It was announced this week that Tyson Chandler will be out of action for up to six weeks due to injury, and in his absence, the New York Knicks have a problem.
Chandler is a lynchpin to what they do. Without the flair of his youth, but with much more effectiveness, Chandler is a very effective interior defender and rebounder who also contributes sufficiently offensively to be a good two-way center. He anchors a good defensive team and is almost as vital to their chances of contending for the Eastern Conference title as Carmelo Anthony is. However, if Chandler misses considerable time this season, those chances are gone.
The Knicks rather put themselves in this situation by assembling a roster with only five recognised big men. They never gave themselves enough ammunition to weather a storm of injuries, and they especially needed to do so in light of how injury prone their big man rotation is. Included in those five are Chandler (who once failed a physical exam, rescinding a trade that would have affected the outcome of at least one NBA championship), Kenyon Martin (who gets injured so often that his contract this year becomes unguaranteed if he misses more than 15 games due to pre-existing knee injuries), Andrea Bargnani (66 games combined over the last two seasons) and Amar'e Stoudemire (so famously fragile he's on a minutes limit).
New York therefore has only one big without an injury history, Cole Aldrich, who has managed only 89 games in his NBA career not because of injury, but because he has simply not panned out. Now, he might have to shoulder part of the responsibility for the Knicks’ season.
Of course, New York can waive a backcourt player to sign big man help. The contract of inactive guard Toure Murry is unguaranteed, and an obvious candidate to provide depth would be perennial failsafe Knicks option, Earl Barron, who remains unsigned. There's several other candidates out there, including but certainly not limited to Tyrus Thomas and Dan Gadzuric, and there's every chance New York explores this option. Setting your roster for opening day is not the same as setting it for the season - there is flexibility here.
It's also not entirely fair to say that New York should have found a replacement for Chandler that saw them drop off very little. Good players are hard to replace for a reason - to take this point to its absurd extreme, we couldn't fault Miami if LeBron got seriously injured for not finding a similar quality backup. Chandler is a very good rebounder and interior defender, and those things are hard to come by. If New York doesn't have a high quality second string center, then, well, nor do most teams.
The problem, though, is that they don't have even an average one. And that is something they should have anticipated, particularly in the knowledge of Chandler's injury history. Regrettably, but predictably, this has all hinged on the Bargnani trade.
The thinking behind the Bargnani trade was never that obvious. It appeared simply that the Knicks valued Bargnani's potential presence as a creator and the offensive diversity he provides, enough to warrant his acquisition despite the pronounced flaws in his game. Bargnani, one of the worst rebounders in NBA history, is also a fairly mediocre defensive player, and for all his skills offensively, he is fairly inefficient. He is not as good of a shot maker as he is a shot creator. Bargnani deceives and teases with his skills, but they don't have a great deal of tangible effect. Now that New York has lost Chandler, whose strengths reconciled nicely with Bargnani's weaknesses, the holes in Andrea's game and the Knicks' roster will become more palpable. With the assets they acquired Bargnani with, they should have targeted more defensive help.
Most importantly, they overpaid for a player who was a significant negative for his team the previous season. It is true that Marcus Camby and Steve Novak were not hugely important for the Knicks going forward, especially Camby, who barely played last season. However, that doesn't mean you trade them for a flawed player who until recently was a valid candidate for amnesty, especially when three draft picks were included. It matters not how low those picks were - Bargnani didn't merit them. And New York is about to find out why.
Bargnani in a best case scenario provides much of what Stoudemire already does. With Amar’e being as unreliable as he is, that has its merits. However, even before they acquired Bargnani, the Knicks needed athleticism, hustle, perimeter defense, some post-up offense and an extra rebounder. They never got it with him. And now, without Chandler, they really need it.