A few days ago, Chauncey Billups conducted an interview with Hoopshype.com’s Chris Tomasson at his basketball camp out in Denver. Among several interesting things Billups touched upon, the highlighting topic was his thoughts on the new NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. Chauncey likened the team to his 2004 Pistons, the last team to win a title with just one All-Star on its roster. The way both teams played as a cohesive, unselfish unit to defeat an opponent loaded with big names and big talent is similar, but the question this all brings up is whether the Knicks can somehow emulate that formula to turn it into a championship of their own.
“It’s not about that,’’ Billups said of collecting big names on a team. “We got two of the biggest names in basketball already (in Anthony and Stoudemire). It’s not about that. It’s about getting somebody that can play with the talent that you have… You look at the Mavericks, and they just share the basketball every time down the floor… Dirk is one of the best the game has ever seen. But he couldn’t do it by himself… So it’s all about the team.’’
The Knicks have two superstars, a veteran point guard, and…well, that about sums it up. They lack dependable shooters, consistent rebounding, an intimidating paint presence, a defensive mindset, and much, much more. Apart from the three pieces of Carmelo, Amar’e, and Chauncey Billups, the Knicks really don’t have any playoff experience or veteran leadership (if you’d like to count Ronny Turiaf, be my guest).
I wonder in my heart of hearts whether Chauncey believes the Knicks will ever become a true “team” while he’s on the roster. His quotes in the interview, which center around how a unified entity will always overcome a cast of individuals, no matter how much fear their names evoke, isn’t too uplifting if you’re a Knicks fan. New York is much closer to emulating Miami (their gold standard) than Dallas (their gold standard pre-Carmelo Anthony). They don’t have a dependable lightning rod off the bench (although J.J. Barea says he’d like to player in New York!); thanks to the salary construction surrounding their two best players, it’ll be difficult to get one.
Despite everything I just wrote, the Knicks aren’t in a woe is me situation—far from it. To analogize them with a racing car, the team has one of the most talented drivers (Amar’e) and top of the line set of wheels (Carmelo), but they don’t have enough to win the race. There’s no one capable of refilling the tank on a crucial pit stop (although, with Mike D’Antoni coaching, pit stops may not exist), and the engine is a mystery. Most teams in this league don’t have the driver or stabilizing cause for traction, but the Knicks do, and it’s from this the they’ll build. Not a bad start, but if they want to rise above the Dallas’ of the league and summon their inner 2004 Detroit Pistons, they’ll need an engine—a Ben Wallace or a Tyson Chandler. A player who isn’t the team’s most talented player, but someone who will step up defensively and vocally accept responsibility when things aren’t going right. These guys aren’t easy to find, and ultimately the Knicks will need to set their own trail, redefining what type of team can and cannot win a championship. Hopefully they’re on the right path.