After watching a comically overpaid roster limp to a 30-win season, the Knicks took some decisive steps to try to squeeze a playoff season or two out of a team that was both short on scoring and just plain short a year ago.
Rather than rebuild, the Knicks have decided to take on even more contracts. Most notably, they dealt for Antonio McDyess, essentially gambling that they can get enough wins from their bloated payroll to salvage a playoff appearance. They also added free-agent big man Michael Doleac to stem a glaring shortage of size, but Doleac has been so ineffective the past two years that he may not help much.
The crux of the Knicks' problem has been their decision to vastly overpay almost any player who has come their way. Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell are both modestly above-average players who are making the maximum salary, while Howard Eisley, Shandon Anderson and Clarence Weatherspoon each make over $6 million a year despite forming one of the worst second units in the league. The habit of overpaying has made virtually every player on the roster untradeable, so it will take a long time to unwind this mess. In the meantime, a healthy McDyess could heal some of last year's wounds.
Antonio McDyess, F -- If the Knicks are going to get back into the playoffs, McDyess has to lead the way. Last year McDyess tore up his left knee before the season and ended up playing in just 10 games. A comeback late in the year was aborted when it was clear he wasn't yet at full strength, but it did show some of the positives of his layoff. In those 10 games McDyess shot as well as he ever has (57 percent), taking advantage of the time off to perfect his shooting stroke.
The Knicks need him to stay in one piece this year. The team has become all to familiar with the phrase "talented but oft-injured big man," thanks to the recent travails of Marcus Camby, and has no desire to repeat the experience. Fortunately, it was the first signficant injury of McDyess' career. In the previous six seasons, he missed a total of just 28 games.
McDyess gives the Knicks their first quality low-post player since Patrick Ewing had knees. He has the strength to get good position and is plenty accurate, shooting 49 percent for his career. He is also a horse on the boards, pulling down 12 boards a game in Denver two years ago. The Knicks need 20 points and 10 rebounds a night from him or they won't make the playoffs.
The Bench -- With all the money the Knicks are willing to shell out for players, you would think that building a quality bench wouldn't be a big problem. Guess again. There isn't a single reserve the Knicks can point to as providing a reliable boost. The worst is backup point guard Eisley, whose disastrous season last year included a heinous 33 percent shooting mark, but the rest isn't much better.
The Knicks bought Weatherspoon's career year in Cleveland two years ago, only to watch him start to look very old last season. Anderson arrived in a trade with Houston, but his cutting, slashing style is a complete misfit for the Knicks' isolation-heavy system. Up front, newly signed big man Doleac had trouble getting minutes for a tissue-soft Cleveland team, and probably won't help the Knicks much, either. That leaves undersized but efficient Othella Harrington as the most reliable sub.
Once Jeff Van Gundy resigned, the Knicks treated defense less as the defining measure of their existence and more as an optional exercise. Given their lack of size and the absence of a dominant scorer, the Knicks need to rediscover the defensive passion they exuded under Van Gundy if they hope to make the playoffs.
It all starts with head coach Don Chaney. He looked to all the world like a substitute teacher as the Knicks mailed in the second half of the season, but with the "interim" tag gone, he may be more willing to drop the hammer and sit guys who aren't giving full effort. If that had been his criteria last season, he would have had trouble finding five players to put on the floor.
While the addition of McDyess provides hope to a team that looked hopeless at times last season, there are still a lot of holes. The starting five is solid, but either McDyess or Kurt Thomas will have to play as an undersized center, and the bench looks even more pitiful than it did a year ago. The Knicks will need to relocate the defensive zeal they lost last season if they hope to get back over .500 and be a factor in the Eastern Conference playoff race.