This wasn't part of the big plan.
After the New York Knicks found out LeBron James will head to South Beach to join the Miami Heat along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the front office had to prepare itself for this moment: the very real possibility that James had set his heart elsewhere. The backup plan starts with the $100 million foundation of Amare Stoudemire and ends with whomever they pursue with the freed-up cash from Eddy Curry's contract next offseason.
No James, no Wade, no Joe Johnson and no Rudy Gay means the Knicks will have to endure next season without the comforts of a star wing man to pair with Stoudemire. Instead, the Knicks will use Wilson Chandler as their perimeter shot creator and hope he can blossom alongside Stoudemire.
As it stands now, the Knicks will field a young, promising squad that could snag a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference if all players hit their ceilings. But hoping for jackpot is a losing strategy, so what can we really expect from the 2010-11 Knicks?
Using advanced metrics, a 39-43 season looks like a fair estimate.
Of course, neither machine nor human can predict the future and any projection will feature some uncertainty behind the forecast. With that said, the aggregated pieces on the Knicks new roster compiled about 39 wins last season in their various teams and roles, according to the Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) metric devised by Basketball Prospectus author and Pacers consultant Kevin Pelton.
How did we arrive at 39 wins?
The WARP system measures how well a player performed using advanced statistics and translates that performance into a win scale. The roster makeover, constructed by president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh, could lead to a 10-win improvement next year if the personnel's level of play holds to next season. Whether that's a success or not depends on your expectations of $38 million in cap space.
Moments after James' announcement on Thursday night, the Knicks made their first reactionary move, completing a sign-and-trade that inked David Lee to a 6-year, $80 million contract and flipped him to the Golden State Warriors for Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and Kelenna Azubuike. Lee's production last year was worth about 11 wins to the Knicks but the additions of Stoudemire, Randolph and Turiaf will make up the difference and then some for next year.
Randolph will be the wild card for the Knicks should he nail a starting job at the power forward slot. The 20-year-old has had his share of headaches and flashes of brilliance, but that's expected from a player who is younger than the two players the Knicks drafted this year -- not to mention he spent his formative years under the erratic Don Nelson. The former one-and-done player from Louisiana State contributed 2.5 wins last year to the Warriors in just 33 games before an ankle injury sidelined him for the season. If healthy, he could be a big part of the Knicks' season and beyond.
And then there's Danillo Gallinari. As I've argued before, Gallinari stands to gain the most from the draw of a star player. At 22 years old, Gallinari finally gets a magnetic force like Stoudemire who can open up the perimeter. The Italian is a good bet to build on his 6.4-win campaign last season and he may push toward the 20 points-per-game threshold. Don't be surprised if he challenges the Knicks' 3-point record next year (he was just 31 shy of John Starks' record, set in 1994-95).
What does Raymond Felton bring? Well, it's certainly not a good sign that advocates have to point to his college days to prove he's a good fit under coach Mike D'Antoni. Felton has the speed to thrive in the high-octane offense but 85 percent of play in the NBA starts in the half court, even for the fast-pace teams. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Felton's average for a point guard in pick-and-roll situations and his strong 3-point shooting last year may have been a fluke compared to his career numbers. He's a palatable stopgap before the Knicks target a premiere point guard down the road.
To round out the roster, the Knicks signed 7-1 Russian big man Timofey Mozgov. He'll turn 24 on July 16 so he's not quite as raw as some European big men who made the move to the NBA. Mozgov moves well for a big man of his length and should fit right into D'Antoni's high-energy offense. He and Turiaf will provide some insurance should Stoudemire or Randolph run into foul trouble.
With a new look, can the Knicks be a winning team this year? Maybe. That's a better endorsement than they've heard in years.