Jerry Sloan likes to say that the NBA is a day-to-day business.
One day you're on top of the world, the next you can be fighting for scraps. That was never more evident than in the past week, when two franchises heading in completely opposite directions played the Jazz in EnergySolutions Arena.
The New York Knicks, thanks to the signing of Amar'e Stoudemire and putting a nice supporting cast around him, are relevant in the NBA again. The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, are in shambles and in one season have remarkably gone from first to worst — in the entire league.
Let's start with the Knicks and, for the sake of this column, pretend that their 93-83 home loss to the Kings didn't happen on Friday. New York is a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Playing in coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system perfectly fits Stoudemire, and the Knicks are capable of beating any team in the league on a given night.
"Stoudemire is one of the top players in the league," Sloan said. "They've done a heck of a job with their team. They've very competitive and tough to guard."
The Knicks' style and career revival of point guard Raymond Felton also makes them hard to handle. After languishing in Charlotte for five seasons, Felton is playing like an All-Star this season. He is scoring 4.8 points more per game and dishing 2.4 more assists per game than his career averages this season. He'll be in the running for the league's Most Improved Player of the Year award if he keeps it up.
"Great 1-2 punch," Jazz guard Deron Williams said of Stoudemire and Felton. "Amar'e can go out and dominate a game by himself anyways. But now he has some pieces around him."
Another of those pieces is rookie Landry Fields, a second-round draft pick. The Stanford product went 39th overall in the 2010 draft and is making personnel experts look foolish. He is the league's fourth-best rookie scorer at 10.1 points per game.
And how about the shooting display put on Wednesday by Bill Walker and Shawne Williams, two players nobody in Utah had heard of before last week's game? Walker scored 23 points and Williams drained seven 3-pointers. It never hurts to have role players go crazy like that in road games.
The Knicks prepared for the summer of LeBron, the great free agent summer of 2010, by clearing cap room and emptying their roster. Before the free agent chase started, they figured to have the best chance of luring James away from Cleveland.
The Knicks obviously didn't get James, but they didn't sit around and cry about it. They agreed to terms with Stoudemire while James was still being courted by various teams. When James said he was taking his talents to South Beach, New York moved on and put together a roster mostly filled with promise.
The Cavaliers weren't nearly as diligent in their backup plans regarding James — and now they're paying for it.
Although Cleveland has numerous injuries it is dealing with, it was still startling to see just how bad the Cavaliers are. Antawn Jamison is seemingly the only player on the team that can consistently cause problems for opponents.
The Cavaliers lost their 12th straight game when they were defeated by the Jazz. It was also their 22nd loss in 23 games. They left Utah with the league's worst record at 8-31.
Cleveland has fallen faster than anyone could have ever imagined without James. There doesn't seem to be any reason to believe that things will change for the Cavaliers any time soon, unless they can attract a top-tier free agent such as Stoudemire to be a franchise cornerstone.
"They've got a lot of injuries," Sloan said of the Cavaliers after the Jazz beat them by 22 points on Friday night. "It's kind of devastating the things that have happened through their whole franchise. You see how fast things can turn around on you. That's why this is a day-to-day business."
Just take a look at last year's standings for proof. Cleveland had the league's best record at 61-21, earning homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs before unraveling in James' final games in a Cavs uniform. The Knicks were 29-53 and didn't even receive the award of a lottery pick. The Jazz used their pick on Gordon Hayward.
It's amazing how drastically the fortunes changed for the Knicks and Cavaliers in the past six months. The Knicks are back. The Cavaliers can only hope to be some day.
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