For the Knicks, injury news (bad) and an explanation for their collapse (good)

Raymond Felton finds a wide-open J.R. Smith. (NBA.com)
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Of course it's not good news for a team when it learns that key players are injured.

But word this week that Carmelo Anthony has a small labrum tear, and J.R. Smith has fluid on his knee, does at least help explain the enormous drop in offensive effectiveness experienced by the Knicks during the most recent playoffs. It may also validate the team's plan to keep the roster together, hoping for better results next year, which is a decision that has been forced upon them by their salary cap situation.

News of the injuries gives the Knicks reason to believe that this same group can improve significantly, assuming the veterans can stay healthy, by taking advantage of younger players like Iman Shumpert, who are very much on the way up. 

Getting better together isn't a crazy idea. The Miami Heat, even with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, didn't win an N.B.A. title their first season together. And the Knicks' top four minutes leaders—J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler—are 27, 28, 28 and 30, respectively.

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But the Knicks also received significant contributions from the now-retired Rasheed Wallace, Jason Kidd, who broke down as the season came to a close, and Pablo Prigioni, who may not return. 

But now consider that the Knicks played these playoffs with a compromised Anthony, their best scorer. They played with Smith suffering from a knee injury that directly compromised his basket attacks, the very thing that turned him from an occasional offensive contributor into a second star. And they played with Chandler never coming close to the standard he'd set as a player for 2011-12, thanks to a neck injury and an ill-timed bout of either flu or strep throat.

No one seriously contends that these three players are anything but the most important Knicks by a wide margin. None of the three could play their best games when it mattered, or close to it. And none of the three are particularly injury prone, or at the age where injuries should be expected as a matter of course.

It really can't be said enough: just Smith and Anthony at full health, even without Chandler, and the Knicks played at a level in April that made them legitimate contenders. The Knicks simply need to surround them with enough shooters to punish defenses for overloading the interior, and make sure Tyson Chandler has a capable backup to keep him from wearing down.

That backup could well be Marcus Camby, who will return next season, and was another Knick playing at less than full strength.

It's not a given that the Knicks will be able to keep all their valuable players together: J.R. Smith, for instance, can become a free agent, and other teams could offer him more than the Knicks can.

But the Knicks know what he's capable of when he's not injured. And now they have a likely explanation for his poor finish to the season, too.