the return to form for Anthony, who has to emerge as more of a leader, and score in the flow of the offense and Stoudemire, who said he is motivated to prove that rumors of his swift decline are greatly exaggerated.
Stoudemire worked with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game during the summer, but he has to make more of a defensive impact for the Knicks to improve. Last season, Chandler was the lone Knick in the frontcourt who played consistent defense; Stoudemire was blamed for being a defensive liability.
The presence of Camby, Thomas, and even Wallace will aid the interior defense. Wallace has yet to make an appearance in preseason because of his conditioning, but if he is able to get into the shape, the Knicks will instantly become more respectable on defense.
Respectability is something the Knicks have been seeking for a decade. The acquisition of Anthony was supposed to catapult them into Eastern Conference elite status. Conversely, it’s done nothing but cause frustration and consternation because the Knicks have been getting pummeled by the likes of the Heat, Celtics, and Bulls.
Two years in New York for Anthony, two first-round playoff eliminations.
“It was difficult last year coming down the stretch,’’ said Chandler. “I was playing 40-something minutes, so was Melo, and that wears on your body, especially when you’re trying to make a deep run in the playoffs. Coach is going to monitor our minutes throughout the season and make sure we’re healthy. Our biggest thing like I said is being able to come at teams in waves.”
The depth is there. The talent is there and the desire also appears present. But the atmosphere in New York won’t allow for a transition period or slow start before the detractors emerge. The pressure is on the Knicks to become a factor again and if they don’t, the cycle of mediocrity will continue.
“I think you’ve got to keep any distractions outside the locker room,” Chandler said. “It’s a long season and it’s not about anybody else’s expectations, it’s about the expectations within the locker room. We will hold each other accountable.”