This is the first part of an extensive five-part series previewing the New York Knicks 2011-12 season.
SB Nation New York will be running a five-part season preview of the 2011-12 New York Knicks, culminating right before the start of the season on Christmas Day.
Part I: The Stars
The New York Knicks finally have actual aspirations. For the past decade-plus, it hasn't been about winning a championship. How could it have been? Years and years went by with Isiah Thomas souring the Knicks' brand with gross mismanagement, truly the darkest days the franchise has ever seen. When Isiah was finally, mercifully gone, Donnie Walsh was brought in to clean up the disaster. He did an admirable job, hiring Mike D'Antoni as head coach and gutting the team of its' awful contracts and giving it an actual direction.
But the Walsh/D'Antoni Era, from 2008-09 until the end of last year, was still not about about truly competing for a title. It started out as a plan for 2010 and LeBron James. When that failed but netted Amare Stoudemire, then it became about getting Stoudemire superstar help. Last year, when Carmelo Anthony joined the fray, it still didn't seem enough. The Miami Heat had three stars, and a toast at Carmelo's wedding in the summer by Chris Paul gave Knicks fans and the organization dreams of their own trifecta of superstars. They just had to have a third superstar. It was the new NBA blueprint, right?
Yet in early December of this year, when the lockout was lifted and teams could start building again, the Knicks seem to have made a philosophical shift away from Paul. It would be silly to say that they no longer wanted him, but when the trade offers for Paul were coming in, it became increasingly apparent that the Knicks no longer had a realistic chance at landing him. They had to try something else, and it's a good thing they didn't wait another year. The splash came in the form of Tyson Chandler, a move away from the flash of a Anthony/Stoudemire/Paul tandem and more in line with the Knicks of old. Chandler gives them the size and rugged attitude that The Garden faithful has always embraced.
In the NBA, you need stars, but you also need your stars to be themselves. The Chandler move allows Stoudemire and Anthony to remain themselves. Had the Knicks gotten Paul, either Stoudemire or Anthony would have had to take a huge backseat. It's just the way it happens with the three-superstar mold. The casualty of the Heat's version of this last year was Chris Bosh. Sure, Bosh is clearly the least talented out of LeBron and Dwyane Wade, so that should be the case. But what's the point of paying Chris Bosh to be on your team if he's not going to be, you know, Chris Bosh? If Paul was a Knick, the fall guy would have been Stoudemire. Whatever you think of Stoudemire's play -- his lack of defense and a general misuse of his size -- he played at an MVP-level for long stretches last season. If he's your second-best player, that's a good thing.
Ask this question: would the Heat be better served with their current three, or with Tyson Chandler instead of Chris Bosh? The Knicks made the decision to go big, go defensive, and create maybe the best frontcourt in the entire league by signing Chandler. Sure, the Knicks did struggle last year after the trade, and Anthony and Stoudemire didn't perfectly mesh. That will have to happen for the Knicks to really contend. But you can certainly make the case that they have a better chance of meshing with Tyson Chandler patrolling the paint than with Chris Paul running the point. Chandler isn't the player Paul is -- he might be the best point guard of his generation -- but it's difficult to imagine that Stoudemire and Anthony would have maxed out their potential with Paul as a teammate. All three of those players need the ball to be their most effective, especially Stoudemire and Anthony. Chandler doesn't. He'll rebound, defend, block shots and score on put-backs, and that will still allow the offense to run through Anthony and Stoudemire.
Now the Knicks have their stars, and they finally aren't waiting for anything (except a coach maybe...but we'll get to that later on in this season preview). Are they a true title contender this year? They're probably a few pieces away. But if they get in the playoffs, they won't be as easy an out as they were last year. They could win a round. They could win two rounds. And if that happens, who knows? It's going to be an uncertain year with a whirlwind 66-game schedule in 120 days followed by a playoffs with a lot less off days than usual. What's certain, though, is that the Knicks have a chance. They're not just back to being relevant, they're a force. And you can thank their stars for that.