The New York Knicks' Andrea Bargnani gamble

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

While the Miami Heat's other rivals made big moves, the Knicks ... traded for Andrea Bargnani. Can the Raptors' washout turn his career around on one of the league's biggest stages?

On the surface, the New York Knicks' most notable transaction of the offseason -- acquiring Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani for future draft picks and Steve Novak -- presents more questions than answers.

Bargnani is known for his outside shooting, but he shot below 31 percent from three-point range each of the last two seasons. His deserved reputation as a poor defender and rebounder wouldn't seem to help a team that finished No. 17 in defensive efficiency and No. 18 in rebounding percentage last year.

The fit is weird, too. Knicks star Carmelo Anthony enjoyed arguably the most prolific season of his career a year ago by moving to power forward, a spot Bargnani now figures to occupy whenever he's on the floor.

And should the Knicks consider playing Bargnani at center alongside Anthony at the four? The crew at Madison Square Garden may as well replace the painted area on the floor with a red carpet to the unprotected basket.

As conference rivals in Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn have improved noticeably during the offseason, Bargnani survives as the Knicks' lone impact addition. What did he show Knicks brass in Toronto to make them think this is the game-changer New York needs to get out of the second round of the playoffs?

New York's bet on Bargnani amounts to a reclamation project as much as anything. There's a reason the Italian big man once signed a $50 million deal. There was a time when Bargnani, who will still only be 28 years old this season, looked like a damn fine offensive weapon. That shouldn't dissipate given the modern game's emphasis on big men stretching the floor. Bargnani should only be better in the current climate.

For all the energy devoted to understanding why the Knicks wanted Bargnani enough to adsorb the final two years and $23 million left on his contract, much of his potential contribution to New York simply comes down to hitting shots. He didn't do it the last two years, but the Knicks believe a change of scenery and a superior supporting cast will make all the difference. As former Knicks GM Isiah Thomas once said after acquiring Steve Francis to pair in the backcourt with Stephon Marbury, "it's crazy enough that it just might work."

Toronto was a dead zone for talent after Chris Bosh bolted for Miami in the summer of 2010, which coincided with Bargnani's struggle through injuries and his ascent as the player Raptors fans couldn't stand to look at. He's been limited to 66 games total over the last two seasons, and his numbers dropped across the board to career-lows last year.

So ... how will this work? It's agreed upon that Bargnani isn't the type of player a team should surrender a future first-round pick to get. But there's enough here to make one think a bounce-back season is possible.

If you were to create the ideal center to cover up Bargnani's apparent defensive deficiencies, Tyson Chandler would be it. Chandler will be able to anchor the middle in a way Bargnani's Toronto teams were never able to do. And if Bargnani can find his shooting stroke again, the four-out look the Knicks could give by surrounding Chandler with three-point threats should be devastating for opposing defenses.

As with everything involving the Knicks, it all comes back to Anthony. Anthony shined at the four last season, but a move back to small forward for stretches wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Bargnani is no ordinary big, and he would help stretch defenses thin to give Anthony more room to operate on drives. Bargnani can also aggressively attack close-outs in a way Novak never could, which might make Anthony more of a playmaker. Bargnani's own passing is underrated too, as he assisted on 11.6 percent of his teammates' field goals as recently as two years ago.

The effect on Anthony can't be overstated. Anthony can become a free agent contract after this year, and he sees his prime may only last a couple more years. Anthony wanted New York to trade for an established star this offseason; instead, he got Andrea Bargnani. It may look like a minor move on the surface, but its effects might be felt for years to come if New York can't find more playoff success.

No pressure, Andrea.

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