Amar'e Stoudemire can be replaced.
Or was it a sigh of relief?
Though Stoudemire turned heads in his only preseason performance, posting 18 points, five rebounds and one blocked shot in 27 minutes of action, at this point, while vital to the team's success, he is anything but dependable.
His injury leaves New York to find, at the very least, a temporary replacement. And though the Associated Press' Brian Mahoney acknowledges that the Knicks may start the aging Kurt Thomas at the 4, there remains a much better candidate to take over at power forward.
I'm referring to, of course, Carmelo Anthony. The same player who thrived last season as an undersized power forward, posting a PER of 27.9 under such circumstances, a far cry from the 17.9 he put up at the 3 spot.
And while such success came in a limited sample size, 'Melo has the potential to provide that kind of output over an extensive period of time, say if Stoudemire's penchant for fragility continues or if head coach Mike Woodson takes the plunge and relegates him to a sixth-man role.
Will it take some offensive tweaking? Most definitely, but as the NBA's oldest team, the ability for the Knicks to succeed is predicated on them being able to roll with the punches their docket of veterans is bound to incur.
This particular transition, though, won't take much on New York's part. Anthony is already suited to play the role of a power forward.
Not only is he most comfortable when closest to the basket—nearly a third of his shot attempts came at the rim last season—but he's a natural-born post-up player, someone who loves to play what has become known as "bully ball."
With Stoudemire on the bench and Anthony stepping in at the 4, the floor will be spaced enough for 'Melo to set up on the block when he pleases. He'll be tasked with sharing the painted area with only Tyson Chandler, as opposed to jockeying both he and Stoudemire for position in the post.
That said, ensuring this version of a small-ball lineup is a success goes well beyond Anthony using traditional means to score.
As a power forward, Anthony will be routinely defended by other power forwards, and even centers. While they will likely have a few inches on the 6'8" Anthony, he makes up for what he lacks in size in his speed.
How many power forwards and centers can step out on to the perimeter and successfully defend a player off the dribble, let alone Anthony himself?
Not many. After all, plenty of wings have a tough enough time defending 'Melo as it is. Just ask Luol Deng.
That's why the Knicks must ensure Anthony gets a majority of his touches more than 15 feet away from the basket. Doing so pulls his defender out of the paint, leaving the opposition susceptible to back-door cuts and off-ball screens, while also forcing Anthony's man to respect his quick release and ball-handling abilities.
That's nearly impossible to defend, because he can exploit you in so many different ways when beginning his sets from the outside. Is he going to catch-and-shoot? Will he attack the rim? Or is he going to pull up off the dribble?
Most traditional power forwards aren't built to defend such versatile offensive sets, giving Anthony the edge over almost every team that isn't starting LeBron James at the 4.
But the integration of Anthony at power forward doesn't begin and end with his agile scoring prowess. Woodson is going to have to facilitate this adjustment from the sidelines.
By inserting a three-point connoisseur into the lineup to replace 'Melo at small forward. At this point, courtesy of the injury bug, that means starting Steve Novak, the three-point assassin himself.
What that does is force opposing defenses to defend Anthony one-on-one. They have to respect the shooting abilities of Novak, so bringing in a help defender is of great risk.
At the same time, though, it also gives 'Melo an opportunity to showcase his undervalued and seldom-used passing abilities. If the Knicks set both Anthony and Novak up on the strong side, the former is free to attack the basket.
If the lane or the shot is there, 'Melo should feel free to take it. But should Novak's defender be forced to help out his power forward, that frees him up, allowing Anthony to kick it outside for the open three.
Considering Novak led the NBA in three-point shooting, converting on 47.2 percent of his attempts, that's another clear benefit of moving Anthony to the 4. And with other skilled outside shooters like Jason Kidd and—when he's healthy—J.R. Smith at their disposal, this creates a wide range of offensive possibilities moving forward.
Better yet, it creates even more opportunities to succeed, because Anthony both compresses and exploits defenses in ways Stoudemire simply cannot.
Small sample size or not, we already know 'Melo can play power forward. Averaging more than 30 points and shooting better than 50 percent from the field as the team's primary 4 is no fluke.
Which is why, as long as the Knicks have Anthony, Stoudemire is easily, and readily, replaceable.