Despite the changes made in the front office and with the coaching staff, the New York Knicks find themselves in a very similar position to last year. They’re 4-11 and only within striking distance of the playoffs because the bottom of the Eastern Conference is wide open for sub .500 teams to sneak in. All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who passed on offers from contending teams this offseason to re-sign with the Knicks for a five-year, near max deal, is putting up monster numbers once again (23.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.2 apg, 22.1 PER), yet it hasn’t come close to enough to making the Knicks consistently competitive.
And, to make matters worse, the burden he’s carrying is starting to take its toll – on his back specifically.
Anthony was forced to leave Monday’s game early after landing awkwardly on a jump shot. His pain was so severe that he had to be rushed to an urgent care facility and he has since been ruled out for the rest of the Knicks road trip, which still has stops in Dallas and Oklahoma City left on it.
“He’s getting some rest,’’ Knicks head coach Derek Fisher said to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “Trying to do what he can to get better. I don’t know if we’ll know enough to really diagnose where he is [physically] or where he’s headed for another day or so.
“Most injuries aren’t necessarily acute or traumatic. Maybe there were some things that led up to it. Back spasms isn’t something you can push it or rush. Until you can actually play without actually being in spasm, there isn’t anything you can really do. Hopefully that will be soon.’’
Knicks guard J.R. Smith dealt with back trouble during the preseason, and painted a grim picture on what they’re like to deal with.
“To be able to fight through something like that is extremely hard to do,’’ Smith said. “When your back is messed up, it controls everything. You can’t run, can barely walk. In his case [Monday] night, he could barely talk. So we got to figure out a way to do it without him. He said very few words. You could tell the pain he was in.’
“You lay down most of the time, you can’t really sit right. Try to relax as much as you can. Thing is, you don’t have to do much before it just flares up just like that.
“We have to figure out a way to make up that 27, 28 points a game and his presence, not just his scoring. His presence in the locker room and presence on the court and other guys have to step up. This is when you can really make a name.”
Injuries have already set the Knicks, who just received a boost from Jose Calderon’s return this past weekend and are still awaiting Andrei Bargnani’s season debut, back this season. They’re hoping that this is just a minor setback for Anthony and that this isn’t something that will linger throughout the season. That’s why they’ll probably be extremely cautious with bringing him back, even if it ends up putting them in a deeper hole.
Anthony knew he was signing up for what was likely going to be a tough season this summer, as the Knicks were really limited in what they could do to improve the roster. Their greatest chance to make wholesale improvements are going to come this offseason when they’re going to have the cap space to make a max-level offer to a fellow All-Star to pair alongside Anthony. Rajon Rondo has been mentioned as one of their primary targets, but there’s no guarantees that they’ll be able to bring in the top tier support that they’re hoping for. However, despite the fact that the future is still quite murky, Anthony isn’t having any second thoughts.
“I just felt like this is where I need to be. I feel like I’m built for this. New York, this is who I am,” Anthony said to Michael Lee of the Washington Post. “I came here because I wanted to be here, I wanted to feel what it’s like to be in New York. Me, as a competitor, I hate to lose and I’ll do whatever I’ ve got to do to win. I know some people expected this, but I’m not like, ‘Oh yeah, we lose tonight, it’s cool.’ No, I want to win. That’s the hurtful thing for me. I don’t care who said this was expected, I want to win.
“I don’t even think about [games against successful teams who recruited him] like that. Those are just games. Of course, I’ve been there, I’ve visited, I’ve talked to the people in each organization. But I don’t see it as, ‘Oh, they’re winning, I could’ve been there.’ If I’m thinking about other [stuff] right now, it’s irrelevant. I’ve got to be focused on this, what we’re trying to do here, keeping them motivated, keeping them inspired to come in here and work hard every day and practice every day.”
With cap space, their own first round draft pick, tradable assets in the form of young talent (Tim Hardaway Jr., Shane Larkin and Iman Shumpert) and expiring contracts (Stoudemire, Bargnani), Knicks President Phil Jackson has a lot to work with. It’s easy to see how Anthony bought into his vision. But, until it’s executed, Anthony’s work load is still going to be excessive, and there’s going to be reason to doubt whether Jackson will be able to do the things he wants – because in the NBA, becoming a contender overnight, or even over an offseason, takes as much luck as anything.
Lakers, Clark talking Deal: According to Shams Charania of Real GM, the Los Angeles Lakers and veteran forward Earl Clark are talking about reuniting after they were recently awarded a Disabled Player Exception for Steve Nash totaling $4.8 million. The Lakers have been working out a variety of free agents in recent weeks and were said to be in no rush to make a decision over who to bring in, but their need for another player became more urgent recently with the season-ending injury to Xavier Henry.
Henry’s ruptured Achilles made him the third Laker to suffer a season-ending injury this season, positioning the Lakers to be eligible for a hardship exception that would allow them to carry a 16th player on their roster. However, that would delay the signing of Clark, or any other free agent they were to want to bring in, by a couple of days. The Lakers also have the option of simply cutting Henry, who has a guaranteed salary of just over $1.1 million, which would allow them to bring someone on immediately.
Clark really came into his own during his original stint with the Lakers in 2012-13. They had aspirations of re-signing him, but he ended up with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who let him go midseason last year. Clark spent some time with the New York Knicks afterwards and most recently with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League.
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