2013 Knicks eulogy by Matthew Miranda

images-5So this is how it ends.

Not Saturday night in Indianapolis. Not Game 6. That was like seeing the body embalmed, or buried. No, the 2013 Knicks died a few weeks ago, in Boston. JR Smith’s unwarranted elbow of Celtic guard Jason Terry was a figurative wrist-slash across the Knicks’ season, one that always felt like it would end differently.

The playoffs are a funhouse mirror reflection of what a team has done over 82 games, a completely different animal than the regular season. But just like baby seals, sports fans have been trained to invest time and money for 6 months in a team, in its history and its nuance, only to lose all sight of that come late April because look! look! at the end of June, someone gets a big gold ball!

Some years, fairly or not, end with signature moments. Fairly or not, 1993 will always be Charles Smith. 1994 is not Reggie Miller/Spike Lee, or Ewing’s Game 7 to get the Knicks to the finals, or even the OJ white Bronco “chase,” but simply John Starks going 2-18. 1997? Hello, PJ Brown.

Sometimes these moments occur off the court. The most memorable moment of 2004 was Tim Thomas explaining what fugazi means. 2011? Amar’e Stoudemire suffering a year-ending injury trying a trick dunk in warmups before a playoff game. 2012? Stoudemire suffering an essentially year-ending injury punching the glass outside a fire extinguisher. If nothing else, JR Smith deserves credit for attacking an opponent instead of an inanimate plane of would-be shards.

Still, there were side effects to Smith’s stupidity. His suspension helped the Celtics extend a series that was shaping up to be a sweep. Carmelo Anthony’s shoulder injury was exacerbated in Game 5, then again in Game 6; Melo wasn’t healthy the rest of the playoffs. Stoudemire looked like he’d have a full week to scrimmage with the team and complement his game within theirs; instead, the Knicks had no time to practice between the end of the Boston series and the start of the Indiana series, and by the time STAT showed up in Game 3, he was, like his head coach, in over his head.

Maybe even more importantly, Smith was never the same player after the elbow. Over the last 2 months of the regular season, he’d played the best ball of his career, in part because he was driving to the basket, frequently, instead of settling for difficult jumpers. Early in the Boston series, he went right to the rim and threw a wicked dunk down. But after he came back from suspension for the elbow, he didn’t go to the hoop anymore. Was he afraid of retaliation? Did this sudden cowardice carry into the Pacer series? All we know is that Smith’s elbow negatively impacted the Knicks’ 3 best offensive players for the rest of the playoffs.

And yet,when the Knicks were eliminated (due to offensive failings), it was the ‘90 sall over again, i.e., Time For The Most “Sophisticated” Fans On Earth To Scapegoat The One Guy On The Team Who’s Any Good (or TFTMSFOETSTOGOTTWAG, for short). The Knicks lost, people said, because Carmelo was too selfish. Too much of a ballhog. Incapable of playing “winning basketball.”

This is the first chance the social-media generation has had to misinterpret Melo, and in a retro gesture that reeks of hipsterism, they’re doing it the same way my generation misread Patrick Ewing: seeing him as the problem, rather than the only reason the team is good enough to get far enough to have its problems exposed.

Only 4 teams had a better year than the Knicks did. Did anyone else in the league jump from a 7-seed to a 2-seed? The best thing they accomplished—and however disappointing the finish, it was a year of accomplishments—was advancing deep enough in the playoffs to learn what good teams will do to them, and what they need to do to adjust. You don’t learn those lessons when you’re missing the playoffs for most of a decade. You don’t learn it when you’re losing 12 of 13 playoff games. You don’t learn it when you lose to a team missing 3/4ths of their players (BROOOOOOOOOOOOKLYN!!!!!!)

Melo is often criticized as “unlikable.” People tell me all the time they just don’t like him. Don’t like his personality. Don’t like his game.

Carmelo is not Lebron. His personality doesn’t fluctuate from year-to-year. He’s not Wade or Kobe: he’s not on Twitter and Facebook and attending proms with high school girls so he can garner positive press instead of stories about Kobe raping a teenager or calling someone a fag, or about Wade cheating on the mother of his kids and giving her an STD.

And if you don’t like Melo’s game, I’m sorry, you’re an idiot.

That isn’t to suggest he can’t improve. I hope he works on smarter passing out of double-teams, for instance. But complaining about Melo’s game is like criticizing the sun for not being brighter at night.

The #1 defensive team in the league was totally keyed on him for the entire series, knowing he had a bum arm the whole time.  And he still shot over 40%, and he still got the Knicks to within a few minutes from a Game 7 at home.

Who was he supposed to pass to? Tyson Chandler? Kenyon Martin? Guys whose offense makes Malik Rose look like Charles Barkley?

Raymond Felton? Jason Kidd? Smith? They either couldn’t shoot or didn’t dare to.

Steve Novak? Chris Copeland? Mike Woodson had their asses on the bench.

No, the Knicks didn’t lose because Carmelo didn’t carry them far enough. They lost because every great player who has ever won a title has help along the way. And as the stakes got higher, no one else, save Iman Shumpert, raised their game.

The Knicks have limited room to make player changes. So, let’s look back at what was, what may be, and what everyone’s ceilings/basements are.

 

JAMES WHITE

 

Some of you may be asking, “Who is James White?” It’s a fair question. It also says pretty much all you need to know about James White.

WILL HE BE BACK?  Doubtful.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO:  The new Doug Christie.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO:  The new Kennard Winchester. (props to anyone who gets that reference)

EARL BARRON

 

This was Barron’s second stint with the Knicks. It ended the same way as last time: with fans wondering why a young, legitimate 7-footer who can rebound and score didn’t get more playing time on a team desperate for both.

WILL HE BE BACK?  He should be. So I’m guessing not.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO:  The new Chris Copeland.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The new Marcus Camby.

QUENTIN RICHARDSON

 

I wasn’t going to bother going over Q-Rich, but the more I think about him, the more he represents the decision-making of Knick management. At the end of the year, desperate for a big man for their playoff run, the Knicks signed…….a guard who no one missed when they got rid of him FOUR YEARS AGO. But someone decided,“You know what we really need? An overrated, over-the-hill ‘shooter.’ What’s that, you say? Roger Mason Jr.’s already gone? Very well. Begin the thawing of Q-Rich!”

WILL HE BE BACK?  There’s a better chance he dates Brandy again.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO:  He lives a happy life in retirement.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO:  He has the same incriminating photos of Dolan that Glen Sather & Isiah Thomas obviously do, and he turns into the new Herb Williams: inexplicably eternal.

MARCUS CAMBY

 

Camby is under contract for two more years. At the half-life rate of decay we saw this year, he will begin emitting radioactive isotopes sometime next spring, just in time to infect Stoudemire right before the playoffs.

WILL HE BE BACK?  Does shit stink?

BEST-CASE SCENARIO:  Camby hires Jeff Gillooly to whack LeBron in the knee next May, clearing a path to the Finals.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Giving Camby, injury-prone FIFTEEN $&*%ING YEARS AGO, a three-year deal. Wait…they did what?

STEVE NOVAK

 

Exhibit A that at least some of the Jeremy Lin-backlash last year was race-tinted: no one on the team made a peep when Landry Fields signed a 3 year, $19M deal despite disappearing for yet another postseason, leading Dwayne Wade, when asked what NBA skills Fields possessed, to pause with perfect comedic timing before allowing, “He can cut.” 3 years, $19M? Not a peep. We’re used to bi-racial players being overpaid.

Exhibit B: Steve Novak getting a four-year deal after a playoff series where THE MAN COULD NOT EVEN RESPIRATE, the Heat were so all over him. Not a peep–we’re used to white players being overpaid, too. Novak showed some welcome/necessary additions to his game this year—a head-fake/one-dribble move to free himself from defenders closing out; a head-fake/one-dribble move to step in and hit the occasional 2-pointer—but he’s still a one-trick pony. Watching Woodson hide Novak against the Pacers, back spasms or no, a year after he disappeared against Miami, was not a good sign for a guy with 3 years left under contract.

WILL HE BE BACK?  Unless they make a bigger deal and need Novak’s contract to make the numbers work, he’ll be back.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: He adds some more wrinkles to his game and 10-15 pounds of muscle and shows up come playoff time.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: His discount-double check goes down in Knick history as something less than Mark Jackson’s helicopter or LJ’s “L.”

JASON KIDD

 

He shot improbably well for a month, then looked like someone put a hex on him for six. He said there’s no guarantee he’ll keep playing, although the team owes him $6M for two years.

WILL HE BE BACK?  How many people you seen walk away from $6,000,000? The Knicks could potentially buy him out.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: He retires and goes off into the sunset.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: He retires, eats one of his son’s French fries, gets crap for it, and all hell breaks loose.

PABLO PRIGIONI

 

After refusing to shoot the ball for the first five months of the season, Prigioni became one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. He was a big part of the Knicks’ best spells and one of the only cool-headed tempers on a team that lost its head way too much, over way too little. Only the Knicks can leave their fans pining over a 35-year old rookie.

WILL HE BE BACK? Apparently his wife wants to return to Europe, so…….

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: He dumps his wife and marries Christine Quinn.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: In 2 years he’s helping the Spurs win a title.

CHRIS COPELAND

 

I was in the hospital when the Knicks’ summer league team was playing. Hospitals are weird places when you’re alone. Bad romance fiction begins to read like Nabokov. Good books become tangible, life-affirming epiphanies. Sports gets weird, too. You’ll watch anything when you’re in the hospital, just to get out of your head. So even a summer league game becomes an emotional investment.

Chris Copeland was spectacular by summer league standards. When the Knicks announced they’d signed him, the die-hard fans were pumped. When he began to get some time in the regular season and kept playing well, we were pumped. When he was named Rookie of the Month in April, closing the year out with back-to-back 30-point games, we were pumped. When he got 3 votes for Rookie of the Year, we were delusional, yes, but pumped. When he disappeared for almost the entire playoffs because the Knicks’ coach is waaaaaay in over his head, we were distraught. When he returned for the last 2 games and stepped up yet again…we were vindicated.

WILL HE BE BACK? The Knicks can tender Cope a $900,000 offer, which means if anyone else offers him more, they can match. If someone offers Cope Novak money, the Knicks will have to decide if he’s worth most or all of their mini-mid level exception. I think he’ll be back.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: He gives you what you hoped for from Stoudemire, for 2%-5% of the cost.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: After an offseason where the entire league gets to study him, he never hits the heights again, and we think, “There’s a reason he was 28 years old and playing in the Belgian League!!”

KENYON MARTIN

 

I hated Kenyon Martin when he was on the Nets. Other than Alonzo Mourning, I don’t think I’ve ever disliked an NBA player more than Martin.

This year,he was a heck of a steal of a bargain, filling in when Chandler went down with a neck injury and helping spearhead the Knicks’ surge to the division title and the 2-seed.

Do I wonder at the symmetry of Tim Thomas labeling Martin a fugazi nine years ago, Martin being talked up and hyped this year as adding much-needed “toughness,” then watching him look like a schoolboy among men versus the Colts—I mean, Pacers?

I do love me a good symmetry…

WILL HE BE BACK?  Probably. Isiah Thomas once got a contract extension for leading the Knicks to the 8-seed for a single day. Woodson got a three-year deal for a month’s work. Compared to those two, Martin’s body of work rivals Willis Reed’s.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Martin becomes a steady 25-minute per game guy.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Kidd & Martin return, someone from the stands throws a French fry at Kidd, and Martin runs up into the crowd and punches out Matthew Modine.

RAYMOND FELTON

 

One of the criticisms lobbed in hindsight after the Knicks upper management King Dolan refused to match Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet from the Rockets was that Lin’s production was inflated by playing in Mike D’Antoni’s system, which organically inflates point guards’ numbers. Raymond Felton has played 602 career games. 54 were under D’Antoni. 548 were not. Care to guess when was the only time his numbers were above-average?

Felton has gotten a lot of credit for his postseason play. The two teams the Knicks played did not have point guards—and George Hill still outplayed Felton. Rajon Rondo would have eaten his soul.

At one point last offseason, the Knicks talked about bringing Felton in to back-up Lin. It may be debatable to have Felton behind Lin. It is beyond debate that on a true contender, Felton would be backing up somebody.

WILL HE BE BACK?  So long as the Knicks don’t have to trade half the team for Carmelo again, yes, he’ll be back.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Felton’s shooting improves a la Avery Johnson, and he makes himself into a guy you can win with.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Felton becomes the Knick version of Grover Cleveland: a non-consecutive two-termer who nobody remembers.

IMAN SHUMPERT

 

Right after Donnie Walsh (remember him?) made his final personnel move as a Knick, drafting Shumpert, there were boos at MSG. A crowd full of nudniks was pissed the Knicks didn’t select Chris Singleton, even though a month before the draft these same nudniks thought Chris Singleton was the guy who directed Boyz In The Hood.

One of the nouveau class of female reporters (Colleen Dominguez?) who cover sports despite not knowing a rebound from a balk interviewed Spike Lee about the pick (she asked Spike about the Knick draft pick from the year prior, “Carl Landry”…the Knick pick the year prior was Landry Fields). Spike was miserable, morose. Turns out Superfan wanted Singleton, too.

(Against all odds, it turns out the worst part of the Spike Lee/Reggie Miller ’94 incident wasn’t Miller’s 4th quarter evisceration of the Knicks. It was the that, ever since, every TV network jackass thinks that Spike Lee is adored by Knick fans, that he represents us, that we want to see his reaction to things. Spike Lee is not our spokesperson. Or our mascot.)

The fact that I’m this far into Shump’s review and have been griping about Spike Lee indicates how little there is to complain about when it comes to Shumpert. He came back from a torn ACL to return to his demonic defensive ways, and his 3-point shooting showed dramatic (hopefully sustainable) improvement. Shumpert is the greatest cause for optimism on the Knicks, their only player with upside. Also a good sign: his temperament is more Prigioni-ish than Martin-ish.

WILL HE BE BACK?  Let’s just say we’ve seen the last of the Shumpert-Jared Dudley trade rumors.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO:  Shump’s the next Scottie Pippen.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO:  Shump’sthe next Gerald Wilkins.

JR SMITH

 

As always, JR Smith is the wildcard in this discussion. Who is JR Smith? The guy who scored 25 a game and shot over 50% for months? The guy who shot 30% in the playoffs? The guy who found a home and a mentor in NY & Woodson, and who stays and takes root and grows? The guy who left the Chinese League in an entanglement of lawsuits and countersuits? Does he stay where he’s loved—and would that love survive his next slump? Does he take $8M-$10M a year to become the new Michael Beasley in Phoenix?

He’s all of these people, of course. That’s the thing with Smith: he’s more inextricable from himself than most people. Geneticists can’t pick and choose which characteristics would make up the ideal JR. He is what he is. I say—and I write this with my fingers crossed, which is rather difficult—they should keep him. Smith is an impact player. The Knicks don’t have the money to sign an impact player anywhere else. Smith needs to grow a lot from his last 2 playoff performances, but just like John Starks back in the day, remember that without Smith’s play from November-April, we wouldn’t be examining his performances come May.

WILL HE BE BACK?  I’m afraid he won’t be. The most the Knicks can offer is 4 years for about $20M. Someone out there is going to offer 4/$24M. You don’t think Smith can get 5 years for $30M? You know who got 5 years/$30M a few years ago? Jarred Jeffries and Jerome James. Smith is getting Jeffries/James money.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: He comes back, grows, leaves Rihanna for

Azealia Banks (she rapped/sang “212;” that girl got talent), the Knicks win the title, and Smith leads an epic postgame party of such wild, Dionysian excess he makes 1986 Doc Gooden look like 1986 Gary Carter.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO:  Smith returns, reminds everyone why a guy with that much talent makes less than Landry Fields, and the Garden turns on him. That will get very, very ugly…

AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE

 

The limitations of the Knicks “Big 3” + the limitations of Mike Woodson’s coaching = a riddle beyond my intelligence.

At this point, STAT’s greatest effectiveness is as a power forward/center paired with a strong defensive big man to make up for his now-legendary poor defense. You could put STAT at the 5 and Melo at the 4, thinking most teams won’t have the ability to guard that…but then you have to deal with the defensive/rebounding shortcomings.

You can put STAT at the 4 and Chandler at the 5, but Melo likes playing  as a 4. You can bring STAT off the bench as a 4 and pair him with Martin at the 5. You can also put lipstick on a pig and hope it makes your friends jealous.

It all boils down to this: after next year, STAT is trade-bait as an expiring contract. This year, he could be a problem. He’s always an injury risk. He doesn’t sound like he wants to come off the bench anymore. He isn’t some dude off the street, either: if the Knicks want to celebrate the last few years as the start of a brave new era, you can’t ignore that Stoudemire was the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria rolled into one.

Something I’ve wondered for awhile: when the Knicks got Melo, he’d been a 3. I think most of his career, he’s been a small forward. Is it really unfathomable to think Melo can’t succeed as a 3, with STAT at his natural position and Chandler at his?

WILL HE BE BACK?  There is a better chance of a Republican being in the White House next year than STAT being anywhere else.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO:  He reinvents himself late in his career, a la Antonio McDyess.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: He blows his knee out in a preseason game next year, is lost for the year, is never the same, and gets traded for Stephon Marbury…a la Antonio McDyess.

TYSON CHANDLER

 

Tyson Chandler is an interesting figure in Knick history. Maybe even pivotal.

When the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups to sign Chandler two years ago, it eliminated any chance they had to go after Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. In retrospect, it’s as easy to praise the Knicks for this as is it to question them.

Since joining NY, Chandler has been Defensive Player of the Year and all-defensive First Team. He made the All-Star team last year, too. And yet, in a year where Howard was injury-plagued and unhappy, he outrebounded Chandler, blocked more shots, and scored more points. Paul, meanwhile, was his usual top-5 MVP self. And yet, Howard has shown himself unable to handle the media in Orlando and LA; what would NY do to him? And Paul’s knee issues are, while not prohibitive, at least worth taking into account. The last time the Knicks blew off knee issues, they gave STAT 5 years/$100M.

Chandler was brought in because of his work as the defensive anchor of the last team to beat the Heat in the playoffs: the 2010 Mavs. Since joining the Knicks, Chandler’s postseason efforts have been something less than heroic. After what happened against Indiana, the next time Tyson Chandler sees Roy Hibbert he should just drop his pants and get it over with.

The Knicks have very limited financial/roster mobility. That mobility would increase if they moved one of their core players. STAT has no value around the league. Melo’s not going anywhere. They could conceivably trade Chandler…but for what? Is Chandler the answer? Is what you could get for him the answer?

WILL HE BE BACK?  Chandler made comments at the end of the year that were seen as veiled criticism of Anthony and direct criticism of the coaching staff. Knowing the way Dolan’s mind works, I suspect Chandler will be traded.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO:  Chandler returns, stays healthy, develops a Charles Oakley-esque jump shot, the Knicks raise their collective game, and we find out next May/June just how good he is.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO:  The Tyson Chandler era ends without glory while Howard and Paul team up to win a ring somewhere.

CARMELO ANTHONY

 

Carmelo Anthony is remarkably similar to Patrick Ewing.

They’re both disliked by outsiders to a degree that is hard to understand as a Knick fan. I think Kevin Durant is a bit of a phony. I think Howard’s a total fraud. Chris Paul seems like a dick. And Dwayne Wade……yecch. But I don’t feel passionately about any of them. I don’t think there’s a player in the league that I “hate.” But so many people—people I respect, who I like, people who are wise and well-spoken, even-tempered—have issues with Carmelo. Usually, it boils down to “he’s selfish.” I would agree with that. I don’t know what the man is like in his personal life, but he is selfish on the court.

And thank God for that.

Since Ewing was traded, the Knicks have had the following “saviors”: Allan Houston. McDyess. Marbury. Eddy Curry. Stoudemire.

I wouldn’t call any of them “selfish.” Houston was a fine man, assuming you don’t mind a little anti-Semitism. McDyess was Jayne Mansfield to Ewing’s Marilyn Monroe: he sort of looked the part, even sounded a bit like Ewing, but it all ended with a horrible crash. Marbury was a joyless, intern-bagging solipsist. Curry was self-absorbed, almost literally, a black hole of (figurative) human waste. STAT’s knees saved him from being exposed as what he’d peaked as in Phoenix: the third most valuable player on a true contender.

I’m glad Carmelo is selfish. I suspect, just like LeBron in Miami, that he’ll raise his game when/if surrounded with comparable talents. The idea that he was selfish to a fault in the playoffs doesn’t pass the eye test. Melo gave the ball up; when he did, there was no one to answer the call. Kevin Garnett was criticized for being too unselfish, until he was on a great team in Boston. Michael Jordan, in case you don’t remember, was criticized for being too selfish…until he won. LeBron was supposedly scared of the big moment (which also failed the eye test: ask Washington, Orlando, and Detroit about pre-title LeBron in the playoffs).

Who is the 2ndbest player on the Knicks? Until you have a good answer—really, until/unless the Knicks come up with one—save the stone throwing for Dolan. Did you know he doesn’t pay property taxes on MSG?

WILL HE BE BACK?  If Carmelo wants to spend the weekend in Dolan’s bed, wearing Dolan’s pajamas, with Dolan’s wife, Dolan will let him. Yes. He’ll be back.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Melo wins a title and brings peace to that very specific window of Knick fans for whom Bernard King and Patrick Ewing playing together was as so-close-yet-so-far-away as the fingers of God and Adam atop the Sistine Chapel.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO:  Like another NY kid who came home and bombed, a frustrated Melo gets in Stephen A. Smith’s face one night and threatens to “show [him] the Bronx.”

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