I really want to believe that the New York Knicks can’t possibly miss the playoffs in the top-heavy but still eminently shallow Eastern Conference even if the freshly injured Tyson Chandler misses a full six weeks.
I want to believe it for the Knicks’ sake.
I want to believe it because the mood could otherwise get really dark in one of my favorite buildings on Earth. Really, really gloomy even before we get to July 1 and what all this means for Carmelo Anthony’s impending free agency.
NBA muckrakers obviously can’t leave that one alone, but the impact a long stretch without Chandler and what a season of underachievement might do to Anthony’s willingness to re-sign with his beloved Knicks next summer is not today’s focus. Ponder this instead: New York must convey a fully unprotected first-round pick to Melo’s old friends back in Denver in June ... so missing the postseason would obviously make that a lottery pick for the Nuggets.
Based on the terms of the original Melo trade in February 2011, New York is required to send its 2014 first-round pick to Denver no matter where it falls. The Nuggets then have to send the worse of two picks – either its own 2014 first-rounder or New York’s – to Orlando as a condition of the four-team Dwight Howard blockbuster in August 2012. So that means Orlando, in the stunning event that the Knicks and Nuggets both unexpectedly miss the playoffs, would thus inherit one of Denver’s two lottery picks in one of the most-anticipated NBA lotteries ever.
Which merits a collective Whoa.
We repeat: The inevitable panic you’re hearing this week, which we’re now admittedly stoking, might well prove to be unfounded because the East is so underwhelming outside of the Miami/Indiana/Chicago/Brooklyn quartet. For all of the Knicks’ considerable issues on the front line – whether it’s the minutes restrictions placed on both Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin or the distinct possibility that the completely lost Andrea Bargnani has actually landed in a worse situation pressure-wise than he was in Toronto when we all thought he was getting the fresh start he so badly needed – they can get back on a playoff course if Melo finally gets going.
It’s not yet clear whether the Knicks will bring back one of their camp invitees (Jeremy Tyler or Ike Diogu) to fill the void, sign a free-agent stopgap (such as Earl Barron, Lou Amundson or, yes, perhaps even Jason Collins), simply try to get by with Bargnani and Cole Aldrich or pursue a trade with their limited assets. Yet whatever course they choose, it seems reasonable to presume that Mike Woodson’s best hope for keeping the Chandler-less Knicks afloat is realistically all about going small and hoping that a philosophical shift to last season’s preferred schemes will quickly shake Melo out of the slump that has seen him connect on a woeful 35.6 percent of shots from the floor in New York’s three-game losing streak.
If Chandler’s fractured fibula proves to be as disastrous (and long term) as some fear, just when Chandler was looking so good, New York’s problems mushroom even before we get to free agency. Think of everything they’ve already sacrificed over the past five years to try not only to acquire a star from Melo’s zip code but also to build a team with staying power around him, as Zach Lowe laid out expertly in his own Knicks piece earlier this week. Then imagine them having to give up a lottery pick on top of it all.