The New York Knicks have had an impressive offseason, putting themselves in great position for a rebuild over the next two years.
However, the upcoming season is still an important one for them, as they look to improve on their woeful showing in 2013-14 and capitalize on a more open Eastern Conference.
With players moving around, returning from injury and continuing to develop throughout the conference, the dynamics of the East have certainly changed to the point where the Knicks may find themselves more competitive than expected in year one of Phil Jackson's tenure as president.
Based on their revamped roster and the competition they'll face this season, let's go through an early win-loss prediction for the Knicks and consider where they'll finish in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference at large.
The most important thing to note is that New York underperformed severely last season. They were not a 37-win team; they were a playoff-level team, in terms of talent, that struggled with chemistry and injuries throughout the year.
Things started to click late on, and the Knicks quietly finished the season having won seven of their last nine games, all but one of which came against playoff competition.
With the arrival of Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and the triangle offense, the Knicks go into next season expecting to wipe out those chemistry issues, replacing Raymond Felton at point guard with Jose Calderon. Their bench will also be much younger and more energetic, and while they'll miss Tyson Chandler on the defensive end, it won't take much for New York to improve in that regard, given just how bad they were last season.
New York has essentially addressed every position that impacts team chemistry, and this is bound to have a positive effect on its record. If the Knicks stay healthy and buy into the triangle, this has the potential to be one of the better offenses in the entire league, and that alone should get the Knicks back to .500.
There will be a learning curve throughout the year. A lot of younger, more inexperienced players are expected to crack the rotation, while the veterans on the team don't have a ton of experience in the triangle.
However, if done properly, the triangle has the potential to bring the best out of Carmelo Anthony, who goes into the season with no more distractions after being incredibly productive over the past two years.
We should also see an improved J.R. Smith. He turned his play up a notch when the Zen Master arrived last season, and it's clear he wants to prove himself worthy of a starting role and potentially a bigger contract with a player option coming up.
The Knicks are not alone in improving this summer. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets all made big moves, while the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks also stand in the Knicks' way if they wish to return to the playoffs.
You could make a solid case that the Knicks are better or worse than just about any of these teams (excluding the Cavs and Bulls), which goes to show just how wide open the conference will be in 2014-15.
There will be seven evenly matched teams going head-to-head for the remaining six playoff spots, assuming Cleveland and Chicago are locks, and it's not out of the question that New York could end up on the outside again.
At the same time, the Knicks are blessed with a weak division, with the only real competition for seeding coming in the form of the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets. While the Raptors deserve to be the favorites based on last season, the Knicks will very much be in contention for the division title, which has the potential to be the difference between a top-four seed and a low seed, or even not making the playoffs at all.
Realistically, factoring in the time it will take to establish the new system, we should expect New York to finish second in the division, leapfrogging the older Nets who've faced turmoil over the past year. While that won't necessarily keep the Nets out of the playoffs, it does put the Knicks in prime position to make it as a bottom-four seed, where there will only be a handful of wins separating the competition.
The Knicks' ceiling this season is probably the fourth seed, which they can achieve by winning the Atlantic Division, while their basement is to fall down to the 10th seed with the return of LeBron James to Cleveland pushing them down a spot from last season.
The safest prediction, therefore, is to put them bang in the middle of the two at the seventh seed—improved significantly over last season but still reflecting their defensive issues and the struggles that come with a rookie head coach.
Division Standing: Second
Conference Standing: Seventh
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