We sat down with MSG Network Knicks Studio Analysts Wally Szczerbiak and Alan Hahn to discuss the upcoming Knicks season, which kicks off against the Milwaukee Bucks at the newly-renovated Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. With players like Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani joining last year's Carmelo Anthony-led core, the Knicks are primed for a big season. So are Hahn and Szczerbiak, who were excited to discuss all things Knicks with Gothamist.
On Carmelo Anthony's announcement that he will opt-out of his contract and test free agency after the season:
Szczerbiak: I was around LeBron when he was getting close to his decision—not that year but the following year was the Decision and he was getting those questions. Now I was a player rep in the days when I played, so I know how the business of basketball works and I learned early on. People used to say, "Wally, it's the National Business Association and you've got the players and you've got the owners. That's the ultimate kind of thing that's there." And as a player, the one chip and the one ace card you have is free agency, that's the one thing that they have is the freedom to move from team to team. And Carmelo loves it here, he's playing great. Your job as a player is to perform at the highest level and that's what he's been doing since he's come to New York. And he's using this time to evaluate his options and it's only logical that he does that. I'm sure he wants to play here, I'm sure he wants to win a championship here. But he has to evaluate, "Hey, if I'm playing at this level and I'm going to continue to play at this level and I only have five more years of earning power and five more years of playing at this level because the human body is only human, where is it going to give me the best chance to compete for a championship?" He's doing nothing out of the ordinary in my opinion. By saying what he said that he's going to be [a free agent], that's logical.
Hahn: The collective bargaining agreement is why he should opt out.
Szczerbiak: It's not a personal attack against New York or the fans.
Hahn: He tried to explain it but what we focus on a lot of times in the media is the money quote.
On whether knowing Carmelo is in the process of deciding whether to stay in New York will put pressure on his teammates:
Szczerbiak: I never looked at it like, 'Oh it's pressure on us to win for LeBron,' and he never made it like that for any of his teammates at all. You know, we won 66 games, we came up short, we didn't win a championship. The next year in Cleveland, they didn't, he went to Miami, they didn't the first year, they could have lost the second year, this year they could have lost. To win a championship it takes so much. It takes some luck, it takes a lot to win that title.
On the over/under for Knick wins this season:
Hahn: I'm saying 50. I said 50 last year and they overachieved it, and I'm saying 50 again. I think they are going to be a 50 win team, but I don't know if 50 games is going to be enough for second place.
Szczerbiak: I'm going to put their wins at 47 because I know how hard it is to win 50 and I know how many things need to happen right in order for you to get to win 50, but I think that this team is built for the playoffs. I think they did a great job of learning from what cost them last year, which was injuries. And coming back two deep at every position, I think they've done a great job of doing that. They're going to be able to not weigh as heavily on Carmelo so he's not as worn down, not weigh as heavily on JR so he's not as worn down. And that's the key. Once you make the playoffs and you lose like they did last year, you learn that you might have to sacrifice a few wins in the regular season in order to be completely healthy with the right pieces at the right time at the end of the season.
On whether the Knicks' ceiling is a trip to the Eastern Conference finals:
Hahn: That has to be their goal, because that was their goal last year and you don't want to take a step back. That's their ambition.
On players the Knicks can't win without:
Szczerbiak: There's two guys that they can't afford to not be 100% come playoff time, and that's Tyson and Melo.
Hahn: Three. Felton too. You saw what happened last year.
Szczerbiak: They got Beno Udrih for a reason, they got Prigioni. They're a little deeper at that position this year than last year. But I agree, it's the big three of Felton, Chandler, Melo.
On Iman Shumpert taking his game to the next level:
Hahn: I think they might start him.
Szczerbiak: As a player, your rookie year you're just feeling out the waters, your second year, you're just building on the rookie year. Your third year, if you're lucky, that's going to be the make or break year for being a real star. That's the year I made the All-Star team, I made the rookie team the first two years, Shumpert's been on the rookie team. The third year though, that's where the shackles so to speak are let go and I think Shump this year, the team wants him to take that next step and he wants to take that next step and I think he's ready, as long as he stays healthy. I really do.
On whether Shumpert or JR Smith should start:
Szczerbiak: I think [Shumpert] should be the starter over JR. I really do, just because it makes more sense. I think if I was JR, it makes more sense, because JR had a monster year last year coming off the bench. It works better for the team, it's going to work better for his shots and his overall game. And Shumpert, as a defensive guy, as a complimentary player to Carmelo, I think it makes much more sense for him too.
On whether there is a surprise like Jeremy Lin, Chris Copeland or Pablo Prigioni on this year's roster:
Hahn: This is a bit of a reach, but I will say Toure Murry is one guy who, by the end of the season, if he sticks around and they develop him, because of the way he defends, could be someone that they put in the rotation at some point. Even if it's in a playoff series and it's just going after the backup point guard. I just think a player like that, if there's going to be an X-Factor like those players you named, he's the one. But I think this year more than ever it's a bit of a reach.
On Ron Artest/Metta World Peace:
Szczerbiak: His role really is he's a backup three, so he's going to get minutes behind Melo as the backup three and then you got JR at the two, dominating the ball, I just think that Metta can be kind of that defensive guy that can win you a series.
On the order in which the Heat, Pacers, Knicks, Nets and Bulls will finish in the Eastern Conference:
Hahn: Yup. Sounds about right.
Szczerbiak: I got Heat, Bulls, Knicks, Pacers, Nets. I think [the Knicks] win the Atlantic.
The Knicks start the year against the Milwaukee Bucks (now with more average!) Wednesday before traveling to Chicago for an early test against the Bulls Thursday night.