Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Jerome James, Jared Jeffries, and the one-and-only Eddy Curry.
Every one of those players was, at some point, the “next big thing” for the New York Knicks. Look at that list. Every name is worse than the next. Each one conjures up images of last place finishes, empty seats at MSG and a dilapidated fan base fed up with years of disappointment.
Then came the summer of 2010 (or as some called may call it, the “Summer of LeBron), and the free agent frenzy that came along with it. For Knick fans, this brought a renewed sense of hope and the idea that the Knickerbockers might actually have a true star that would call the Garden home. Days and weeks passed, with rumors swirling and stories flying around about King James, Dwayne Wade, and many other superstar free agents who were looking for a new team. As it became clearer and clearer that the Knicks would be unable to obtain LeBron, they set their sights on six-time all-star Amare Stoudemire. New York signed him just days before LBJ chose to join forces with D-Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
Many Knick fans were wary of the 6’ 11” forward because of his injury-riddled past, but the addition of Amare brought about a new era in New York basketball in which the Knicks were relevant again; something that hadn’t been the case in quite some time.
As the 2010 season wore on, rumors of a different kind began percolating around the Knicks, but this time it was about a trade for Denver Nuggets’ star Carmelo Anthony. These rumors went on for months until Melo was finally shipped across the country along with three of his Denver teammates for what was essentially the Knicks’ entire starting lineup minus Amare. That was the trade which would eventually catapult the Knicks into title-contention.
Fast-forward to this season, and look at these Knicks. A team with battle-tested vets mixed in with hungry newcomers on the NBA scene looking to make their mark. This squad features an MVP candidate in Anthony, an athlete who transformed his playing style by being unselfish while still knowing when to take over a game. The 2012 Knicks have a coach who knows how to draw up a play in a late-game situation, something that New York had been lacking while Mike D’Antoni was at the helm. Perhaps the greatest attribute this team has is its remarkable depth. They have a potential sixth man of the year candidate as well as a former all-star on their bench in Amare.
The main reason why this will be a special year for the Knicks is that the Eastern Conference is thin. Every team has its flaw. Miami takes games off, Brooklyn and Indiana don’t have true superstars (something that you need in the NBA nowadays in order to be a real contender), and the Bulls will have to fit Derrick Rose back into the lineup which hurt their chemistry last year. The Knicks don’t have any of these problems. They a superstar (Melo), they don’t take games off, and for the time being, they have no real injury concerns. Now, that is not to say this team doesn’t have holes. Their defense has been spotty and they can rely too much on the three-point shot at times, but this squad has deficiencies that can be fixed relatively easily. Chemistry doesn’t come easy, trading for a star doesn’t come easy.
Coming up in the month of February for the Knicks are seven games against team with losing records and a combined win-loss total of 108-188. New York could easily go 9-2 in February, boosting their record to 35-17. Keep in mind that the Heat (the only team ahead of the Knicks in the Eastern Conference) have seven games against 2011 playoff teams next month.
For much of the 21st century, any talk of the Knicks going to the NBA Finals would quickly end with laughter. Who’s laughing now?