The Knicks announced today that former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler suffered a small non-displaced fracture of the right fibula during last night’s game against the Bobcats. Chandler won’t require surgery, but is expected to miss the next four to six weeks, according to the team (Twitter links). A six-week timetable would force Chandler out of action for about 20 games, and the Knicks’ frontcourt may not be built to ride out that stretch.
Andrea Bargnani has struggled mightily during his first few games with the team and isn’t a strong rebounder even when he’s playing well. Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin are playing under minute restrictions, and would have to be considered strong injury risks if they exceeded those limits, given their respective ages and health histories. New York is also carrying Cole Aldrich, but he has yet to play a single minute for the club, so leaning on him heavily probably isn’t realistic.
The Knicks acquired Jeremy Tyler‘s D-League rights yesterday, and it’s clear the team has a fondness for him. But according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Tyler, who is recovering from a knee injury, is probably another three or four weeks away from game action himself, so he’s not a short-term solution.
The predicament provides a pretty clear example of why the Knicks’ decision to keep Chris Smith on the roster over a player like Ike Diogu or Josh Powell was so widely questioned. Like Aldrich, Smith has yet to appear in a game for the Knicks, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever carve out a role in a crowded backcourt that will welcome back his older brother J.R. Smith this weekend. Nonetheless, Chris’ non-guaranteed contract became fully guaranteed when he made the team’s opening night roster, so it’s not clear if the team would cut him to sign a big man.
As Ian Begley of ESPN New York notes (via Twitter), coach Mike Woodson indicated today on ESPN Radio that he’ll rely more on small ball while Chandler is out. But Begley also suggests (via Twitter) that he expects the Knicks to sign a free agent, singling out Diogu as a player the club liked in the preseason. New York would have to release a player from its 15-man roster to clear a spot, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the younger Smith. Toure Murry, who also looked impressive in October, is on a non-guaranteed contract, so the team would only have to eat a small fraction of his salary if he were released now.
While the Knicks may prefer to sign a player they’re familiar with, like Diogu, a veteran free agent is also a possibility. Louis Amundson recently hit the open market after being cut by the Clippers, while July amnesty victims like Tyrus Thomas and Drew Gooden are also available. The most interesting name on the free agent market might be Jason Collins, who reportedly drew some interest from the Knicks in the offseason and is said to be in excellent shape. Collins is the type of experienced veteran who could immediately contribute and wouldn’t expect or require major minutes when Chandler returns.
The Knicks are off to a slow start this season, sitting with a 1-3 record despite playing three of their first four games at Madison Square Garden. You can make the case that, outside of Carmelo Anthony, no player is more indispensable to New York than Chandler, so the next several weeks will be pivotal. If the Knicks can tread water without their starting center, a top-five seed in the East is still within their sights. If not, the team could find itself fighting for a playoff spot in the second half.