Commentary

Knicks fans, put aside the paranoia

Only at MSG could the signing of Smith and the return of Melo be met with trepidation

Updated: February 21, 2012, 2:01 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

Do you know one way you can tell Carmelo Anthony hasn't played for the Knicks that long? Or how it's obvious Jeremy Lin is new around here too?

Only players who didn't slog through the agony-filled years that preceded this magical two-week run the Knicks are on would laugh like Anthony and Lin have this week and remark on how "funny" it seems that developments that should be treated as good news -- like the Knicks' signing Friday of shooting guard J.R. Smith, or Anthony's impending return from a groin injury -- are met with paranoia instead. Or panicky questions like, "Why risk screwing up a good thing?"

But as difficult -- and yes, comical -- as it is for success-starved Knicks' fans to trust it, the Knicks really did do a smart thing by pushing and pushing until they'd beaten out the Los Angeles Clippers for Smith, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who decided to ride out the NBA lockout by playing an abbreviated season in China.

And the Knicks will be far better when Anthony comes back, too, perhaps as soon as Sunday's game against defending champion Dallas.

The Knicks could have used a little of Anthony's scoring Friday night as Lin and the rest of the offense finally hit the wall. The Knicks played extremely hard, just not all that well at critical times during their 89-85 loss to New Orleans that snapped the Knicks' seven-game winning streak. Lin finished with 26 points on 8-for-18 shooting, but his nine turnovers were a problem.

Remember, despite all the excitement that Linsanity has caused for the past 13 days, the Knicks are still only 15-16 overall. They began the night clinging to what would be the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, not sitting atop the standings. They also shot only 4-for-24 from 3-point range Friday night and long-range shooting is one of Smith's specialties.

"Obviously we could have used it tonight, that's no doubt. And Melo [too]," Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni said.

So how is getting Anthony back a bad thing? And how is beefing up a Knicks bench that once looked among the worst in the league with a 12.3 ppg career scorer like Smith a mistake?

Whatever chemistry issues or uncertainty about the rotation both changes cause in the short term -- and there may be some -- should be outstripped by the improved team the Knicks can be come playoff time.

[+] Enlarge J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesRelax, New York! Mixing Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith into the Linsanity is a good thing.

"We've added a lot of talent ... [and] it's a nice problem to have," D'Antoni said before the game.

Smith is only 26, and he does a lot of things the Knicks can use. He's a terrific 3-point shooter, he's athletic enough to put the ball on the floor and slash to the basket, and he can play pick-and-roll basketball -- all things that should allow him to flourish in D'Antoni's system.

Smith also provides a nice bit of insurance should Landry Fields, who D'Antoni said would remain the starter "for now," goes missing in action again this season, same as he did his rookie year after Anthony arrived.

We already know Smith is eminently comfortable playing with Anthony. They played together in Denver.

Now, there's no denying Smith has had a few entries in the knucklehead column over his career, the worst of them being the brawl he started with the Knicks a few years ago. And he doesn't play great defense. He was known to chuck up too many ill-advised shots in Denver and freelance too much in the wrong situations, all of which exasperated Nuggets coach George Karl.

But look: Smith should have no problem getting enough shots in the normal flow of D'Antoni's up-tempo system -- and he tends to make them. He's a fine 37 percent shooter from three-point range over his career.

The Knicks' financial investment in Smith is modest too: just a pro-rated portion of the $2.5 million mini exemption.

Better yet, he'll be playing to win himself a lucrative longer term contract, which has a way of making players toe the line even when the desire to win or his teammates' disapproval can't.

So there's little not to like about adding Smith. But it will be up to D'Antoni to make it all work every bit as much as Smith or Anthony.

Anthony grew a little indignant this week at the suggestion he can't adapt to Linsanity, saying, "I can play with anybody." And D'Antoni is known for running a notoriously tight eight-man (or so) rotation.

We're about to find out now how good D'Antoni is at adapting from night to night to dividing up the minutes between a backcourt that could include five players -- Lin, Fields, Smith, Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis when Davis finally comes back from back trouble.

D'Antoni is notoriously stubborn. But it was promising Friday to hear him repeatedly say that he indeed intends to adjust now that the Knicks have this much quality depth.

"I'd be crazy if I didn't use it," D'Antoni said. "I've just got to make sure I don't lose guys that are playing well."

Since Lin began starting and getting everyone else on the team involved, the Knicks have been rounding into a nice little club that suddenly has a little bit of everything. Roles are starting to fall nicely into place. They've got a budding defensive stopper in Shumpert, a spot-up 3-point shooter like Novak and a big man off the bench in Jared Jefferies. And their frontline of Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and Anthony could always play with anyone in the league.

Smith should only help, especially if the Knicks can keep playing defense as well with him and Anthony as they have without them. A big "if."

But Smith is a modest risk. And if he acts out, there's a simple answer for that: He can ride the bench.

So hard as it is, Knicks fans, try to forget the scars of season's past. Forget the paranoia. Take a deep breath.

More good times -- not less -- could be just ahead.

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