Once upon a time, in the midst of Melo hysteria, this blog seemed like the sole bastion of reason. Mike Kurylo argued on more than one occasion that we should temper our expectations, that while Melo could improve the team, whether he would and just how much he would was an open question (1, 2). I don’t bring this up just to stir up poop. I do it to point out the irony of the phase shift that is already beginning to occur. By the end of this season, KnickerBlogger’s constituency may contain some of the last of the Melo-hicans.
For evidence, just look at this extremely unscientific poll that the Knicks posted (and later pulled) through Facebook. I guess they didn’t realize that by default Facebook polls allow you to add your own response. How about this Onion article, or this jersey, both highly circulated around the spheres of the web? There is plenty of “real analysis” (idle speculation?) on the subject of Anthony potentially disrupting the Knicks’ offense. Deservedly or not, the kettle is heating up.
“Are you Linsane?” you might ask. “Or to be more accurate, are you not Linsane? Because I am! We’re in for a second half tear. The Melo hate will be dead in a month.” That may well be the case, but I’m trying very hard to not be Linsane here because as it seemed every player at All-Star Weekend pointed out, Jeremy Lin is a great story. It’s easy to get caught up in a story, for it to consume you for it to make you forget reality. The reality is that even during this recent win streak (which, by the way, does not even match the win streak we had last year), the Knicks weren’t that great. They won a lot of close games, and they played a lot of bad teams.
So far this season, the Knicks have had the second easiest schedule. Pythagorean wins, a formula that predicts wins and losses based on points scored and allowed, adjusted for strength of schedule, predicts the Knicks to end the season with a record of 31-35, potentially missing the playoffs.
Even if you only look at games since Lin’s emergence, the trusty formula predicts that they will finish the season 34-32, likely making the playoffs only to meet their doom against Miami or Chicago.
Let’s reconsider the evidence. Stoudemire’s season has been an unmitigated disaster. Whether it’s his redundancy with Chandler on offense or his diminished athleticism, there is little indication (beyond Stoudemire’s word) that we will ever see the Stoudemire of 2010, let alone the dominating force STAT was in Phoenix. Statistics call him an average player right now, but stats have a difficult time measuring a guy’s defense, and that is the area Stoudemire struggles most. It’s a big problem when you have an average player who makes three times the average salary.
The evidence against Anthony is murkier, but even if he does return as a strong contributor, the Knicks would have to be great in order to move up to the 6th seed, and a sixth seed would likely require 36 wins at minimum (Hollinger predicts it will take 38 wins) and thus a 19-12 close. With the Knicks rough remaining schedule, even you optimists must admit that escaping a first round matchup with Miami or Chicago is at best a 50/50 proposition.
Getting back to stories though, with the Jeremy Lin story quaking in our hearts, we can’t help but believe that this team is heading for great things. If those great things do not happen – if, for example, we finish the season just above .500 and are out of the playoffs in five games – many will respond like children who receive disappointing Christmas gifts. They will lash out, and when they do, it will not be at the logical target. It will be at the easiest target.
What would make this situation especially unique is how all the normal scapegoats – the guys who pay the price when a team disappoints – are very difficult to blame.
The first man on the firing line is generally the coach, but D’Antoni is no longer such an easy target. Lin has often praised his coach, and many have speculated that a big reason for Lin’s emergence is D’Antoni’s system. These factors make it difficult to imagine D’Antoni as the fall guy.
The next part of the equation is the relative infancy of the Miami Heat model that the Knicks have followed. Normally, teams in possession of stars have spare parts and draft picks that they can move. However, due to our finagling for cap room and the assets we gave up in the Denver trade, we have little in the way of spare parts. Shumpert and Fields have some value, but their tiny contracts make it difficult to match salaries, as does Fields’ close relationship with Lin.
That leaves our two stars, which puts the Knicks in really rare air if you think about it. I can’t think of another time when a player who was top 20 in the league in terms of name recognition, was in or near his prime, and did not request the trade himself, was on the block.
Stoudemire, with his uninsured contract and his major struggles at both ends of the floor, seems like the easiest target, and Philadelphia inquired about him early this season. It’s unlikely, however, that a Stoudemire trade would net anything more than, say, Brand and Evan Turner or something similar. It’s hard to sell such a move as an upgrade.
Then there’s Anthony. We were 9-15 when Anthony got hurt, 1-2 since his return, and 8-1 in between. The easiest storyline with regard to the Knicks, if they do not “gel” into a top team, will be that Anthony is overrated and/or a poor fit.
The elephant in the room is the Knicks’ poor performance to open the season. That’s the primary factor that makes the lampooning of Anthony a reality and the trading of Anthony a possibility. We lost a lot of games to a lot of really bad teams. Most logical arguments suggest that, while Anthony hasn’t been the what the frothing masses expected, nor has his play justified the pieces the Knicks gave up for him, he also is not the primary cause of the Knicks’ struggles. I’m not even saying trading Anthony would hurt the Knicks, just that making him out to be the cause of all our troubles is both illogical and likely. If you think the Knicks organization is above acting rashly, you must be new to this franchise, because the last decade has been full of such kneejerk decisions.