- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Magic Johnson doesn't see the New York Knicks making much progress next season. In fact, he thinks the Knicks will be the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference.
"I think the two teams that they can't beat are still going to be good again next year, and that's Miami and Indiana. And then Derrick Rose comes back for the Bulls. So I see those three teams better than the Knicks. Right now they're sitting No. 4, to me," Johnson, an analyst on ESPN's "NBA Countdown" show, said on a conference call Wednesday to discuss The NBA Finals on ABC.
If Johnson were the GM for the Knicks, who finished second in the Eastern Conference last season, he said his top priority would be to add a scorer to help Carmelo Anthony. Magic doesn't think the Knicks can rely on J.R. Smith to fill that role because he's "too inconsistent." And he doesn't believe the Knicks can count on Amar'e Stoudemire because of his history of knee issues.
"No, his health won't allow him to play. We've already seen, Amar'e hasn't played [a full season] what in two seasons? A long 82-game season and into the playoffs? So you can't count on Amar'e," Johnson said. "As much as [Amar'e] says he's going to be there, as much as he wants to be there, because I know he wants to contribute and that's his mindset, he can't physically do it. It's not about skill set, it's about, physically, he can't do it. So you have to look for somebody else to do that."
Stoudemire has played in only 84 of 165 games for the Knicks over the past two seasons, playoffs included. He has missed time with various injuries, mainly to his troublesome knees. Last season, Stoudemire had debridement surgery to clean out both of his knees. The Knicks hope Stoudemire can play all 82 games this coming season, but general manager Glen Grunwald has already raised the possibility of Stoudemire operating on a minutes limit in 2013-14.
Since he lacks faith in Stoudemire and Smith, Johnson proposes that the Knicks look to add a scorer this summer. But they don't have many avenues to do so.
The Knicks have a first-round draft pick (24th) later this month. They also have the mini mid-level exception and veteran's minimum contracts to offer free agents. So, barring a trade, it will be difficult for Grunwald to add any major pieces to the team.
The Knicks' top free-agent priority is believed to be re-signing Smith, the 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year. But Magic thinks the Knicks should shy away from relying on Smith as their secondary scoring option.
"You don't know what you're going to get game to game," Johnson said. "So you need another guy that you can count on [to] get you points and then you can live with J.R. being inconsistent."
Partly due to their offensive issues, Johnson believes the Knicks will finish behind the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference, assuming Derrick Rose returns to the Bulls 100 percent healthy.
"It's funny because you can be oh so close, but oh so far," he said of the Knicks. "I like what I see in the Knicks and I like that the fans are back and that they have New York excited about NBA basketball. So just build on that."
Magic loves Iman Shumpert because of his athleticism and ability to defend perimeter players.
"Don't trade him," he said.
But the Hall of Fame point guard thinks Tyson Chandler needs to work on his offense this summer.
"He might have to go to the gym this summer and work on, 'What can I do offensively to help our team out?'" Johnson said.
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