How Many Games Can The Knicks Really Win?
Gary A. Vasquez, USATI

Under Carmelo Anthony’s leadership, a re-tooled New York Knicks team is poised for a playoff return, Winfield writes.

No one could figure it out.

Langston Galloway hung his head in front his locker. Robin Lopez struggled to find the words. And the piling losses visibly begun to weigh on Carmelo Anthony.

The New York Knicks had fallen from a promising 21-21 to Eastern Conference cellar dwellers in the blink of an eye. When it comes to New York, things that can go wrong tend to indeed go wrong.

Last season, the Knicks’ reserves fell flat midway through the year. This season, New York’s injury-prone acquisitions make it nearly impossible to predict the future.

On one hand, team president Phil Jackson has re-tooled the roster with proven veterans, former All-Stars and Jeff Hornacek as the head coach. In acquiring Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee, New York now has a starting five that can compete with the best the East has to offer.

The Knicks also added Brandon Jennings for back court depth and re-signed Lance Thomas, a valuable reserve three-and-D wing.

On the other hand, however, New York’s major pick-ups have suffered multiple injuries over the past few seasons.

Rose’s 66 games last year were the most he’s played in a season since 2010. And over the past two seasons, he, Noah and Jennings have combined to appear in only 302 of 492 possible games.

OUTINRE-SIGNED
C Robin Lopez (traded to CHI)
PG Jose Calderon (traded to CHI)
PG Jerian Grant (traded to CHI)
F Derrick Williams (signed with MIA)
SG Arron Afflalo (signed with SAC)
C Kevin Seraphin (free agent)
G Langston Galloway (signed with NOP)
F Cleanthony Early (waived)
PF Lou Amundson (free agent)
PG Derrick Rose (acquired from CHI)
C Joakim Noah (four years, $72 million)
SG Courtney Lee (four years, $48 million)
PG Brandon Jennings (one year, $5 million)
F Mindaugas Kuzminskas (two years, $5.7 million)
G Justin Holiday (acquired from CHI)
F Maurice Ndour (two years, $1.4 million)
C Guillermo Hernangomez (three years, $4.3 million)
F Lance Thomas (four years, $27.5 million)
G Sasha Vujacic (one year, $980K)

Rose and Noah’s health will play key in New York’s success this season, but so will Carmelo Anthony‘s leadership.

The nine-time All-Star led the charge among his NBA counterparts in speaking out on the palpable tensions between police and the African-American community. He is also the de facto leader of the USA Men’s Basketball team competing in the Rio Olympics.

As New York’s captain, Anthony will be tasked with guiding this team back into contention. Fortunately, he’s got some help.

“The front office stepped up,’’ Anthony said in Las Vegas. “It was a collective effort. They did their job and did what they had to do to make things happen. Now they’ve put us in the situation to give us an opportunity. All we have to do is take advantage of it. I want no credit. Phil and [general manager] Steve [Mills] did everything.

“On paper, we look good, real good. It’s matter of everyone coming together and buying into what we want to do.”

So what are realistic expectations for the Knicks this season?

Last year, New York finished 32-50, but the team was 21-21 before an unforeseen mid-season collapse. But that team started Jose Calderon, 34, at point guard and a mix of Arron Afflalo and Sasha Vujacic at shooting guard.

This year’s team features an improved, more athletic back court. Lee is a reliable wing capable of hitting open shots and defending the perimeter. And at his best, Rose can be of the better mid-range-and-in scorers in the league.

Jackson also added front court depth, signing Spanish big man Willy Hernangomez, undrafted rookie Marshall Plumlee and Lithuanian mystery man Mingaudas Kuzminskas.

ESPN.com’s 2016-17 NBA Forecast projected the Knicks to tie with Chicago at 40-42, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference. But that standing would place the team below the Wizards — whose only notable off-season acquisition was Ian Mahinmi — and below Charlotte, who lost Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee this summer.

The Detroit Pistons, who were the eighth seed last season, are bringing nearly the same pieces to 2016-17. But ESPN.com’s projected them to tie with Indiana for fourth in the East.

Boston (Al Horford), Indiana (Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young), Chicago (Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade) and New York the East’s only improved teams.

A more accurate projection could peg the Knicks above .500, closer to the 45-37 mark the Pacers and Pistons are projected to hit.

A 13-win increase from last year is a lofty goal, but New York has three All-Stars in its starting lineup. With Anthony, Rose, Noah and Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks should be able to give the East a run for its money.

But health is the chief concern here, and in New York, what can go wrong, will go wrong.

Kristian Winfield covers the New York Knicks for Elite Sports NY. You can start the conversation on Twitter @Krisplashed.

NEXT: Knicks Sign Defensive Stopper J.P. Tokoto

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