Knicks fans are loyal. Most have only known misery, pain and mockery for sticking by their hometown team. The Franchise has traded first rounders for absolute scrubs (see: Andrea Bargnani below), and traded away stars and eventual NBA champions. Now, not all of these players necessarily were stars on the teams they went to, but seeing J.R. Smith running around Cleveland shirtless, clutching the Larry O’Brien Trophy, hurt many fragile blue and orange souls. For years it seemed The Knicks were doomed to the status of of perennial cellar-dwellers.
Can all of these woes be attributed to one of the worst owners in professional sports, James Dolan? Probably, but one of the smartest thing he ever did for the Knicks was give up the reins to someone who actually knows what he’s doing, Phil Jackson.
The hiring of Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations two years ago was well received at first, but soon the praise turned to questioning, and the questioning turned to dislike by this time last year. When Jackson took over, he took one look at the aging, under-achieving roster and decided to demolish it. No player was safe, save for Carmelo Anthony (who might have been dumped as well had he not signed a monster contract including a “no-trade clause”).
The team Carmelo Anthony was stuck with was putrid. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert were traded for Lance Thomas and Lou Amundson. Both Smith and Shumpert were oft criticized for their lack of effort and development, yet praised for their skill. Jackson had no time to overpay bona fide bench players to start and quickly dismissed them.
An Example of One of Many Idiotic Shots J.R. Smith Missed for The Knicks
Knicks fans were tormented by the terrible product on the court, but Jackson had a plan. The Derek Fisher hiring was a mistake, admittedly, however no team is supposed to be good during a rebuilding phase. Soon the tides would begin to change.
June 25, 2015: “with the fourth pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, The New York Knicks select, Kristaps Porzingis.” “WHO?!?” Shouted millions of Knicks fans.
They literally just got rid of one overpaid, over-hyped Euro center, and now it seemed they had wasted a top 4 pick to acquire another one. “Same ol’ Knicks” rang through heads across the five boroughs. People were angry, they were sad; until they actually saw him play. The basketball gurus at ESPN hadn’t told us much about the Latvian youngster, aside from the fact that at 7’3” Porzingis weighed about as much as me.
They didn’t tell us he could flat out ball. He attacked the basket with reckless abandon. He dunked over Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and the entire Bucks team to start off his career.
Kevin Durant, the most skilled 7 footer in the league (yes he’s 7 feet tall) called him a basketball “unicorn.” Porzingis can lead a fast break, dribble by defenders, post up, hit threes, get multiple blocks and more—and he’s only 20. He took the league by storm, but unfortunately, due to poor coaching, and the leagues 41st ranked point guard starting for the team (Jose Calderon), the Knicks as a whole played poorly. Some bright spots on the year besides Porzingis included Carmelo Anthony’s commitment to defense, and Lance Thomas’s spark off the bench. Short term contracts were signed, so that in 2016, Jackson could really go to work.
Summer ’16: This summer Jackson finally began “wheeling and dealing” as Walt Frazier might put it. Firing Derek Fisher and making sure Kurt Rambis wasn’t head coach was instrumental. Hiring Jeff Hornacek, who narrowly missed winning NBA Head Coach of the Year to Gregg Popovich, was especially smart. Hornacek is a proven head coach, and was taught by Hall of Famer, Jerry Sloan.
The first big move player-wise, was trading Calderon along with Robin Lopez’s 13.5 million dollar a year contract to the Bulls for former MVP point guard, Derrick Rose. The move was the first among many other crazy and high flying free agency deals. Rose, while less effective than in his pre-injury MVP days, still provides the Knicks with a GOOD point guard—not a terrible one, not a great one, but a good one. The Knicks have not had an all star caliber point guard since Mark Jackson in the early 90’s. While Rose is only signed until the end of the year, his stats provide the team with something they haven’t had in over a decade, despite his propensity for injury (he still managed to play in 66 games last year).
If it doesn’t work out, they can test the free agency waters next year with NBA superstar Russell Westbrook being a free agent. Jackson replaced the defensive minded Lopez with New York’s own, two-time All-Star Joakim Noah. The signing provides defense, rebounding, some scoring if needed, and crucial veteran experience for younger bigs on the team.
These two signings paved the way for two more signings that could make or break the season. Courtney Lee, the veteran wing defender, and three point specialist, provides everything this Knicks lineup needs from its back court. Rose is drive minded and looks to kick or layup, having Anthony, Porzingis and Lee available to pass and make threes and jumpers with Noah crashing could give The Knicks a very cohesive offense.
The most recent signing, for only 5 million dollars a year, is that of Brandon Jennings. The mercurial point guard provides instant offense off the bench, and despite not sticking recently with teams, is still very young and very talented. If he can buy into Jeff Hornacek’s system, The Knicks could have one of the best backcourts in the Eastern Conference.
And to comment on Colin Cowherd’s recent remarks, in praise of LeBron James, no The Knicks are not a dumpster fire. We have our first round pick next year. They have stars and talented role players. They will make noise, and they are ready to continue to build for the future.
Don’t be surprised if Russell Westbrook wants to play in the Mecca next year.
Images via Sports Illustrated