The Knicks announced Thursday that Andrea Bargnani has suffered a tear to a ligament in his left elbow -- an ailment that will rule him out of the lineup indefinitely.
There's nothing to celebrate in injury, but conflicted Knicks fans can find some relief in the fact that New York has been decisively worse with Bargnani on the floor this season. The reasons for that are as simple as they were predictable: Incorporating a big who neither defends nor rebounds is challenging, particularly with so many other lacking defenders in the mix to accentuate Bargnani's weaknesses. The pairing of Bargnani and Carmelo Anthony -- New York's single most-played combination this season -- in particular, has proven completely insolvent. As a tandem those two aren't able to slow opposing scorers nor complement one another all that effectively on offense, resulting in the kinds of lowly baseline marks that have torpedoed the Knicks season.
It's unfair to lay all the Knicks' failings at Bargnani's feet, but his removal from the lineup could streamline the decision-making of head coach Mike Woodson to the team's benefit. Generally, Woodson has opted to play bigger lineups whenever possible -- as evidenced by the 1,061 minutes Anthony and Bargnani have played together this season. Many of those minutes have come with Anthony on the wing, though with Bargnani unavailable and the Knicks' reserve of bigs otherwise depleted (Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire are nursing their own injuries), Anthony could slide back into the power forward slot for the foreseeable future. That in itself isn't a monumental shift, though the addition of another perimeter player could help facilitate New York's offense and remove some of the defensive complications of the Bargnani-Anthony tandem. Even that won't likely move the needle to a degree that would counterbalance the Knicks' larger problems, though at this point even a minor victory for New York would be welcome.
Still, Bargnani's absence doesn't absolve the Knicks of the need to find better use of his minutes going forward. He's not an altogether useless player; Bargnani simply needs more help than others in terms of lineup structure and support on both ends of the floor, a responsibility which New York accepted when trading real assets for him over the summer. That's not yet a sunk cost, but upon Bargnani's return Woodson will have to do better in setting up Bargnani to succeed. Bargnani will have to do better than sleepwalk through his defensive responsibilities. And the Knicks on the whole will have to do better lest they eat the full $24 million of Bargnani's two-year salary with only disappointment to show for it.