The Defensive Player Of The Year & The Burden He Puts On The Knicks

By: 05.03.12
Tyson Chandler

Tyson Chandler, Dime #33

If there’s any question Tyson Chandler is a deserving recipient of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, the obvious transformative effect he had on the Knicks’ ability to stop other teams should answer it.

Chandler’s personal numbers don’t blow you away, but his impact is perfectly obvious. In 2010-11, the Knicks allowed 105.7 points per game, third worst in basketball. This year, they allowed just 94.7 points per game, good for 11th. They went up from 20th in defensive efficiency to fifth. They were best in the league in defending points in the paint after ranking 28th in that last season.

In that sense, Chandler delivered exactly what the Knicks hoped he would, and exactly what he provided for the Mavericks during their championship season: defensive legitimacy. Even before oft-maligned offensive-minded head coach Mike D’Antoni resigned, the Knicks were slowly erasing the stigma of a team that couldn’t defend anyone.

As a Knicks fan, I was nonplused with the Chandler signing at the time they did it. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he was good – I watched him dominate during the West Finals last year. That said, he’s definitely better on a nightly basis than I thought he was, and I didn’t think his influence on the team’s MO would be this great.

The question is more, where do you go from here? The Knicks are a playoff team – like last year – but clearly not championship-level. There’s no reason to think they’ll grow into that. And the Chandler signing put an end to any ability to alter the roster in any significant way going forward.

[RELATED: Half Of Amar’e Stoudemire’s Hand Was “Hanging Off” After Fire Extinguisher Punch]

According to hoopshype.com, the Knicks are committed for about $61 million in salaries next season, $57 million in 2013-14, and $61 million for 2014-15. This would be fine if they were a team ready to compete for a title. But they still haven’t won a playoff game since 2001, and with Iman Shumpert on the shelf and now with Amar’e Stoudemire‘s self-inflicted hand issues, it doesn’t appear they’ll break that streak this year.

And what of Stoudemire? It’s not desirable to even speculate about him, since Stoudemire’s signing was the first necessary piece in restoring a degree of respectability to the franchise after the awfulness of the entirety of the past decade. But the bloom definitely came off the rose a bit over the past calendar year.

For a player with plenty of tread on his tires, Stoudemire carried a great deal of the load in his first season as a Knick. His surgically repaired knees have held up – at least so far – but back issues that threaten to become chronic are far more alarming. Not to mention, Stoudemire has matured a great deal over the years, but he’s traditionally become a distraction when his body betrays him. Cornrows at age 29 were a bad sign; busting his hand on a fire extinguisher was obviously far more disturbing.

Might the Knicks have considered amnestying a rapidly aging Stoudemire, who doesn’t fit with Carmelo Anthony regardless? It’s a moot point, since they had to use their one-time amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups to sign Chandler. Billups had one year left on his deal; conceivably, they could have held on to him, let his deal expire and then considered amnestying Stoudemire. That would have created about $34 million worth of cap room.

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Amar'e Stoudemire

Amar'e Stoudemire (photo. King Lawrence)

I know what you’re thinking, it’s admittedly a bit of hindsight; Stoudemire was horrible this season. But it did cross my mind when they amnestied Billups, and I definitely wasn’t alone. We all watched Stoudemire seemingly age before our eyes during last year’s playoffs.

Regardless, what’s done is done. Chandler ostensibly replaced Billups’ salary cap number and is signed through 2015. Anthony and Stoudemire have virtually identical contracts that pay each about $65 million through 2015. (I’m including ‘Melo’s $23.5 million player option for 2014-15 for obvious reasons.)

Past those three, they have Toney Douglas, Jerome Jordan, a rehabbing Shumpert and the departed Renaldo Balkman signed for next year. Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin are restricted free agents. And they’re over the cap to begin with.

This isn’t to say they’d definitely have signed Deron Williams this year, or Dwight Howard next year, or whatever. It’s just that the team you see now is pretty much what you’re going to get for the next several years, and it’s fairly obvious how far they are from competing for championships. Could Donnie Walsh have figured out a better plan than Glen Grunwald by proxy for Jim Dolan? It’s hard to say, but I’d certainly have liked to find out.

[RELATED: Indiana Pacers Training Staff Mocks The Amar’e Stoudemire Injury]

Back to Chandler: Knicks fans love him, and rightfully so. He plays hard and within his abilities, he’s good at what he does and he’s restored some much-needed toughness to the team. But he visibly wore down over the course of the season, and he’s had ankle and toe injuries in the past. Chandler will be just 30 when next season begins, but the Knicks own him for seasons 12-14 of his career, and as such, he’s no spring chicken.

There’s no doubt Chandler deserved his Defensive Player of the Year Award for the short-term sea changes he brought to the Knicks’ modus operandi. But by signing him, they locked themselves into an insolvent situation for the next three years. The Heat are in a similar boat. But the difference is the Heat are in that boat with a championship-caliber team.

In the short term, Chandler delivered exactly what he was supposed to. If making the playoffs was the goal, bringing him on was obviously a great way to achieve that. But I’ve long dreamed of watching the Knicks compete for a championship, and in as such, as good as Chandler was this season, it’s difficult to argue that signing him was completely worth it in the long run.

Have the Knicks made the right moves in the past two years?

Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle.

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