Micheal Ray Richardson once assessed a New York Knicks team's fortunes a generation ago thusly: "The ship be sinkin'."
Is this Knicks team taking on water? Or will the ship be righted once Tyson Chandler comes back and restores defensive order? The New York Knicks take on the Hawks tonight at 8 ET (ESPN, WatchESPN).
1. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks are a potential disaster.
Ian Begley, ESPN New York: Fact. All the elements of a "train wreck" are in place: an impatient fan base, a slow start, some ill-fitting pieces, a superstar potentially on his way out and a hot-tempered owner. If things continue to go south, it may get ugly quickly.
Jim Cavan, Knickerblogger: Fact. It's one thing to have some semblance of depth, another to know how to use it. Mike Woodson has hinted he may "tinker" with his starting lineup yet again for tonight's tilt in Atlanta. It's still early, and a little experimentation may be necessary to right a fast-sinking ship. But too much tinkering could risk an inadvertent tank. In which case, watch out.
Mike Kurylo, Knickerblogger: Fact. There have been only a few times in this team's history when this wasn't true. The New York Knickerbockers have stood for one thing in the new century: standing on the edge of the precipice. Actually for most of it, they've been deep in the chasm. If Tyson Chandler misses much more than a quarter of the season, the Knicks are lost.
Adry Torres, ESPN Deportes: Fiction. The season is just a few weeks old and despite that "win now" mentality, you can't panic at 2-4. Tyson Chandler's injury has a lot to do with the losses the Knicks have suffered lately as there's been no one Mike Woodson can rely on to anchor the paint while Chandler is out. The Knicks rank near the bottom of the league in points per game, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage as well, but they just have to find a way to keep their heads above water until their center returns.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fact. Every team is a potential disaster if the right circumstances happen. The Knicks have three things going against them right now. They have injuries, especially one (Tyson Chandler) at a position where they don't have a true backup. They don't have an identity. Last season you knew they were going to spread the floor and shoot a lot of 3s and make it hard to double-team Carmelo Anthony. Third, they haven't been good at home.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks blew it when they let Jeremy Lin go.
Begley: Fiction. The Knicks are already in salary-cap hell. If you add the annual salary for Lin ($8.3 million, a $14.9 million cap hit in Year 3 if the Knicks had matched), it would be all the more crippling. He'd be a slight upgrade from Raymond Felton, but not enough to justify the cost.
Cavan: Fact. The notion that the Knicks cut Lin adrift for "financial reasons" was always laughable -- they could've had all three of Felton, Kidd and a young Jeremy Lin in 2012. Now, with Lin shining and Felton waning, the long-term wisdom of James Dolan's petty gambit looms large. It was a dumb decision, even if the case pivots on karma.
Kurylo: Fiction. Lin would have generated more excitement and a few more wins for New York. But putting Jeremy Lin in a Knicks uniform wouldn't solve New York's main problems. Lin can't play center. Lin can't force Andrea Bargnani to rebound, defend or pass better. Lin can't turn back the clock on Amar'e Stoudemire or Kenyon Martin. Unfortunately, Jeremy Lin isn't the solution.
Torres: Fiction. The Garden brass didn't blow it by not matching Houston's deal and handing Lin the treasure chest after taking the city by storm in just two months of play. It was a nice fairy tale for a moment, but for a team that's looking to win now, you can't hand the keys to your offense to a point guard who's been averaging 3.5 turnovers this season.
Windhorst: Fiction. They lost the asset for nothing in return, which isn't ideal. But Lin is sometimes spectacular and sometimes poor but mostly a middle-of-the-pack point guard. He's starter quality but at $8 million a season, I don't think letting him go was a mistake.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks blew it when they traded for Bargnani.
Begley: Fact. The Knicks needed to add a big man who could score and defend inside during the offseason. Instead, they dealt for Bargnani, who can do neither. They also neglected to add a legitimate backup center behind Tyson Chandler. That's come back to bite them with Chandler hurt.
Cavan: Fact. The failure is less about the move itself than its careless conception -- three picks for a guy with no D and whose "floor-spacing abilities" seem diametrically at odds with what made the Knicks so successful a season ago. But these are the Knicks. I'm not entirely convinced Dolan hasn't already given away our 2015 pick to the Edmonton Oilers.
Kurylo: Fact. I took a bit of heat a month ago when I was the harshest grader of the Knicks preseason (C-) in this space. But my logic was largely based on the acquisition of, and then eventual horrid play by, Bargnani. The price New York paid for him both justifies and pressures Woodson to give him more minutes than he should, which means that New York doubled down on their mistake.
Torres: Fiction. Bargnani's health impacted him during the preseason. Give him a chance. He's an offensive threat who can spread the floor and give Carmelo Anthony better looks. He's shown flashes of what he's capable of doing, but the injury to Chandler has forced him and the team into a role that clearly doesn't fit both parties.
Windhorst: Fiction. Considering how much money they took on in the deal, it did not make sense to include the pick. However, as far as the talent swap, they got the better end. If you focus on everything Bargnani isn't then you can have a field day. If you focus on his contract, the same. But he's a talent upgrade and he's already won the Knicks one game, and I suspect there will be more.
4. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks will miss the playoffs.
Begley: Fiction. As long as the Knicks can remain around .500 with Chandler out, they'll be able to make the postseason. The East is top heavy, with Miami and Indiana looking to be head and shoulders above the rest of the conference early in the season. Beyond that, no team has separated itself yet.
Cavan: Fiction. For all the Gotham gloom, the Knicks need look no further than across the Brooklyn Bridge to find a team equally hampered by growing pains. New York simply has too much talent for it to sink below the No. 8 seed. While the Torontos and Phillys of the world come to grips with their grand strategies, the Knicks should find a way to stay afloat.
Kurylo: Fiction. Chandler will be back. Carmelo Anthony will start scoring at a more efficient rate. J.R. Smith's return will stimulate the offense. The defense will stop switching on picks. Woodson will right the ship. Bargnani will find the end of the bench. Colesanity will ensue. Uhhhh ... can I change my answer to Fact?
Torres: Fiction. The only way this happens is if Chandler suffers some sort of setback, the Knicks fail to play .500 or better (which is what it will take to notch one of the last three spots in the East) and Woodson is unfairly canned. Then the whole ship sinks.
Windhorst: Fiction. They can't afford another major injury, but what team can? They have enough talent and experience to end up with a good record. Don't forget they have one of the league's best scorers and one of the streakiest shooters. Anthony and Smith will win them lots of games.
5. Fact or Fiction: Carmelo will stay with the Knicks after this season.
Begley: Fact. If Anthony chooses to sign with another team this summer, he'd be leaving $33 million on the table. We saw Dwight Howard do it last summer, but Anthony's status is different. He's beloved in New York and has a powerful voice in the organization. Unless New York completely falls apart, he's staying put.
Cavan: Fact. The dollar difference is just too stark. For all his polarizing moxie, Melo seems fully sincere about doing whatever he can to help build a contender -- even if the grand design reeks of delusion. How the Knicks recalibrate their reinforcement efforts with one player taking up close to half of the cap remains the million-dollar question.
Kurylo: Fact. Fiction. Both! Neither! I'm honestly on the fence on this one. Are the Knicks so incompetent that only they can blow the leverage of being able to pay Carmelo Anthony $33 million more than anyone else? Or are the Knicks the team that loves to overpay for everyone, and will be happy to give Carmelo Anthony max money until he's 35 years old? I'd have a better chance beating Magnus Carlsen than answering this question correctly.
Torres: Fiction. It's hard to say at this point of the season, but it's almost impossible for the Knicks to add any significant pieces to support Melo given their current cap situation. I could see Melo joining the Lakers if Kobe takes less to stay put in L.A. and Jim Buss can convince LeBron to leave Miami.
Windhorst: Fact. Let's remember Anthony's track record. Playing in New York under his terms was more important than the overall health of the roster in 2012 when he forced the trade and weakened the team in the process. The huge contract and the benefits of being a star in New York likely keep him there.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Brian Windhorst covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Ian Begley writes for ESPN New York. Adry Torres writes for ESPN Deportes. Jim Cavan and Mike Kurylo contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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