Fresh off their first practices of the 2013-14 season, the New York Knicks seemed awfully concerned with talking about “pressure” as they faced down yet another strangely Knicksian campaign. The team made the second round of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade last year, but what followed was yet another impossibly strange offseason – with point guard Jason Kidd retiring to take over as rookie head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, J.R. Smith’s travails dominating the back page, Amar’e Stoudemire’s hidden-until-now knee surgery, and the strange canning of general manager Glen Grunwald in favor of company man Steve Mills.
The weirdest thing to hit, in pure basketball terms? Trading lights-out sharpshooter Steve Novak for former top overall pick Andrea Bargnani, who is far from a lights-out shooter at this point in his career. Bargnani, thought to be a floor-spacer by people who haven’t watched him play basketball in a few years, is hoping to turn around a career that has gone terribly sour. With Carmelo Anthony in place, at least according to Carmelo, Bargs doesn’t have to worry about a thing in his first campaign in the Big Apple.
“Ain’t no pressure on him,” Anthony said at the end of practice on Tuesday, the Knicks’ first of training camp. “You come here and play ball. All the pressure is on me. It should be easy for him.”
Of course, Carmelo is saying two things at once, here.
The man needs a second scorer to work alongside him, but because the Knicks chose defense over offense in signing Tyson Chandler in Dec. of 2011, and because Carmelo’s contract is so massive, there’s no real room to add a second offensive star to help guide things. The star Anthony thought he was joining when he forced a trade to New York two and a half years ago, former All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire, is severely limited by his knee and back woes, while working on an untradeable (two years, $45 million) deal.
This leaves New York to scrounge. It utilized its Bird Rights to re-sign J.R. Smith, and somehow found enough spare parts to deal for Bargnani, who is set to make a ridiculous $23 million over the next two seasons. Worse, Bargnani’s hoped-for skillset (three-point shooting) is exactly what Steve Novak used to provide in spades. Bargs has shot just 34 percent from behind the arc over the last four seasons, and 30 percent from deep over the last two, while Novak routinely lights it up from 40-plus percent.
It’s true that the Knicks might be hoping that Bargnani could supply some in-between game, quick posts or pick and pops off of curls or screen and rolls, but that’s exactly what Anthony contributes – at a far more efficient rate. Bringing Bargnani off the bench would seem to eliminate that concern, but it’s hard to determine just how well Andrea would mesh with Amar’e Stoudemire – a player that wants to occupy the same mid-point offensively. Worse, Stoudemire is just as poor defensively as Bargnani, who statistically is also a historically-bad rebounder for his size.
Perhaps this is why, when talking up “pressure,” Anthony stopped far short of declaring his team’s season a failure if they don’t make it to June.
"I don't want to put that pressure on our team, on myself or our guys and say, 'It's championship or bust,' " Anthony said on Monday. "I want us to go out there and just play ball, take it one game at a time, get better and have fun doing that. Because at the end of the day, if we're all having fun, it will be a successful season."
In his column, Ken also talked up how new prez Steve Mills has already gone deep into Melo-retainin’ mode, as Carmelo can opt out of his contract in 2014 to join the litany of veteran stars (Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) that could potentially mold and shape another super-team on the fly. Exhibit one would be Mills’ pickup of coach Mike Woodson’s 2014-15 player option, as Berger points out that Woodson flies in the face of former Anthony coaches (Jeff Bzdelik, George Karl, Mike D’Antoni) that demanded a bit more from the max-salaried superstar.
“If we’re all having fun, it will be a successful season” sounds like a solid attitude, and something to keep you cheery as you slog from day to day. That said, May 10th marked the 40th anniversary of the last Knicks championship, and with over $180 million (not counting luxury tax penalties) in payroll due to this Knick roster over the next two years (and resultant cable and ticket costs), Knick fans likely don’t want to hear about the good times this team may or may not be having. Especially as it enters 2013-14 with its fourth GM in seven seasons.
No pressure, guys. Just Knicks as usual. You should be used to it.