If there’s any question Tyson Chandler is a deserving recipient of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, the obvious transformative effect he had on the Knicks’ ability to stop other teams should answer it.
Chandler’s personal numbers don’t blow you away, but his impact is perfectly obvious. In 2010-11, the Knicks allowed 105.7 points per game, third worst in basketball. This year, they allowed just 94.7 points per game, good for 11th. They went up from 20th in defensive efficiency to fifth. They were best in the league in defending points in the paint after ranking 28th in that last season.
In that sense, Chandler delivered exactly what the Knicks hoped he would, and exactly what he provided for the Mavericks during their championship season: defensive legitimacy. Even before oft-maligned offensive-minded head coach Mike D’Antoni resigned, the Knicks were slowly erasing the stigma of a team that couldn’t defend anyone.
As a Knicks fan, I was nonplused with the Chandler signing at the time they did it. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he was good – I watched him dominate during the West Finals last year. That said, he’s definitely better on a nightly basis than I thought he was, and I didn’t think his influence on the team’s MO would be this great.
The question is more, where do you go from here? The Knicks are a playoff team – like last year – but clearly not championship-level. There’s no reason to think they’ll grow into that. And the Chandler signing put an end to any ability to alter the roster in any significant way going forward.
According to hoopshype.com, the Knicks are committed for about $61 million in salaries next season, $57 million in 2013-14, and $61 million for 2014-15. This would be fine if they were a team ready to compete for a title. But they still haven’t won a playoff game since 2001, and with Iman Shumpert on the shelf and now with Amar’e Stoudemire’s self-inflicted hand issues, it doesn’t appear they’ll break that streak this year.
And what of Stoudemire? It’s not desirable to even speculate about him, since Stoudemire’s signing was the first necessary piece in restoring a degree of respectability to the franchise after the awfulness of the entirety of the past decade. But the bloom definitely came off the rose a bit over the past calendar year.
For a player with plenty of tread on his tires, Stoudemire carried a great deal of the load in his first season as a Knick. His surgically repaired knees have held up – at least so far – but back issues that threaten to become chronic are far more alarming. Not to mention, Stoudemire has matured a great deal over the years, but he’s traditionally become a distraction when his body betrays him. Cornrows at age 29 were a bad sign; busting his hand on a fire extinguisher was obviously far more disturbing.
Might the Knicks have considered amnestying a rapidly aging Stoudemire, who doesn’t fit with Carmelo Anthony regardless? It’s a moot point, since they had to use their one-time amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups to sign Chandler. Billups had one year left on his deal; conceivably, they could have held on to him, let his deal expire and then considered amnestying Stoudemire. That would have created about $34 million worth of cap room.