You can make an argument that it will be more difficult to win the Eastern Conference over the next three years than during any stretch since the Jordan Bulls were roaming the earth. (The early-aughts NBA Finals Nets might finish in fourth next year.) You have the Chicago Bulls with a healthy Derrick Rose. You have the improving (and restocking) Indiana Pacers. You have the Nets, who will be a top-five team if they don't get Dwight Howard and a legitimate title contender if they do. You have an improving Philadelphia team and a one-last-run Celtics team. Oh, and you have the Miami Heat, a superstar-laden potential dynasty that won't be satisfied unless it fills at least one hand with championship rings. And add into this fray the New York Knicks, who, with their moves yesterday, have made it clear that it's title or bust over the next three years. It's a three-year window. What happens after that? Who knows? The world could explode by then. The Knicks, the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, a team that has won one playoff game in more than a decade, are going all-in.
And if anything's clear, it's that the Knicks are going all-in with defense. Last night, they traded Toney Douglas, Josh Harrellson, Jerome Jordan, their second-round draft picks in 2014 and 2015, and $3 million to the Houston Rockets for Marcus Camby, their old pal from the late nineties. He then signed a three-year, $13.2 million contract, with the third year "partially guaranteed." Then, this morning, J.R. Smith, that old so-and-so, agreed to return on a two-year deal. Both moves — along with one more roughly $3 million sign-and-trade the Knicks have up their sleeve — will put the Knicks way way way way over the luxury tax threshold, but that's Jim Dolan's problem, not yours. (For all the justified mockery of Dolan, the man will never be accused of pinching pennies, we'll give him that.)
Camby, of course, played for the Knicks from 1998 to 2002, roughly known as "the last time the Knicks were relevant until fairly recently." (The pre-Isiah era, that is.) He's still a terrific rebounder and defender, but he's 38 years old. It's sort of amazing that in 2014 the Knicks are going to have two rotation regulars in their forties. In theory, Camby will be a perfect fit, yet another huge, long defender; it's possible that the Knicks could put together an occasional lineup of Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, Marcus Camby, Jared Jeffries (assuming he re-signs), and Tyson Chandler, a lineup that could win games 13–9. It is not going to be easy to drive the lane on the Knicks, that's for sure. That seems like a lot to trade for an elderly part-time center, but again: The Knicks are all-in here.
We're still not sure what the Knicks are, uh, gonna do for guards, though. Smith is a nice off-the-bench scoring option, but right now, until Shumpert comes back, he's the starter. That's because the Knicks have zero shooting guards at the moment, assuming they don't match Landry Fields's Toronto offer. (And they wouldn't ... would they?) Right now, assuming Jeffries comes back, the Knicks' roster looks like this:
Iman Shumpert (injured)
J.R. Smith (though on a lot of teams he'd be a forward)
Jared Jeffries (assuming he signs. That's our third Jeffries assumption in this post.)
Yeah, that team needs some shooting guards. Or at least one. But the Knicks have certainly done one thing this off-season: They've done everything they can to erase any evidence that Mike D'Antoni ever had anything to do with this organization. This is defense first, defense second, and defense only.
(Well, uh, other than Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, their two most highly paid players anyway.)
A brief note to close: It's sad to see Toney Douglas and Josh Harrellson go. Douglas had a wildly fluctuating time with the Knicks, but the only time he really failed was when the Knicks asked him to do something he couldn't do, soon after he'd been hurt anyway. As for Jorts, we never felt he got quite the run he should have last year; there were times when, thanks to his defensive prowess, we wondered if he wasn't a better fit for a Mike Woodson team than Amar'e Stoudemire.