"The Knicks are back," Amar'e Stoudemire exclaimed in the summer of 2010, standing outside Madison Square Garden moments after agreeing to become the newest New York Knicks superstar. Well, after a long lockout that delayed the start of the 2011-12 NBA season, Stoudemire's statement rings true again. But just as when Stoudemire signed with the team 17 months ago, there are more questions than answers surrounding the Knicks right now. Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups are on the roster, but it's a roster that doesn't include much else. The free agent frenzy starts on Dec. 9 and leads into the Christmas Day season opening, and every team will be scurrying ato fill out their roster, the Knicks moreso that others. No one knows quite what to expect this NBA season, but there isn't too much time to figure it out.
Here are five things the Knicks need to accomplish before tipping off on Christmas against the Boston Celtics.
1. Find a Big Man in Free Agency
Death, taxes, and the Knicks need for size. They could bring back Jared Jeffries, but as hard-working and smart as Jeffries is, he's simply not good enough or tough enough to log serious minutes at center for a playoff team. Ronny Turiaf is under contract for another year, but he can't be counted on to stay healthy, even over a 66-game schedule. Sheldon Williams could be brought back, but is undersized and lacks something called talent.
There have been buzzings about a return of Kurt Thomas, which would be a welcome addition to the roster as a bench guy. Names like Theo Ratliff and Kwame Brown have been thrown around, and really either would be alright on the cheap. The Knicks simply need a big man to clog up the paint, use fouls, and rebound. All of the aforementioned players can do that, and the Knicks need to bring one of them in. And also...
2. Get Jerome Jordan in a Knicks Uniform
The Knicks thought they had found a diamond-in-the-rough-big-man in Timofey Mozgov, but he was included in the package that netted Anthony and Billups. You don't let a project like Mozgov hold you up from getting a perennial All-Star, so it was the right move. And the organization thinks it may have another in Jerome Jordan, who has played in Europe since the Knicks acquired his rights on Draft Day 2010.
Jordan is a legitimate 7-footer who has been playing well for Slovenian club BC KRKA, recently outplaying the highly-drafted Jonas Valanciunas in a EuroCup game (Jordan put up 20 points and eight rebounds, while Valanciunas went for five and seven). According to his agent, Jordan has a small buyout, and he expects Jordan to be playing in the NBA this season. It would be smart for the Knicks to bring him over and see what they have in him. Chris Sheridan even goes as far as saying he could be a Rookie of the Year candidate. He said it, not me.
3. Listen to Mike Woodson
Finally, Mike D'Antoni hired a "defensive coordinator", former Atlanta Hawks head man Mike Woodson. In his last two seasons as Hawks head coach (2009-10 and 2008-09), the Hawks were 10th in the league in opponent's points-per-game. They were also close to a top-third team in points per 100 possessions. Woodson isn't some defensive wizard who is going to transform the Knicks into a top defensive team, but he is miles better than D'Antoni as a defensive coach (so am I, for that matter). Last year, the Knicks were among the bottom six teams in the league in opponents field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and points-per-game. If the Knicks buy into Woodson, they should improve on those standings. If they can be a middle of the pack defense, not a terrible one, they stand a much better chance in the playoffs.
4. Find A Catch-And-Shoot Guard
Landry Fields was exposed in the postseason last year, and he simply wasn't as effective for the Knicks post-trade. Fields' strengths don't really fit with these Knicks, who need a shooting guard who can knock down threes consistently off screens and kickouts. Toney Douglas is a tweener point guard/shooting guard who's strength is not spotting up. The Knicks didn't feel like using Roger Mason Jr. for most of last year, so I don't expect them to bring him back for a second tour of duty -- even though if they used him how they did in the playoffs, he could potentially fill this hole.
I'm just not a huge fan of Shawne Williams, even though I think D'Antoni loves him and he's likely to come back. Williams can knock down the perimeter shot, but D'Antoni insists on using him at the power forward spot, which makes the Knicks so undersized. I didn't think I would ever say this, but I wouldn't mind Mike Miller on the Knicks if they get him on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. Ideally, the Pistons use the Amnesty-clause on Rip Hamilton and he accepts a veteran minimum one-year deal to come to New York.
5. Keep Cap Space for 2012-13
So here it goes again for the Knicks, playing the "wait 'til next offeseason" game, but it's really the right thing to do. The Chris Paul rumors are heating up, and that's certainly the Knicks' top target. There's also Deron Williams and the Dwight Howard pipe-dream, so the Knicks will again set themselves up to make a run at the big names, as they did with Stoudemire in the summer of 2010. Detractors will point to the Heat and say, "Hey! It didn't work there!" Well, the Heat made it to the NBA Finals, and I think the Knicks and their fans would take their shot in a seven game series with Stoudemire, Anthony and either Paul, Howard or Williams. The Knicks will look to fill out their roster this year with one-year, cheap contracts, and lean on Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups to lead them as far as they can.