Oct 11, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) controls the ball against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Knicks 100-91. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks: A 2013-14 NBA Preview

Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.

The New York Knicks may very well be the most polarizing team in the NBA.

Fans of other teams love to hate the Knicks, but it’s hard to disagree with the fact that the NBA as a whole is better off if the team that resides at Madison Square Garden is competitive. And while it would be wise to expect a step back to be taken by this year’s Knicks team, they will still absolutely fit the description of “competitive”.

The Knicks had a ‘treading water’ kind of off-season. They saw already-oldish players such as Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire age by another year, and Carmelo Anthony inch closer yet towards the end of his prime. New York willingly subjected themselves to the horror that is Andrea Bargnani and his grotesque contract (two years, $23.3+ million remaining), amazingly trading away Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, Marcus Camby, one first round pick, and two second round picks.

Despite willingly getting worse and tying up their cap space at the same time via the Bargnani trade, the Knicks then went out and re-signed J.R. Smith to a deal worth nearly $18 million over three years, including a 15% trade kicker. Smith is a good player, but this was probably an unnecessary overpay by New York. There are plenty of shooters out there that could have been had for less, and Smith’s flare and flash surely contributed to the idea that he’s a great fit for the Big Apple.

Alas, the Knicks now have $35.7+ million this year and nearly $38 million next year tied up in two big men on the wrong side of thirty in Stoudemire and Chandler. They have the aforementioned $23.3+ million invested in Bargnani, and now $18 million in Smith. Which leaves…not a whole lot for the rest of the roster. Depth will be a problem, as the rotation will be rounded out by Raymond Felton (the only other player that will make more than $1.7 million this season), Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni, and Metta World Peace.

Not exactly a championship-caliber rotation, but if Anthony can play like he did for much of 2012-13, the Knicks can stay in contention deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs. While his star is almost always overrated by all of the “pure scorer” talk, he actually was having one of the best seasons of any player in the NBA and easily the best season of his career until a late cold streak put a damper on his improvement.

If he has truly “figured it out”, however, it will mean a lot for a) the Knicks, and b) the rest of Anthony’s career, including his next contract, which could come as soon as next off-season. Anthony has an Early Termination Option that he can exercise for the summer of 2014 that he will almost certainly invoke. Here’s hoping for a year like he had last year…he was truly something special for much of the season.

Even while Chandler’s on-court production slipped ever so slightly in 2012-13, he was the only thing keeping the Knicks’ team defense afloat. He’ll shoulder the same responsibility in the coming season, and if he’s still up for it, he’s still largely overlooked by fans around the league. His health, more than anyone this side of Anthony, is what will ensure that the Knicks manage a top-four playoff seed in the East.

Best Case Scenario

Well, this team won 54 games a year ago. The roster is similar, but everyone is a year older. Anthony and Chandler missed 15 and 16 games, respectively, last season, and Stoudemire missed 53. There’s no guarantee that the health of three rapidly aging and oft-injured players will improve, but it likely won’t be too much worse.

Assuming Anthony has indeed “figured it out”, this team is probably good for another 52-55 wins. Having largely the same eight-player rotation should be helpful, and if the top three players stay on the court for the most part, they should manage home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs yet again.

Worst Case Scenario

Expecting/predicting injuries is not a fruitful exercise, but neither is ignoring the fact that certain players (and in turn, teams) are more prone to injury than others. The Knicks are quite injury-prone, and it’s hard to sneeze at the idea that they’ll probably lose 35-45 player-games between their best three players (Chandler, Anthony, and Stoudemire).

Even if healthy, there are still some glaring deficiencies on this roster. The depth isn’t great, especially behind the brittle front court. Bargnani and ancient Kenyon Martin is really all that’s there…not great by any stretch of the imagination. Things could go south surprisingly fast. 38-41 games is still probably about as bad as it could get, unless catastrophic injuries occur.

Most Likely Outcome

 I’m certainly not banking on the above best case scenario. Injuries will happen, and the lack of a bench will catch up to this aging squad. Being the Eastern Conference will help quite a bit, but they’ll likely lose the majority of games against Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn, and Chicago. There’s simply a gap between those three teams and the likes of New York, Atlanta, etc. The Knicks will win 48-51 games and have an outside shot at the fourth seed, but ultimately will settle into the fifth or sixth slot.

Tags: Amare Stoudemire Carmelo Anthony J.R. Smith NBA New York Knicks Pablo Prigioni Tyson Chandler

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