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Knicks improved with Carmelo, but still no contender

While the Knicks got their man and now have two stars in their lineup, Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen believes it will take more than Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to lift them to a level of being an NBA title contender—or even significantly better than they are now.
While Carmelo Anthony adds another dominant scorer to the mix for the Knicks, Scottie Pippen believes the return of Joakim Noah to the lineup could propel the Bulls to as high as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Scottie Pippen are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the team or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

Scottie Pippen at Bulls.com

The New York Knicks finally got their man in Carmelo Anthony. While there is no doubt they have added a supreme talent, along with veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, this doesn’t necessarily make the Knicks a contender or even significantly better.

It’s a move that their fan base will love and we all know Carmelo wanted it very badly, but I don’t think New York will improve considerably in the standings. They currently find themselves with the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference at 28-26. But they are well behind the top teams in the East—Boston, Miami and Chicago—as well as the fourth and fifth teams, Orlando and Atlanta. As play gets underway following the All-Star break, the Knicks are trailing the Hawks by 5.5 games. It is going to be a challenge for them to make up that difference with only 28 regular season games remaining.

As for the Bulls—currently third in the East and only trailing the top spots by two games—whether they make at trade or not before Thursday’s deadline, it’s going to feel like a move was made with the return of Joakim Noah on Wednesday. He brings so much to his team and he’ll give them an opportunity to keep pace with the Celtics and Heat, or possibly contend for the top seed in the conference. Nothing is out of reach for the Bulls if they stay healthy and continue to improve as a team.

Scottie Pippen
A regular at home games as part of his role as Bulls ambassador, Pippen wouldn’t mind seeing the Chicago-New York rivalry rekindled.

If the season ended today, it would be the Bulls and Knicks meeting in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago would have home court advantage and likely wins that series, which would bring a big time second round matchup with the likes of either Boston or Miami. This is why landing a top three seed could end up being important. If you don’t, you will be facing a fifth or sixth seeded team in the first round. Those teams aren’t far behind you and they can be dangerous. You never know, but either way, New York will be a tough team to face with the addition of Carmelo and, of course, Amar’e Stoudemire.

Carmelo is a player who will not only score, but create a lot of great opportunities for his team. He has always done a great job of feeding off the rotation and flow of the game. It will be no different under Mike D’Antoni. Along with Amar’e, Carmelo will give the Knicks a huge upper hand in that they have two stars that are dominant, established scorers. They already have that reputation of playing hard and they’re going to get calls. Their biggest liability will be their defense. But offensively, they’ll be extremely tough to handle night in and night out.

While this move gives New York two stars, there is already speculation that a third one could join them. In what could be similar to last summer’s free agency class, it’s possible that Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard will be free agents in 2012, with reports that Paul and Williams might have interest in playing for the Knicks. The addition of Carmelo won’t likely change that, although it remains to be seen whether New York has the cap room under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement or the pieces to trade for one of those players like they did for Anthony.

It wouldn’t be hard to understand why any one of those three players might have real interest in joining the Knicks. Players, especially younger players, want to go to a city like New York because it is a big market. Playing with guys of Anthony and Stoudemire’s caliber also make it easier to be more successful. Adding Paul, Williams or Howard to that mix would certainly make things interesting.

At the same time, you can make a case right now that Chicago has its own Big Three. They may not have the household names that James, Wade and Bosh do in Miami, but Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are a formidable group, and Luol Deng is right there too. If the Bulls continue their ascent, whatever happens in 2012 may not even affect what’s going on in Chicago.

Carmelo’s move to New York may also eventually heat up the old Bulls-Knicks rivalry. As I’ve said, it seems that the Bulls are safely ahead of the Knicks right now, so maybe we’re a few years away from that getting back into full effect. The teams only meet once more this regular season, April 12 at Madison Square Garden, and there is the potential postseason meeting.

The Knicks have improved this season and with the addition of Amar’e, they’re playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder after some tough years. They’re fighting and trying to get back to a competitive level, and that in itself helps revitalize the rivalry. And this season, they’ve enjoyed some success against the Bulls, beating them twice. So Chicago will want to go in there and get a win when they meet again.

Finally, the deal for Anthony brings another star to the Eastern Conference, adding to its collection of younger talent. While the Spurs have the best record in the NBA, Tim Duncan is no longer the player he once was, even though he continues to be a force that is productive on a consistent basis. And even though people talk about Kobe Bryant getting older and taking more jumpers, I’m not buying in to any of that. He’s got another four years left at least at a very, very high level. In my eyes, those are the two teams—Spurs and Lakers—with the best chance of getting to the NBA Finals out of the West. Dallas has been very good, but the loss of Caron Butler probably takes them out of contention. And as talented as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder are, I don’t think they aren’t at that level yet. But the best players are in the East. You can go down the list—Rose, James, Wade, Howard, four All-Stars on the Celtics, Stoudemire and now Anthony. How the Knicks develop with their new star will be a fun storyline to keep tabs on with the NBA playoffs less than eight weeks away.

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