If Jeremy Lin never existed, this Knicks offseason would have felt a lot different.
Signing Ray Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni gives the team much more depth at point guard than they had last season and Ronnie Brewer should improve the team defensively without playing nearly as scared as Landry Fields looked for most of last season. Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby give the team better depth in the frontcourt and the pieces should all fit very easily given the experience all these players bring to the table.
Lin does exist, of course, and his departure colored all of these moves because it felt like the Knicks had lost sight of the pillars of building a team once again. Once you get past the emotions, though, the Knicks look better than last year although they aren't without questions.
We've put six of them together in order to preview the Knicks ahead of the opener against the Heat on Friday night.
1. Is Felton the man to run the offense? Felton looks thinner than he did during a poor year in Portland and spent the exhibition season leading the team in much the same way he did during his previous stint with the team. He showed strong skills on the pick and roll and made some shots after spotting up in the half court.
The question is whether he'll be able to be as effective playing for stretches with the ball out of his hands. No matter what happens in terms of Carmelo Anthony's willingness to move the ball, this isn't going to be Felton dominating the ball the way he did when Mike D'Antoni was the coach.
Felton gives them the flexibility to try different things, though, and that was something that was really lacking last season. If Felton can consistently hit from the perimeter, things should go well on offense.
2. With Amar'e Stoudemire out, who's the second scoring option? Melo's apparent willingness to share the ball will only make a difference if there's one or more players who can do something with it in their hands. Felton should be more concerned with distributing, Brewer isn't a scorer and Tyson Chandler is never going to be the guy you're running plays for on offense.
That leaves two real options in J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd. Kidd's become a three-point shooter almost exclusively and an offense working from the inside out should give him plenty of open looks from deep. Smith's volume approach to offense can be frustrating, but he's the only non-Anthony player who can create something out of nothing offensively.
3. What lineup will close games? The previous question leads us right into this one as we try to figure out how the Knicks are going to close out games. The gut says they're going to go small whenever the opposition permits such a look.
Felton, Kidd, Brewer/Smith, Anthony and Chandler will probably be the chosen five until Stoudemire returns, although the return of Iman Shumpert could also throw off the look. Shump's something of an X-factor for everything with this team because a healthy return for the guard will change everything about the team's lineups an
4. Will they make it through the season? The age of the roster has been talked about to death, but it bears mentioning again because the depth the team enjoys at full strength will evaporate quickly with just one or two missing pieces. It's especially important that things stay healthy on the wings since that will enable Anthony to play more at the four.
5. Can Melo do what he says he'll do? It's the million dollar question and the only answer is that he better become more selfless as a player if he wants his Knicks career to go down as something more than a crushing disappointment. The Knicks have to be more efficient on offense this season and that is going to mean getting better shots for everyone on the floor, including Anthony but in no way limited to him.
The defensive effort needs to be there too, but the Knicks can probably get by at that end with the same general production they've gotten from Anthony in the past. The offensive improvement is non-negotiable, though, and Anthony is going to be the key to making it happen.
6. How will they finish this season? The Atlantic Division looks like a giant rock fight between the Knicks, Sixers, Celtics and Nets this season. We saw last year that a fractured Knicks team lacking a concrete identity could still win games so this year's version should be able to improve on the finish to last year.
Winning a playoff series is a real and achievable goal for a team that should win 45-50 games this year and avoid the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. There are so many known unknowns at this moment that it is hard to assess the likelihood of advancing two rounds, but the pieces are definitely in place if Mike Woodson can fit them together and keep them from breaking in the regular season.