By Jared Mintz, Guest Columnist courtesy of BroJackson.com
- build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed.
When Phil Jackson was named as President of the New York Knicks towards the end of the 2013-14 season, it really wasn’t to bring the organization a quick turnaround. It was to rebuild a roster that was damaged, and in return, set in place a team that could compete for the long run. Sure, maybe signing an aging Carmelo Anthony to a max contract in his first offseason set the tone that the team could be angling towards a quick fix, one that would focus on adding big name free agents and land the team back on its feet in no time. But literally every other single move of the Jackson era has pointed to a longer rebuild, and this summer only supported that further.
The Knicks’ two biggest acquisitions this offseason were Robin Lopez, the team’s prized free agent signing who will anchor its defense / rebounding while raining thunderous terror on mascots, and Kristaps Porzingis, the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA draft, who may have the highest ceiling of any of this past draft’s ultra-talented players, but clearly will take some time before he ascends to be one of the team’s best players.While both of these players represent a focus on defense and team basketball, they certainly don’t complete any kind of reputable big three with Anthony, and at first glance, they don’t jump off the page as game changers if you’re looking for a quick turnaround.That’s fine.
I’ll repeat it, that’s fine!
Considering the Knicks lost a franchise worst 65 games last season—and don’t get it twisted, they were on pace to lose even MORE games before the team shut Anthony down with a knee injury in late February—they would’ve needed a miracle this offseason to propel them back into the top half of the East.
They didn’t get a miracle, instead they had an offseason that most fans and pundits either love or hate, when truth be told, most should be in the middle, leaning towards feeling good about it.
Additions of guys like Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn, Kevin Seraphin and Derrick Williams shouldn’t scream “KNICKS BACK!” but it should show that Jackson was looking to fill some big needs that the team had, while also believing in his two first round draft picks, Porzingis and Notre Dame combo guard Jerian Grant.
Again, while Jackson’s free agency class isn’t filled with stars or even exciting players, the two youngest additions to the team should give fans something to feel good about moving forward.
In what was widely considered as a three man race for the top pick in the draft, Jackson knew he was picking from the field when the Knicks landed the fourth pick in the lottery. Even though fans were looking for that quick fix with a high pick in such a loaded draft, Porzingis has as much upside as any of his fellow rookies, and even put on display some NBA ready skills in his Summer League stint.
At 7-foot-3 (or so), Porzingis moves really well on both ends of the court, as he has a handful of moves in the post, and looks comfortable facing up from mid-range and well beyond. Despite possessing a rather slender frame, the Latvian big man also looked like he knew how to move his feet and use his length defending opposing bigs, and didn’t get lost when he wound up picking up for his teammates on the perimeter.
The biggest question with Porzingis isn’t how many times the Madison Square Garden DJ will play his eponymous Latvian smash-hit rap single, but rather how ready he is to contribute at this stage. Still, having a big man who can clearly stroke the ball and has disrupting length can only be a positive thing for a team that has so many holes to fill.
While the Knicks will clearly have to wait for Porzingis to develop both physically and mentally, their other rookie, Grant (the 19th overall pick who the team acquired in a three-way trade, giving up Tim Hardaway Jr.) is one of the most NBA-ready neophytes, and will likely be counted on to contribute immediately to a backcourt with plenty of question marks.
In a league where guards and wing players thrive, the Knicks add Grant to a backcourt consisting of Jose Calderon, Afflalo, Langston Galloway and Sasha Vujacic, so needless to say there’s plenty of room for the combo guard to see the floor, and potentially even win himself a starting job. Grant’s biggest strengths both in college and in the Summer League were creating for himself and others off the dribble, getting to the free throw line, and using his height to see the floor and make passes over the opposition. Although he isn’t exactly a threat from outside, Grant shot 79-percent from the free throw line in college, and his ability to penetrate through opposing defenses should make life easier for Anthony, who thrives with a point guard who can get into the lane and be disruptive.
I’m pretty confident that Grant will be one of the Knicks’ most positive contributors this season, mainly because of the aforementioned weak collection of guards. Calderon is coming off arguably his worst season in the NBA, as he played just 42 games and had a worse net rating (difference between how the team performs with him on and off the court) than everyone but Andrea Bargnani, Jason Smith and Cole Aldrich. Even the last season or two before Calderon came to the Knicks, his strength wasn’t in running an offense as much as it was helping space the floor with his three point shooting, and at the tender age of 34, I’m just not sure how much he has left to contribute to a team whose best case scenario seems to be eighth seed in the East. I’m not going to touch on Vujacic, and if you’re one of the Knicks fans excited to see what kind of progress Galloway makes this year, you’re more optimistic than I am.
That leaves us with Afflalo, who’s just a year removed from what was probably his best statistical season with the Orlando Magic. That said, the 30-year old guard struggled mightily last season, which hopefully can be chalked up to playing with a mess of a team in Denver and then being traded to Portland, and not just him being on the wrong side of his career.
Depending on what the Knicks decide to do with Anthony from a positional standpoint, we could see lineups that feature Afflalo at the small forward position with Grant and Calderon in the backcourt, or we could see Grant take over the point guard job. Either way, I think the rookie will emerge as the team’s best facilitator, and Jackson was fortunate to be able to swap out the struggling Hardaway for him.
So we’re over 1,000 words and I’ve barely mentioned the giant elephant in the room: where does Carmelo fit in all of this, if he does, in fact, fit? The team wasn’t able to add a second star this offseason, and with Melo having maybe three or four years left in his prime, and this roster looking like its at least two years away from competing for anything meaningful, does he want to stick around? Does the team want to keep him or do they want to get back any kind of assets while they can?
Also, if Jackson and Anthony decide they’re not on the same page, as has been rumored several times this offseason, will owner James Dolan allow for his club to explore trade possibilities?
As a Knicks fan, it’s kind of annoying to watch this all play out, mainly because we kind of just want to see the team commit to a direction. Considering they don’t have their first round draft pick in 2016, it doesn’t make sense to tank another year, but at the same time, can this team really compete for a playoff position?
Are the additions of Lopez, who despite not possessing flashy numbers, has a knack for doing the little things on the court that make those around him better, and Afflalo good enough to improve this team by 20-30 games? Even if the roster is improved, what’s to say their improvements will help them compete with other surging teams in the conference like Indiana, Charlotte, Detroit and Miami? Anthony hasn’t really proven to be the type of player who can carry a subpar team to the playoffs and beyond in the past, do we really think that he’s going to be any more of a superstar coming off of knee surgery?
This is all placing an incredible burden on Carmelo, a player who’s arguably a top-10 talent in the league, but he’ll continue to be unfairly blamed if the team doesn’t win, even if the roster around him isn’t anything special.
The team is clearly improved from last season’s shit show, it’s just a question of how improved are they, and if they’ll be good enough to help get Anthony back to the playoffs. That is, if he decides to stay.
Lots of questions, lots of uncertainty, but at least they’re better than the team that lost 65 games. Your 2015-16 New York Knicks!
Jared Mintz is a New York Native serving as the New York Knicks beat writer at BroJackson.com.