There is a silver lining to the New York Knicks' abysmal 2013-14 season: The magnitude of the disappointment forced owner James Dolan to recognize that the franchise was moving in the wrong direction. The Knicks are nowhere near the championship contenders Dolan proclaimed them to be at the start of the season, via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com.
The Franchise Needs a Complete Overhaul
The Knicks' poor play and uninspired effort was not an anomaly attributable to a slew of injuries. Rather, it was symptomatic of a franchise mired in 15 years of delusional thinking, short-term planning, incompetent leadership, troubling alliances and poor player and personnel decisions. The franchise needs a massive overhaul from top to bottom.
Dolan began the process by hiring former Knicks player and legendary coach Phil Jackson as team president. "The idea of developing a 'culture' is an overwrought word in the NBA right now, but that's the cachet, I think, that brought me here," Jackson correctly noted at his introductory press conference, via Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports.
The Zen Master made his first major change on April 21 when he fired Mike Woodson and the entire coaching staff. Jackson's comments regarding the firing suggested that there would be other moves to come, via Begley.
Phil Jackson: "The time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess & build .. for next season & beyond."— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) April 21, 2014
Next, Jackson will turn his attention to the front office and hiring a new coach. General manager Steve Mills does not have much personnel experience and could be pushed out of that role. Jackson, who is not familiar with the intricacies of the salary cap, will likely bring in trusted advisers to help run the organization.
According to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, Clarence Gaines Jr., a former Chicago Bulls scout and longtime friend of Jackson's, has been working for the Knicks the past few weeks and could be in line for a front-office role.
Revamping the Knicks roster will be more complicated. New York has no salary-cap space and few assets to work with. Regardless of whether or not Carmelo Anthony re-signs with the team this summer, expect Jackson to tinker around the edges while biding his time until Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani's contracts come off the books in the summer of 2015.
The Knicks Need an Offensive System
Mike Woodson found an offensive formula that was successful for this club by playing Anthony at the 4 and surrounding him with shooters. New York set an NBA record for three-pointers made in 2012-13 and finished 11th in offensive efficiency in 2013-14, via ESPN.com, despite receiving minimal production from its point guards, suffering numerous injuries and lacking a reliable second scoring option.
However, the Knicks attack had a tendency to stagnate, particularly in late-game situations when New York would clear out for Anthony to go one-on-one. Even when the offense was in high gear last season, it lacked the secondary action and unpredictability necessary to succeed against elite teams in the playoffs. The Knicks need a system based on player and ball movement.
There has been speculation that Jackson wants the Knicks to use the triangle offense that he had so much success with while coaching the Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. At his introductory press conference, Jackson suggested that he would not insist on his coach using the triangle, but that he does like "having a system," via Fred Kerber of the New York Post.
New York Needs a New Defensive Philosophy
The Knicks ranked 24th in points allowed per possession. Grantland's Zach Lowe noted:
Every team below them was either tanking on purpose (Utah, Philadelphia); tanking by accident (the Lakers and Bucks); incompetent enough defensively that they tanked the end of the season to make sure they kept their draft pick (Detroit); or decimated by injuries (New Orleans). The Knicks were basically the worst defensive team among NBA teams that were trying to win NBA basketball games.
There were several poor defensive players in the Knicks rotation, though Woodson compounded their deficiencies with an ineffective scheme. The Knicks defenders switched far too often, creating mismatches all over the floor.
New York's defense was particularly atrocious when it came to defending the pick-and-roll. According to Synergy (subscription required), Woodson's team ranked last in points surrendered per possession to both the ball-handler and screener on pick-and-rolls.
This was the second season in a row that New York struggled to stop the bread-and-butter of most NBA offenses. The next coach needs to abandon the constant switching and implement a new approach, such as double-teaming the ball-handler, hedging or attempting to shade the offense to one side of the floor.
The Players Need to Be Held Accountable
Woodson had a reputation as no-nonsense guy when he took over as Knicks coach in March 2012. "I'm going to be held accountable and I'm going to make damn sure that (the players are) held accountable to win," he said after his first game as interim coach, via Begley.
All evidence was to the country. Woodson coddled J.R. Smith, whose shenanigans were a constant distraction to the team. Instead of disciplining Smith after the audacious guard was suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy, Woodson rewarded him with a spot in the starting lineup.
Woodson repeatedly stated that he did not want players to switch on pick-and-rolls, via Begley, but never took action when they continued to do so. Similarly, he failed to follow-through on his threats "about playing the guys who are gonna play hard," via Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal.
Woodson: "At this stage right now, I'm about playing the guys who are gonna play hard."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 29, 2013
How could Woodson expect his players to take responsibility for their insufficient performance when he repeatedly moaned about the team's injuries during press conferences?
Woodson: "I don't think I've lost the locker room or the players... What I have lost is a Tyson Chandler & Raymond Felton [to injury]."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) November 26, 2013
Woodson suggests things could've been different this yr had Bargnani stayed healthy. Used the oft-referenced "big piece of the puzzle" line— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) April 11, 2014
New York Must Upgrade at Point Guard
The Knicks do not have a first-round draft pick or many valuable trade assets, but they must find a way to upgrade the point guard position. Raymond Felton, who had a decent 2012-13 season, was arguably the worst starting point guard in the league this year.
Felton shot 39.5 percent from the field, 31.8 percent on three-point attempts and 72.1 percent from the line for a horrendous true shooting percentage of 47.6. He also failed to break down defenses off the dribble. According to SportVU's player tracking data, Felton ranked 56th in the league with 5.2 drives per game, via NBA.com, an unacceptable number for a starting point guard who averaged 31 minutes per night.
And that is Felton's strong side of the ball. He has been a disaster defensively for a few years now, unable to keep mediocre point guards out of the paint.
The soon-to-be-37-year-old Pablo Prigioni is not the answer, either. Rookie Toure' Murry has the length and quickness to be a strong defender but does not possess the offensive game to run a team. New York will have to look elsewhere for a suitable starter.