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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks made all the right moves in 2012

Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd walk

Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd walk off the court at the end of the game. (Dec. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Knicks started 2012 without a true point guard, with Carmelo Anthony handling some playmaking duties and waiting for Baron Davis as some sort of savior.

They're ending 2012 with starting point guard Raymond Felton sidelined for at least a month with a hand injury, Anthony slowed by a knee issue and Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert still working toward their season debuts.

Yet the Knicks go into 2013 at 21-9. They are a much different team from when the ball dropped on 2012. There are fewer excuses, better players and higher expectations.

The Knicks are looking forward to Anthony and Stoudemire returning -- perhaps together on New Year's Day. But even with key players out the first two months of this season, the Knicks have won 70 percent of their games.

"It's been solid as hell," Mike Woodson said of the year gone by. "When you add six, seven new pieces to your puzzle and it comes together in a short period of time, that says a lot about these guys that are playing, and that's to me the beauty of building a team and putting it together."

Switching from Mike D'Antoni to Woodson is just one of the many changes that benefited the Knicks during the last 12 months. They needed more of a disciplinarian and defensive-minded coach to push the players and get as much out of them as possible.

But it also comes down to the talent and personnel. The roster is deeper than it has been in more than a decade, and they have a legitimate superstar.

Anthony has played at an MVP level -- although people in this area are not giving enough credit to guys named LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant this season. Still, Anthony is showing a greater commitment to the team.

Speaking of that, there are few players more willing to do whatever it takes to win than Jason Kidd. His acquisition has been huge for the Knicks.

You can go down the line from Woodson talking Rasheed Wallace out of retirement to the Knicks holding on to J.R. Smith. Just about every move the Knicks made during the summer, including letting Jeremy Lin walk, has worked out for them, and they believe big things await them in the year ahead.

"Absolutely," Tyson Chandler said. "Win a championship, hopefully."

The Knicks said they had a championship-caliber team with 2012 approaching. This time, they mean it. But they are not there yet. Not even close.

They still have some things to sharpen -- their defense lately, for one. But the biggest concern going into 2013 is how the Knicks will adjust when Stoudemire returns.

The Knicks have played well without him, but they have to get him acclimated and clicking with Anthony without taking any steps backward.

Woodson is confident he can make it work. He might have to for the Knicks to go deep in the postseason. But they have a much better chance to advance than they did at this time a year ago.

The best of 2012

Player of the Year: LeBron James was far and away the best player in 2012 and probably will be in 2013, too. He won the regular-season and Finals MVP, along with his first NBA title, and led the U.S. team to Olympic gold. Heading into last night, he also had scored at least 20 points in every game this season.

Best story: Jeremy Lin might have been the best story in sports. It happened at the right time and the right place. If Lin had done what he did for Memphis, Indiana or Charlotte, he likely wouldn't have become as big or inspired as many people.

Best performance: James had one of those "defining" games June 7 in Boston with the Heat down 3-2 in Game 6 of the conference finals. James shot 19-for-26, scored 45 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and sent the series back to Miami, where the Heat won.

Best performance by a coach: Stan Van Gundy telling reporters before a Knicks-Magic game that he knew Dwight Howard had tried to get him fired. Moments later, Howard entered and put his arm around Van Gundy, unaware of what the coach had just said.

What to watch in 2013

Clippers' rise or fall: They have won 16 straight games, are fun to watch and are loaded. But they are the Clippers, so you wonder if it can last and whether they have enough to beat the more experienced teams out West in the playoffs.

The other L.A. story: The Lakers are playing better lately and should keep improving with Steve Nash healthy, but will they contend for a title? The trade deadline is approaching, so Pau Gasol's days in L.A. could be numbered.

Around the NBA

Nets coach Avery Johnson was fired after a 14-14 start. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has the money to pique just about anyone's interest, perhaps even Phil Jackson. The coaching search and how the Nets' first season in Brooklyn will end are intriguing.

Last week we suggested that Deron Williams would be blamed if Johnson were fired. Prokhorov made the call, but Williams is the star player and recently said he wasn't comfortable in Johnson's system. Williams has one of two ways to go from here.

If Williams keeps playing at his current level, the first year of his $98.7-million contract won't be considered money well spent. If Williams returns to his All-Star form under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo or the next coach, it will look as though he didn't play as hard for Johnson. See Carmelo Anthony last season.

But if Williams plays better and leads the Nets into the playoffs, the coach-killer talk will go away to an extent. No one is saying anything like that about Anthony right now.


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