How do Knicks make the leap this year?

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images/ZimbioThe New York Knicks currently sit at 32-17, second in the Eastern Conference and 2.5 games clear of Indiana. Yet, the Knicks are still 2.5 games behind the Heat and nobody quite puts them in the same category as the defending champions.

If you had to ask who the contenders for the Eastern Conference title are, your answere would probably include the Miami Heat. Then you might have to make an argument for the Knicks.

Yes, New York is third in offensive rating behind Carmelo Anthony's most efficient season and a nice mix of shooters to go around him and 15th in defensive rating behind Tyson Chandler's defensive prowess. In raw statistics, the Knicks are ninth in the league in both points per game and points allowed per game.

The Knicks are a very good team. But championship good?

Nobody seems to think New York is to that level. So how do the Knicks get there? More specifically, can they get there this year and really challenge Miami when push comes to shove?

New York famously has one of the oldest rosters in the league's history and maintained a fair amount of flexibility with their cap space. Then again, because of the age of the players they have available, it seems like it would be difficult to pull off a trade.

The Knicks have to try though if they want to be a player deep in the Playoffs and compete with the Heat.

Jeff Zevelansky/Getty Images/ZimbioIman Shumpert is the most attractive asset the Knicks have. Many teams like his athleticism and potential as a wing defender. The big concern is that he is bouncing back from an ACL tear from a year ago. However, that has not cooled off interest in the young, athletic wing.

Ian Begley of ESPN New York writes the Knicks are indeed entertaining offers for Shumpert. The one that has taken the most root involves Phoenix sending New York Jared Dudley in return.

Carmelo Anthony, for his part, does not think the Knicks need to make a trade. Those outside the team would certainly disagree.

Giving up Shumpert though may not be the best way to go about it. Shumpert is one of the few players on the roster younger than 25 years old. A lot of the team's future is tied up in him. Particularly with the age on the roster. When the Playoffs get dirty, the Knicks will need his athletic defense on the wing. Jared Dudley is a nice player, one who has not really played deep in the Playoffs. But Dudley does not have the speed, athleticism or potential Shumpert has.

Who else would New York be able to trade?

The Knicks may be trying to get nibbles at Amar'e Stoudemire. They are unlikely to trade sharpshooter Steve Novak. Now might be the time to sell high on J.R. Smith, perhaps?

New York's options to improving this year's team appear to be very limited.

And catching Miami? The Knicks might be stuck with what they have.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily