Commentary

Knicks punctuated by question marks

'Bockers believe team can answer the call to end franchise's 40-year title drought

Updated: October 30, 2013, 2:41 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Over 40 years have passed since a parade for the resident basketball team strolled down Broadway -- a time spanning seven different presidents and 14 different teams crowned as NBA champions. Yet, at a time when many have championship expectations for these New York Knicks, too many obstacles are in their way, including a conspicuous one in their own backyard.

"I don't doubt that there will be doubters," Knicks coach Mike Woodson told me recently. "Just don't expect us to be among them. We know the road will be tough, but we believe we have a chance and that we'll be right in the mix. We believe in ourselves. We accept the challenge."

Good, because there are many.

[+] EnlargeNew York Knicks
Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe 2013-14 Knicks face a mountain of challenges.

Following a 54-win season that culminated in the Knicks winning their first playoff series in 13 years, change arrived, undoubtedly for the better. They traded away marginal contributors in Steve Novak and Marcus Camby for the 2006 No. 1 overall pick, Andrea Bargnani. They acquired defensive stalwart Metta World Peace via free agency. They kept J.R. Smith, the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year. They have a healthy Iman Shumpert returning along with an eager Tyson Chandler, and are pressed to impress the resident star, Carmelo Anthony -- who's vowed he intends to opt out of his contract next July to become an unrestricted free agent.

Anthony, of course, has proclaimed he doesn't intend "to go anywhere," before adding that, "I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career," this in spite of the fact that the Knicks are in position to offer him $129 million when no other team is allowed to offer more than $98 million.

Make sense to you?

These are the Knicks we're talking about, folks.

Mired in the land of what can go wrong usually does, the Knicks are rife with too many question marks.

Who fills the leadership void left behind by Jason Kidd's departure?

Can Bargnani and Chandler play together with Melo on the front line? If so, will Melo suffer playing small forward instead of power forward?

Where does World Peace enter the equation?

How on earth will Woodson manage all these personalities?

Could it be enough to be better than Brooklyn?

For the moment, the Knicks are in no position to diminish Brooklyn's bravado. The jury is still out as to what kind of contribution Raymond Felton will make at point guard, especially when his backups are Pablo Prigioni and newly acquired Beno Udrih. Someone still needs to step up as a viable, dependable secondary offensive option after Melo. And, as always, there is the issue of Amar'e Stoudemire's health.

Under normal circumstances, Stoudemire, owed $44 million over the next two years, would be working for an organization that wants him healthy. Except with these Knicks, there's the issue of Melo's impending free agency, inside information that LeBron James -- who's also free to opt out of his contract next July -- would love to play with him in the near future, and the reality that the Knicks would significantly improve their chances of pulling off such a heist if Stoudemire were forced to retire due to his chronic knee ailments.

Both James and Melo have openly expressed zero interest in discussing their impending free-agent status moving forward, but they don't need to. Both have the right to be free. They want to play with each other. And whether it's next summer or the year after, assuming James chooses to stay in Miami until his contract expires, doesn't negate the fact that it's possible they could elect to make their wishes come true.

Stay tuned!

"Right now is about us playing to the best of our ability and seeing what we can do with this season," Melo deadpanned to reporters. "The future doesn't matter right now. We've got this season to deal with."

True enough!

There's the re-emergence of a healthy Dwyane Wade to deal with. The abundance of immovable objects on the Indiana Pacers, not to mention to sharpshooting forward Chris Copeland, whom they stole from the Knicks. Obviously, there's the problem that is the Chicago Bulls -- a team that swept the Knicks last season -- who'll have superstar Derrick Rose available to them. And, of course, Brooklyn.

But there's also the issue of the Knicks, themselves. How well will they do? Will they be the team that was 16-13 with Stoudemire in the lineup or the team that was 38-15 without him? Will Stoudemire even be available or will he combine with Bargnani to add to the combined 154 games they've missed over the past two seasons? And if that happens, how are the Knicks any better than they were last season?

No one knows the answers. We just know there are questions. And that's not a good thing, especially after at least four teams in the East have addressed their issues more emphatically than the Knicks.

"We still have to play the games," Woodson has repeatedly told me. "Games aren't won by commentators. They're won by the players doing what they're supposed to do. We know this."

Yes, they do.

But so do the Knicks' fans. For 40 years and counting.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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