The last time the New York Knicks kicked off a season - albeit in December because of a lockout - Mike D'Antoni was still the head coach, Amare Stoudemire had yet to act on his disdain for fire extinguishers, and J.R. Smith was jacking up shots from China - literally. And oh yeah, Jeremy Lin was on the Houston Rockets. Wait, he's still on the Rockets, so, how exactly did we get here?
In less than a year, this much has happened (and more), Lin became the world's most popular basketball player and the man who lit up Madison Square Garden like nobody since Jordan, Mike D'Antoni resigned (ahem, was fired), Mike Woodson took over and saved the team, Lin got hurt and missed the stretch run, Carmelo Anthony went form the league's most selfish player and a coach killer to the best isolation player in the league, Steve Novak became a viable bench scorer, Stoudemire nearly lost his hand by punching glass, and the Knicks won their first playoff game in over a decade. And that was just the season. Then came the offseason; the Knicks shockingly let Lin go back to Houston, signed old friend Raymond Felton, and redefined "veteran team" by adding Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, and likely Rasheed Wallace.
Did we miss anything? Oh yeah, new jerseys! And a new crosstown rival.
Either way, here we are, less than a month away from Brooklyn Nets-New York Knicks on Nov. 1 at the Barclays Center, which kicks off not only a new rivalry but a season in which the Knicks hope to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. On paper, the Knicks are not nearly as good as Miami, not as good as Chicago but are in the conversation with Boston, Brooklyn and Indiana as the East's next best teams. While many have used the Knicks' age as the easy joke against them, they've certainly created an identity which looks like it fits well with the style Woodson wants to implement.
The Knicks are hoping to be a versatile offense team and a downright nasty and tough defensive side. There are still holes on the Knicks' defense in Anthony and Stoudemire, but Tyson Chandler, Camby, Wallace and Thomas give the Knicks four able bodies at center that aren't afraid to put someone into the fifth row if need be. Felton is a tough player who, as long as he's in shape, should give the Knicks stability at the point guard position with the veteran Kidd. The enigmatic Smith returns with Novak to give New York threats from deep. While certainly not a favorite to win the East, the Knicks do have their bases covered in a lot of key spots.
And yet the microscope will be on Anthony, perhaps more so than the perennial All-Star has ever felt it. While unfair, with LeBron James getting the title monkey off his back last season, a lot of people will point at Anthony as the next star to wear the "can't win" crown. The basketball world won't get on the likes of Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant just yet. Anthony has the chance to have a big year for the Knicks. He was one of the best players in the NBA during last season' 18-6 finish, proving that he can be a dynamic leading scorer on a team that wins games. But is that something we already knew?
The bigger question remains whether not Anthony can not only lead a team to a good and productive regular season, but if he can lift the level of play of his teammates and be the leader of a team with playoff success. That's going to be the benchmark for Anthony and the Knicks this season. Simply making the playoffs and winning a few games won't work; the Knicks will need to get deep into the postseason for Anthony to be validated. Even that won't be enough for many, and probably shouldn't be enough.
But there is no mistake about who's team this is. It's Melo's, for better or worse. Only he can make sure which it ends up being.