2016-17 record: 31-51. 12th in the Eastern Conference.
Transactions: The New York Knicks best move this off-season likely came far too late to avert the long-term consequences of waiting so long to make it, but the team finally parted ways with president of basketball operations Phil Jackson.
What a fall from grace it was for the former zen master. A man once revered for his insight, intelligence and ability to get the best out of his players. A man who was thought had such high level insights into the game of basketball that his coaching style was compared to eastern philosophy. A man who coached his Bulls and Lakers squads to eleven championship rings.
Then he tried to reinvent himself as a top level executive in one of the most legacy destroying moves in the history of the league. Everything he was lauded for as a coach, he revealed himself to the be the opposite as an executive. He was once on the cutting edge of the game and praised for his ground breaking use of Tex Winter’s triangle offense, but the game had evolved and changed so much since then and play had gone out to the perimeter. Yet Jackson forced it on the team and hired Derek Fisher to run it, then fired and scapegoated him when it didn’t work and likely did irreparable damage to his coaching prospects. Replacement Jeff Hornacek appeared to be heading toward a similar end with the team until Jackson was fired.
Then there was the long drawn out feud with Carmelo Anthony where Jackson publicly ridiculed and called out the superstar’s play despite one of his first moves as an executive being signing Melo to a five year, $124 million contract with a no trade clause. Yet there Phil was in the New York media and on twitter ripping the Knicks star player for selfish play and holding the ball too long which culminated in Jackson saying Melo would be better off somewhere else – despite being the one who made that difficult to begin with.
Jackson poisoned the well so much for Melo that there was no chance that he’d be back in New York with or without Phil in the front office due to all the bad blood. He went from being the face of the franchise to being willing to negotiate a buy out – which Phil then rejected.
He wasn’t down there though. There was the questionable and seemingly borderline racist statements about LeBron James and his “posse”. There was the odd social media rants including one where he compared Steph Curry to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. The zen mater reputation was firmly in the garbage at that point.
Finally Jackson sealed his fate by almost destroying the one good thing he had accomplished as a Knicks executive: drafting Kristaps Porzingis. Phil turned his attention to alienating the Knicks young star and future franchise anchor after the young Latvian star blew off his exit interview in the take of Jackson engaging in another round of Carmelo bashing. Jackson then began publicly mulling over trading Porzingis which would have completely obliterated what little hope the Knicks have for the future.
That finally sealed his fate. But in true Knicks fashion they let him run one more draft.
The fact is that even with Jackson gone, there isn’t that much hope for this franchise because as out of touch, delusional and outright self-destructive as Phil Jackson’s tenure with the team was, it was still only business as usual under franchise owner James Dolan who is by far the worst owner in the NBA in terms who how he took one of the most storied franchises in the entire league, which is based in the biggest basketball market in the entire world and turned it into a laughing stock that has only one a single playoff series since 2000 and has only made the playoffs in five of those 17 seasons.
Dolan’s hit list includes:
-pushing out Knicks icon Patrick Ewing
-undermining Donnie Walsh who is one of the few competent management figures that the team has ever employed and was starting to jettison bad contracts and rebuild the team
-encouraging then-GM Scott Layden to give Allan Houston a six year, $100 million contract in 2001 that was so bad that the NBA enacted the “Allan Houston rule” which allowed teams to release a player without his contract counting against the books
-the entire Scott Layden as GM era which included trading Nene, Mark Jackson and Marcus Camby for Antonio McDyess
-Jerome James’ five year, $30 million deal
-letting Jeremy Lin walk at the height of Linsanity
-the Eddy Curry trade which saw the Knicks give the Bulls Tim Thomas, Jermaine Jackson, Michael Sweetney, two second rounders and two lottery picks who became Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge
-hiring Isiah Thomas to run the team, which resulted in the Curry trade, the Jerome James deal, Stephon Marbury’s disastrous run as a Knick and one of the NBA’s highest payrolls resulting in one of the NBA’s worst teams
-backing Thomas after he lost a sexual harassment lawsuit that cost the Knicks $11.6 million
-placing Thomas, found guilty of sexual harassment, in charge of the WNBA’s New York Liberty
-last year’s public feud with Charles Oakley which saw the Knicks legend banned from MSG and Michael Jordan and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have to intervene to mitigate the public embarrassment and outrage from around the league
As bad as the Phil Jackson era has been for the Knicks, it’s really just business as usual for the team under Dolan. The Knicks have been a complete and utter joke under his ownership with the occasional hope for a turnaround which is then dashed by horrible decision making and a more disappointment for fans.
As long as Dolan is controlling the team, it’s really hard to be optimistic about the Knicks.
As if to prove that the team’s first major move after parting with Jackson was for GM Steve Mills to sign restricted free agent Tim Hardaway Jr to a massive four year, $71 million deal which was incredibly puzzling as the team had traded the guard to the Atlanta Hawks just two years ago and had already inked Courtney Lee to a big contract in the last off-season and were also bringing back Ron Baker.
Hardaway Jr had an excellent year with the Hawks last season where he averaged 14.5 points off of 45.5% shooting and 35.7% from three point range. His major leap was a huge boost to the Hawks off the bench and excelled as a spot up shooter and cutter. But with the lack of a top point guard on the team on the level of Dennis Schroder, it’s hard not to envision a possible regression for Hardaway in New York.
Hardaway really thrived in situations where he joined Schroder in the back-court and the point guard was able to collapse defenses around him to get quality looks and excel as a second or third scoring option on the floor. The Knicks offense won’t really provide him with those opportunities in its current structure and that contract is shockingly large.
Ron Baker is also back with the Knicks after a decent rookie season and will be looked to take on a much larger role in the back court with the departure of Derrick Rose. Two years, $8.9 million is definitely above market value for an undrafted free agent who didn’t really show starting level ability in his rookie season. It’s a double-edged sword for the Knicks as well because if the 24 year old does emerge as a bigger talent with an increased role this year, he will undoubtedly opt out and seed a bigger deal. Not the most sensible move for the Knicks from a financial standpoint.
The questions around the Knicks point guard spot were presumably answered with the signing of 10 year veteran Ramon Sessions who will be able to give the team stability in the back-court if nothing else. The 31 year old can reliably run the offense and won’t be prone to the same mistakes as some of the younger guards undoubtedly will be, but as a career back-up could find himself in an unfamiliar role as the starting point guard in New York.
Michael Beasley is actually a smart signing by the Knicks. He’s undergone a radical transformation from a toxic locker room presence and unrepentant gunner to a respected veteran and valuable bench scorer. He played a key role off the bench for Milwaukee last season, particularly when Khris Middleton was injured and sparked the offense with reliable and averaged 9.6 points on 53.2% shooting including 41.9% from downtown. It’s an incredible value on a veteran minimum.
Beasley is going to have a big opportunity to show off his career resurgence on the New York stage. He will play an invaluable role for the Knicks with his ability to create his own offense and spark a run with his volume scoring. He’s going to get the chance at a much larger role and more minutes that he’s enjoyed in quite sometime as he will be looked to fill a lot of Carmelo Anthony’s role on the Knicks.
New York also added Jarrett Jack to add more depth to the back-court and also act as a mentor to rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina through training camp.
As the result of Phil Jackson’s antics and a now toxic situation in New York for Melo, the team had little choice but to move their superstar with zero leverage to do so because of his no trade clause. Early reports had Anthony favouring the Houston Rockets to join Chris Paul and James Harden but when his list of teams that he’d accept a trade to grew to include the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, a Melo deal seemed like a sure thing and it was no surprise when literally the next day he was dealt to the Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second round pick in 2018.
There is no doubt that trading a star of Melo’s level for such a low return isn’t the best case scenario for the Knicks, but they had no leverage at all and even if they did, Carmelo Anthony is still 33 years old and is winding down his career. I actually don’t think this is a terrible return in that sense, however the Knicks were said to be looking to bolster an underwhelming team defense and this trade doesn’t help them at all in that department.
Kanter is a high quality offensive big man, however, and was very useful off the bench for the Thunder. In just 21.3 minutes last season, the Turkish big man averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 boards. Kanter holds an $18.6 million player option for 2018-19 so he will probably be in New York for a while. He doesn’t offer anything defensively and can’t spread the floor at all, but can give the team some nice depth scoring.
McDermott is also a pretty huge defensive liability, but he does bring a much needed skill to New York with his three point shooting. He’s a career 39.4% from downtown and will help the team with spacing and should enjoy the most minutes of his NBA career with the Knicks. The 25 year old should become a quality scoring wing for the team and hopefully showcase his skills enough to catch on somewhere beyond this season as the Knicks can renounce his rights when he becomes an RFA next summer.
By finally parting with Carmelo Anthony and ending the ongoing “will they or won’t they” saga, the Knicks have finally given the green light to a rebuild that’s coming years too late.
2017 NBA Draft: The Knicks allowed Phil Jackson to run this draft despite the fact that they were going to cut ties with him anyway and in turn were given exactly what you’d expect from the man once known as the zen master and now more known for having the management instincts of a dumpster fire. Instead of taking highly touted picks like Dennis Smith Jr or Malik Monk – who were still available – he opted to select a player based on how he felt they could perform in the triangle offense. As a result they selected Frank Ntilikina with the 8th pick in the NBA Draft.
I’m not going to write off the young French guard as a potential bust because the last time people reacted like this to a Phil Jackson draft pick, it was Kristaps Porzingis who is one of the only bright spots in the entire organization and one of the best young players in the NBA.
Ntilikina has some very intriguing physical tools. He stands at 6’6” with a 7’0” wingspan that allow him to excel on the back-end. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the entire draft and is an intelligent, hard working defender who gets low, has excellent footwork and cuts off drive using his instincts and anticipation. With his length, he’s able to cut off passing and contest shots.
He doesn’t have experience as a ball dominant guard and will have to work on running an offense as he’s generally played alongside more experienced floor generals. Ntilikina is able run the pick and roll successfully though and is a solid passer who can get to the rim. He does need to work a lot on his ball-handling though as he is a high dribbler who is prone to losing his handle under pressure. He has, however, shown a lot of improvement as a scorer, particularly on his jump shot and perimeter game.
Ntilikina has a lot of intriguing tools and can develop into a very good two-way guard in New York. At only 19, there’s a lot of room for growth and the team can use him at the point or switch gears and play him more off the ball depending on how he develops this season.
Damyean Dotson was the 44th selection in the Draft and an extremely controversial choice given his tumultuous collegiate career that that saw him transfer to the University of Houston from Oregon due to allegations of sexual assault. The case against him would eventually be dismissed.
The 23 year old stands 6’5” with a 6’9” wingspan and has very good size and length for a guard but still lacks the strength to really excel at an NBA level. He excels in catch-and-shoot opportunities and is a solid on-ball defender which gives him potential 3 and D upside. He can’t really handle the ball well, but can shoot off the dribble and can become a solid perimeter scoring option.
There is really nothing I can say about Dotson the player, however, that won’t be overshadowed by his history off the court. Although the charges were dismissed, the public evidence was significant and a lawsuit filed by Dotson and his two co-accused against the University of Oregon following his suspension was dismissed.
At the 58th spot, the Knicks selected Serbian point guard Ognjen Jaramaz who’s an incredibly raw talent whose primary asset is his ability to attack the gaps and get to the rim in half-court situations. Beyond that he hasn’t really shown a lot of polish and will need a lot of time to develop and refine his offensive game.
Still his physical tools, speed, lateral movement, agility, toughness and energy make him an attractive talent who could develop into something special down the line. He’s got the ability to draw off defenders with his dribble and has shown decent ability in dump and kick and dump and drive situations. Defensively, his energy serves him well as he works hard to fight over screens and can defend both guard positions.
Jaramaz has a lot of work to do in order to get a consistent shot and become a better decision maker on the offensive end. His 1-for-14 shooting performance in the Summer League is an example of the worst case scenario in terms of his streaky shooting and he’s a long way from being an NBA player. – but there is a lot of potential down the road for the 22 year old.
Outlook: In finally moving Melo, the Knicks have embraced the rebuild and the franchise now revolves around it’s 7’3” unicorn Kristaps Porzingis.
In his second NBA season, the 22 year old became just the 12th player in NBA history to record 1000 points, 400 rebounds, 100 three pointers and 100 blocks in a single season which is a testament to his remarkable range and skill-set for a big man. Porzingis is also the only player in NBA history who has amassed 2000 points, 1000 rebounds, 250 blocks and 100 made threes in his first two NBA seasons. Nobody else have ever done that.
He is something that we’ve never seen before in the NBA. A guy who stands well over 7 feet tall who is able to shoot the three better at an incredible clip for a big man (35.7% on 314 attempts last season) and can shoot over anyone in the league from anywhere on the floor. He’s a threat from deep, from the mid-range and in the post.
Kristaps’ agility is something that still blows my mind every single time that I watch him play. To give you an idea of his off-the-charts athletic ability and really put it into perspective, consider this: Porzingis did the cone drill in 2.37 seconds. Isaiah Thomas did it in 2.33. That means the 7’3”, 240 pound big man is essentially just as agile as the 5’9”, 185 pound Thomas.
Watching him move just defies everything I’ve ever been taught about physics and how big men should move. He’s so fast and moves so well for his size that I often can’t believe what I’m watching when he’s on the floor. Kristaps is one of the most must-see players in the NBA today just on that basis alone.
Porzingis is also one of the league’s top rim protectors as he limited opposing players to 44.2% shooting against him at the rim which was the 7th best mark in the NBA for players who defend at least 4 attempts at the rim per game. His presence in the paint was one of the only bright spots for a team that was absolutely horrendous defensively last season giving up an atrocious 108.7 points per 100 possessions.
He’s not afraid of contract and will use his body to protect the rim and gets boards on the back-end and is also able to use his length and physicality to knock opposing defenders around in the paint. With his physical tools he’s not only effective against other big men but effectively keep up with guards on the pick and roll and is virtually impervious to switches.
The thing is that he’s only going to get better. Porzingis is a tireless worker and a student of the game who spent a lot of his summer working out with Dirk Nowitzki before tearing it up at the EuroBasket with a 23.9 point, 5.9 rebound, 1.9 block per game performance that gave us a tantalizing hint of what kind of dominance to expect from him in the NBA this season.
The question is with the log jam at the front-court, how much will Porzingis get to play the five? The centre spot makes the most sense for him and the team. He gives the Knicks incredible spacing ability with his three point shooting, will get to excel protecting the rim and avoid the foul trouble that often comes when he’s got to defend speedy guards on the perimeter.
It will also free him up on the offensive end where he can use his agility to get past opposing bigs or just stretch them out into irrelevance with his three point shooting. As he’s making the transition from secondary to scorer to offensive focal point, he would undoubtedly be in the best position to terrorize opposing defenses at the 5.
But with the newly acquired Enes Kanter joining a rotation that already included Kyle O’Quinn, Willy Hernangomez and Joakim Noah, it’s uncertain how much time that KP will get at the centre spot which could greatly hamper the team given the advantages they could reap by playing their unicorn at the 5.
At the very least, Jeff Hornacek will be finally free to get out of the triangle and resume being the creative and fun offensive mind that we saw run uptempo and innovative offensive sets during his time coaching Phoenix. He’s shown he’s capable of embracing position-less basketball as he was the guy who unleashed a three point line-up at different times with the Suns when he’d put Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas on the floor at the same time and watch them tear apart opposing defenses.
Hornacek won’t have that level of talent in the back-court on this Knicks team but his commitment to letting his players create and the versatility that having a player like Porzingis as his top option provides him will at least allow the Knicks to be a much more fun team to watch than they were last year – even as the win total likely drops in the wake of trading Melo.
A story to watch this season will be what the Knicks decide to do with Joakim Noah will still has to serve out his PED suspension and looked like a shell of his former self when he did play last season. Noah could be a candidate for the stretch provision with New York finally embracing a rebuild. As things stand after last year’s disaster, his four year $72 million deal looks like one of the worst free agent decisions in the history of the NBA.
I’m hopeful that Noah can find some kind of redemption this year. He’ll never have much to offer on the offensive end, but is a former Defensive Player of the Year and two time all-star. If he can find at least some of his old form in his second year in NYC, he can at the very least salvage his career and be a useful defensive presence off the bench.
The 6’11” centre has reportedly been working hard in the off-season and is hungry to redeem himself. I’m genuinely pulling for him.
1st team all-rookie centre Willy Hernangomez was a bright spot and present surprise during an ugly Knicks season last year and should be able to build on his surprising rookie campaign that saw the Spaniard average 8.2 points and 7.0 boards in 18.4 minutes per game which adjusted to 36 minutes works out to 16 points and 13.6 rebounds.
He spent most of last season coming off the bench, taking a starting role after Noah’s injury and subsequent suspension. He then went on to perform really well at the EuroBasket for Spain- including an 18 point, 9 rebound performance in 20 minutes of action against Montenegro. He and his brother Jauncho seemed poised to pick up the torch from the Gasol brother going forward and Willy seems poised to build on that performance in his second NBA season.
The 23 year old really bolsters the Knicks rebounding when he’s on the floor and has a solid post-game and elite level footwork which make him an effective threat on the offensive and hopefully he will continue to improve his shooting range and ball movement. On the back-end, he’s shown good instincts but still has a lot of maturing to do.
He thrived last season against second units so it’s conceivable that he can remain on the bench to continue to grow his game or start in some situations depending on Hornacek’s plans with the big man rotation now that the team has acquired Enes Kanter.
In terms of secondary scoring, Tim Hardaway Jr will have the opportunity to earn his big contract as he will get a lot of opportunities and touches with the departure of Carmelo Anthony. Courtney Lee should also get a lot of touches and of course Michael Beasley who recently proclaimed he was “Melo on the left side” will get the opportunity to prove it.
A key focus will be on Frank Ntilikina’s development as a point as Roman Sessions is undoubtedly a placeholder until the rookie can develop into the starting option. As stated earlier, there is a lot of unfair pressure on the young Frenchman because of who the Knicks passed over to draft him, but his length and unique talents could help him catch a lot of people by surprise as he develops his facilitating and offensive instincts.
The Knicks are obviously hoping that he develops into a franchise cornerstone alongside Porzingis going forward and he 19 year old will benefit from veteran mentoring from Sessions and the Jarrett Jack as well as relatively low expectations to the team in the wake of the Carmelo Anthony trade.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Ntilikina took the league by surprise in his rookie year and nobody is really expecting much from him and he’s still a major mystery to many. His length and defensive ability will at the very least get him on the court and could allow him to develop quickly. The newly acquired veterans sharing the back-court with him will be a huge boost and allow Hornacek to bring him in slowly and allow some insurance for him when he struggles.
Still, it will be a long and painful year for the Knicks for the most part as they look to build the team around Porzingis, develop Ntilikina and see what else they’ve got for the future. I’m not expecting a lot of wins and in fact, I’ve revised my Brooklyn Nets projections based on the fall-out from the Melo trade.
Removing Phil Jackson before he could destroy the franchise by trading KP is a win for the Knicks already. No matter how low the win total or what embarrassing situations James Dolan creates this season, Kristaps Porzingis will be worth the price of admission and will continue to be the most compelling reason to watch this team.
Beyond that, you’ve got a team that will likely hang around the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Prediction: 24-58. 14th in the Eastern Conference.