The Knicks are neck-deep in basketball misery, but are slowly nearing a bit of good news. After missing more than four weeks of action, Tyson Chandler -- an essential component of New York's rotation who was sidelined by a fracture in his right fibula -- participated in non-contact drills on Monday, according to the team. This only puts Chandler more or less on schedule (perhaps even slightly behind), but his return can't come quickly enough for a Knicks team fighting just to keep its head above water.
Despite those desperate efforts, New York seems to alternate only between gurgling and gagging, as the team on the whole is weighed down by problematic offense and ill-equipped defense. Chandler couldn't possibly solve all of the Knicks' problems, but his return could be a life preserver in dire times. At worst, Chandler would stand definitively as the best defender among New York's bigs (especially Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani) once he gets back up to speed, and register easily as a more useful offensive player than Kenyon Martin. He's the two-way ingredient that so many of New York's lineups seem to lack, and a needed safety net for the Knicks' porous perimeter D.
That it will take Chandler time to return to form is the only problem. Chandler pessimistically noted on Monday that he hopes to return by Jan. 1 -- a date more than three weeks away -- and from there would likely still need time to work himself into game shape and useful form. New York could play as many as 11 games in the meantime, should Chandler push up against that Jan. 1 deadline, and sink its winning percentage even further in the process. Getting Chandler back on the practice court is an unequivocal positive for the Knicks, but the jump between non-contact work and high-level, in-game influence won't be cleared in a matter of days. It can take weeks of drilling, practicing, and eventual scrimmaging before a player even feels comfortable enough to test a mended limb on the real NBA stage, depending on the ailment. Chandler's case could take even longer, considering that he'll need to feel comfortable running, jumping, leaning, and sliding on his injured leg. Progress is progress, but in this case Chandler's potential return shouldn't be confused for a quick fix for what ails the Knicks.