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Five Burning Questions for the New York Knicks

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Five Burning Questions for the New York Knicks

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Carmelo Anthony (L) and Amar'e Stoudemire (R) following the New York Knicks' 2012 playoff win over the …

COMMENTARY | For a team with limited salary cap space this offseason, the Knicks made a larger splash than expected. Trading contracts and draft picks for former #1 pick Andrea Bargnani was just the start of the Knicks' offseason, as they also re-signed J.R. Smith and used their mini mid-level exception to bring back Pablo Prigioni and sign Metta World Peace, who was amnestied by the Lakers.

Meanwhile, the Knicks' crosstown rival in Brooklyn was loading up their roster, trading multiple players and three future first-round picks to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White. They also added Andrei Kirilenko using their own mini mid-level exception and it can be easily argued that the Nets got better value from their mini MLE and made a bigger trade than the Knicks. Which begs the question...

Can the Knicks repeat as Atlantic Division Champions?

Even the most optimistic Knicks fans would concede that the Nets are now the better basketball team. Titles aren't won on paper though and even with a few additions of their own, New York is likely to have better chemistry from the start. Brooklyn struggled to come together as a team last season and will be breaking in at least five new rotation players, while the Knicks are only really adding Bargnani and World Peace to the mix.

New York has a shot to repeat in the division, but they will need to get off to a hot start and hope Brooklyn lacks cohesiveness early in the season. If the Nets are within 5 games by All-Star Weekend, Brooklyn will most likely win the division and leave the Knicks fighting to host a first-round series with Indiana or Chicago.

How will the rotation shake out?

When the Knicks first acquired Bargnani, it seemed likely he would start at power forward and move Carmelo Anthony back to small forward, despite Anthony's success at the 4 last season. With the World Peace signing, however, it's possible the Knicks go with a starting lineup of Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, World Peace, Anthony and Tyson Chandler.

That would leave Prigioni, Smith, Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire coming off the bench, along with first-round pick Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kenyon Martin, who seems likely to re-sign with the team. The recent news of Smith's knee surgery threatens the start of his season, but this second unit projects to have plenty of scoring punch while the starting lineup is more about defense.

New York could still opt to start Bargnani, as he likes to roam the perimeter anyway and would help spread the floor for Anthony. This would create more balance between the two units, as World Peace would act as a defensive stopper off the bench with Martin along with scorers like Smith and Stoudemire.

Will Carmelo Anthony take the next step?

Anthony had arguably the best season of his career last year. He won his first NBA scoring title and at times showed the ability to get his teammates involved in the game and be a leader. I'm not normally a fan of Anthony's game, but last year was about as good as he's ever been. The question shouldn't be can he repeat, but can he be even better?

With Jason Kidd now retired and coaching the Nets, Anthony will need to show he can apply the lessons he learned playing next to Kidd without the veteran's presence on the roster. Kidd got Anthony to buy into the team concept more than ever and the Knicks supporting cast of shooters was able to space the floor for Anthony, allowing him to dominate defenders one-on-one as he proved willing to find open shooters when double-teamed.

If Anthony can take the next step and become even more of a leader and team player, the Knicks have a shot to surprise the Eastern Conference this season. If he regresses to the old Anthony or even stays at the level he played at last season, there may be another first-round exit in his and the Knicks' future.

What will the Knicks get out of Amar'e Stoudemire?

This is possibly the most pressing question of the 2013-14 season for New York. Stoudemire will be on a minutes limit next season, likely somewhere around 20 minutes per game, and may not play both ends of any back-to-back sets. With his playing time severely limited and likely to come alongside at least one other volume scorer on the second unit, it's unclear what to expect from Stoudemire this season.

He will certainly bring more energy and scoring ability than any other backup power forward in the NBA and playing in short spurts should make him as explosive as his degenerative knees will allow. The Knicks will be ecstatic if he can provide 10-12 points per game and 3-4 rebounds while not playing enough against top-tier offensive players to be a seriously liability on defense. It's not much of a return on investment, but New York will have to take what it can get from a damaged Stoudemire at this point.

Do the Knicks have enough to make it out of the second round?

The Knicks' loss to Indiana in the playoffs hurt for many reasons. With Boston down, Brooklyn struggling to gel and Chicago missing 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, New York's chance to take on the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals was last season. Thanks to their own inefficiency, key players being banged up from the long regular-season grind and a roster full of one-dimensional players, they couldn't capitalize.

With Rose's return to Chicago, Brooklyn stacking up and Indiana's young roster likely to take another step forward (with ex-Knick Chris Copeland on the roster, might I add), New York may be on the outside looking in when it comes to the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks will need a lot to go right this season if they hope to make it out of the second round, or even the first.

Shumpert needs to become the two-way player the Knicks desperately need. Anthony needs to play at a higher level than last season, as does Bargnani. World Peace needs to energize the Knicks with toughness and perimeter defense while being a model citizen. Felton and Prigioni will need to find ways to put New York's scorers in positions to succeed.

Most of all, the Knicks need to stay healthy. Smith and Stoudemire have knee issues, while Anthony and Chandler were banged up by the end of last season. New York will have one of the NBA's oldest rosters again and if they want to make a serious run, they will need to keep everybody on the court.

Is it too much to ask for everything to fall into place for the Knicks? Unfortunately, it probably is. This team has some potential, but the grueling NBA season can be extremely unforgiving. The Knicks have almost no margin for error if they want the opportunity to play for a chance at the NBA Finals.

Chris Tripodi lives in New York and has been a Knicks fan since the days of Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the early 1990s. He has written for numerous online sources, namely Draft Insider, Optimum Scouting and Jets 101. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.

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