There's no question that LeBron James' famous "Decision" to join the Miami Heat two years ago and form a SuperTeam with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh changed the way NBA teams tried to build a winner. There are now two clear-cut ways to do it; clear out cap space for the biggest available superstars in the league (currently Dwight Howard), or bottom out and draft one or two absolute studs (the Oklahoma City Thunder model, what the New Orleans Hornets are hoping happens with Anthony Davis). Either way, basketball has always been about superstars. You can read Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball (or just save yourself the time, misplaced pop culture references and footnotes and look at every championship roster on basketball-reference.com) and it's apparent that you're not winning a title unless you have legitimate great players. If you want to win, you have to find a way to get one of them, whichever route you take.
When the New York Knicks missed out on James in 2010, we know what happened. They executed Plan B and ended up with Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. A year later Tyson Chandler joined up, and this is now the Knicks' core. We're going to find out whether or not these guys are good enough to be the lead dogs on a title team, but the next step after getting the "stars" is putting the right pieces around them. In the short Anthony/Stoudemire era prior to this offseason, the Knicks have done a horrific job of this. We won't know for sure how the Knicks' recent additions improve the team until the games start, but it seems as though the Knicks have finally had a productive, solid offseason.
Jeremy Lin: Of course the Knicks haven't officially matched the Houston Rockets' offer sheet yet, but they will. We'll get a much better sense of who Jeremy Lin really is this year. People like to forget that there were times where Lin played with Anthony and Stoudemire and looked good. Yes, it wasn't Linsanity-level production and buzz, but it's not like the kid was a corpse when sharing the floor with Anthony. Unless Lin really is the second coming of Steve Nash, the Knicks will be at their best when they run their offense through Anthony. This doesn't mean that Lin won't be important or won't see the ball...he's going to be the, you know, starting point guard. He'll have his pick and roll chances with Chandler and Stoudemire. He'll have open perimeter shots on kick outs from Anthony (For those of you who think Anthony would rather rob a charity than pass a basketball, Anthony averaged as many assists per game last year than Kevin Durant, with miserable shooters around him). He'll have big defensive responsibilities on a team that needs him to be good on that end. He needs to be productive in these situations and prove that he's worth the money the Knicks are giving him.
(As for the nonsense that Lin is "insulted" by the Knicks? Take everything the Daily News writes about the Knicks with a grain of salt). Grade: A-
J.R. Smith: For pure entertainment value, bringing back J.R. Smith was a no-brainer. From a basketball standpoint, I don't quite see why it was such a foregone conclusion that the Knicks bring him back. At least they're not overpaying him by any means, but Smith has to adjust his game to be a real fit for these Knicks. The ball is going to be in Anthony and Lin's hands for the most part. Smith needs to become a catch-and-shoot guy more so than the dribble-drive, step-back guy he was in his short time with the Knicks last season. With Iman Shumpert out until probably January at the least, the Knicks do need a starting shooting guard. But they don't need one who's going to jack up 16 shots. Hopefully the Knicks get more of the Good J.R. Smith; aggressive defense, good in transition, good from distance, and less of the Evil Twin: silly fouls, over dribbling, over shooting. Grade: B-
Steve Novak: At first I kind of balked at the Knicks giving Novak a four year deal, but the Knicks have essentially decided this is their team for the foreseeable future. One thing the Knicks have been this past decade is incredibly fickle. It's good to see them identifying some players they like, that have worked well together in the past (Lin, Novak and Smith) and sticking with them. The deal with Novak is fairly simple; he can win you games in the regular season with his shooting. He's as deadly as they come, and when teams don't have tons of time to prepare for one opponent, he'll get his shots (and make a crap load of them). In the playoffs last year, he scored 12 points in five games. When a team focuses on stopping him, he's rendered fairly useless. Grade: B
Jason Kidd: You're reading words from one of the biggest anti-Jason Kidd people walking the Earth. It's not that I don't appreciate what Kidd has done in the NBA, or would argue that he's not had a phenomenal career. It's just personal preference. Since he went to the Nets and made them relevant during my high school years while the Knicks were the biggest laughingstock in the NBA, I've become someone who laughs joyously every time I see Kidd clank a wide open three, and one of my favorite days of all time was Kidd's 0/8, 0 point performance in Game 7 of the East Semis against the Pistons in 2004. I remember is fondly, and yes, what makes me happy is often pathetic.
Welp, I have to move on, because the Kidd addition is a great one for the Knicks. He's reaching 40 years old, but the guy can still run an offense. We've all heard how great this is going to be for Jeremy Lin, that Kidd will teach him the tricks of the trade. Let's get something straight though; that's just a nice PR line. There's a very good chance that you'll see the Knicks look most efficient in their half court offense in the minutes that Kidd is on the court. He's on the record saying he wants to be the man playing the final minutes of games, and I could see him emerging as the Knicks' "closing" point guard, if you will. If anyone can figure out how to properly space out and get good shots for ‘Melo AND Amare, it's Jason Kidd, even at his age. Grade: B+
Marcus Camby: First off, can we get over who the Knicks "gave up" to get Camby in the sign-and-trade? If the 2012-13 New York Knicks are going to sorely miss Josh Harrellson or Jerome Jordan, well, newsflash: the 2012-13 New York Knicks will suck. I like having second round draft picks as well, but the Knicks are in win-now mode. Sure, you can get lucky with a stud in the second round every now and then, but that's usually blind luck. Yes, another guy who's reaching 40, but regardless, Camby still gives the Knicks what they need more of: toughness. With Camby and Chandler in the middle, the Knicks have one of the league's best defensive center tandems. You think Camby will have any problem putting Deron Williams on the deck when he comes to the hole?
Camby also remains one of the league's best rebounders; he was second in the NBA in rebounding percentage last year, and the Knicks struggled mightily on the boards when Chandler was on the bench. There's also a healthy love-affair between Camby and New York/Knicks fans, maybe it's just me but I think there's something to be said for having guys on your team that actually want to be there. Grade: A-
Pablo Prigioni/James White/Chris Copeland: The Knicks are taking a few chances at the back end of their bench on veterans with international experience. Prigioni is a 35-year-old point guard who plays for the Argentina National Team - we'll get a chance to see him this summer at the Olympics. White has had two short stints in the NBA with the Spurs and Rockets and has spent time in Europe in between and after. He's a high-flying, athletic guy who will probably provide the fans some highlight reel dunks in garbage time. Copeland is 6-foot-8, 28 years old, and played last season in Belgium scoring over 21 points a game. I like the Prigioni signing if not just because he has tons of experience. I remember White flying around at Cincinnati throwing down dunks, and I have no idea who Chris Copeland is. Grade: A+ for effort and creativity!