10 Biggest Issues Facing the New York Knicks This Season

Josh NeedelmanContributor IJune 5, 2014

10 Biggest Issues Facing the New York Knicks This Season

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    On March 18, Phil Jackson sat in between New York Knicks owner James Dolan and executive Steve Mills at a press conference at Madison Square Garden, fielding questions from eager reporters. Jackson had just been officially announced as the Knicks' new president of basketball operations, and, if only for a moment, the state of the Knicks seemed stable.

    But things really weren't okay. In truth, the team's 2013-2014 campaign was a textbook case of basketball mismanagement. The team slogged to an 37-45 record, falling way short of expectations after amassing 54 wins the previous season.

    Now, Jackson will be tasked with trying to rebuild a team and restore hope to a tireless, impatient fan base. He will certainly have his hands full this offseason, as he tries to repair a team teeming with ugly contracts and bereft of significant young talent. Carmelo Anthony's status is exceedingly uncertain, and the Knicks still don't have a head coach.

    Where should Jackson start?

    Here are the top 10 issues facing the Knicks this offseason.


No. 10: What to Do with Lamar Odom

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    When the Knicks inked Lamar Odom to a non-guaranteed contract with one game remaining in the season, many people were confused.

    Odom didn't end up playing a single minute for the squad's finale, but he has reportedly been working out and arrived at Knicks training facility on Monday, per the New York Post's Marc Berman.

    Odom's off-the-court troubles are well documented, but so is his success in Phil Jackson's offensive system. 

    The non-guaranteed deal isn't a burden to the team's already bloated salary cap. And if Odom can will himself back to full health, he'd provide the Knicks with a steady veteran presence in a locker room desperate for one.


No. 9: J.R. Smith's Immaturity

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    Knicks fans are well aware of J.R. Smith's antics. While an immensely talented player, Smith often resorts to tomfoolery both on and off the court — whether it's partying with Rihanna during the playoffs or untying opponents' shoelaces.

    It may not seem like much, but Smith's immaturity is a reflection of the organization as a whole. If Phil Jackson truly wants to turn around the franchise, he needs to implore Smith to act more mature.

    When healthy and motivated, Smith can be a supremely talented offensive player, as evidenced by the 18.1 points he averaged in 2012-2013 en route to winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award.

    But when the Knicks aren't winning games, Smith's interest wanes. If the Knicks want to be taken seriously, Smith needs to channel his inner clown elsewhere.

No. 8: No Cap Space

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    One could argue that this could be placed a bit higher, but it's an overarching theme that bleeds into nearly every single one of the Knicks' problems, so I placed it here.

    The franchise will boast the second-highest payroll in the league next year. Thanks to an array of ugly contracts—Andrea Bargnani ($12 million), Amare Stoudemire ($23.4 million), Tyson Chandler ($14.6 million)—the Knicks have no room to tinker with the roster that amassed 37 wins last season. 

    I'm sure Phil Jackson is willing to listen to offers for one his expiring contracts, but it's unlikely any teams will broach the topic. With little room to breathe, it appears the Knicks will be stuck with mostly the same roster intact for next season.

No. 7: No Draft Picks

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    When the Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony in 2011, they parted ways with a number of assets at the time.

    They included their 2014 first-round draft pick in the deal, with the expectation that Anthony's presence would lift the team to success and push the pick to the end of the first round. 

    The Denver Nuggets ended up sending the pick, which turned out to be No. 12 in the draft, to the Orlando Magic. And with last season's Marcus Camby trade, the Houston Rockets own the Knicks' second-round selection, too. 

    For a team of replete with horrid contracts and no cap room, the NBA draft would serve as an outlet to acquire new talent. But the Knicks don't have that luxury this year.

    According to New York Post's Marc Berman, the Knicks are interested in purchasing a draft pick. The Knicks will workout former Florida center Patric Young this week, and they also worked out Middle Tennessee State’s Shawn Jones and North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo this past Saturday. 

    Team's don't purchase draft picks often, but it does happen. The Knicks need some young talent, and shouldn't hesitate in making a move to get into this year's stacked draft.


No. 6: Shore Up Point Guard

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    On Dec. 11., SI.com's Ben Golliver selected Raymond Felton as the point guard for his All-Atrocious Team.

    The puffy-chested over-confidence, side-eye scowls, emphatic frustration dribbles and a total willingness to speak his mind — no matter how bad things get — are the icing on this cupcake.

    After a solid 2012-2013 campaign in which he averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 assists, Felton delivered arguably his worst full season a pro last year. His PER was just a 12.9, and his points per game dropped to 9.7. Not to mention, his 112 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 (possessions).

    Not only was he incredibly ineffective on the court, he proved to be a liability off the court when it was reported in February that he was arrested on gun charges.

    Per ESPN.com, Jackson denied rumors that he told Felton to expect to be traded. Felton comes relatively cheap, with just two years remaining on his four-year, $15 million contract. Perhaps he could be worked into a deal that would net the Knicks a draft pick.

    As for finding a viable replacement, the Knicks are limited in what they can do on the free-agent market. The would likely have to add someone using the veteran's minimum or go in house with Pablo Prigioni. 

No. 5: Find a Way to Get Rid of Andrea Bargnani

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    After watching that video, there really shouldn't be a need for discussion as to whether or not Andrea Bargnani should return next season, for any professional basketball organization.

    The Knicks will likely have trouble moving the power forward/center, though, who is scheduled to earn $12 million next season.

    Hang on. Take a minute to let that sink in. That's roughly the same amount of money as Oklahoma City Thunder center Serge Ibaka will make. Yeah, this guy. 

    Not only does the bloated contract prevent them from signing any notable free agents, it's also nearly unmovable.

    Sure, expiring contracts do carry weight in the league. But $12 million for a below-average player? While the league average for Win Shares/per 48 minutes was .100 last season, Bargnani's was a .058. He was brought in to help space the floor and shoot the long ball, yet he shot just .278 from long range. Again, significantly less than the league average (.378).

    I'm not sure moving Bargnani will be possible, but it should certainly be one of Jackson's top priorities. Bargnani is a symbol of the Knicks' downfall, and if the franchise wants to change the culture, they need to push him out the door.

No. 4: Iman Shumpert's Reduced Production

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    On Jan. 22., Iman Shumpert racked up 27 points, six rebounds and three steals in a 105-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. He shot 10-of-13 from the field, including two huge baskets in the final minute to help seal the Knicks win.

    Unfortunately for Knick fans, the showing proved to be an anomaly. Shumpert had an overall dreadful season, averaging just 6.7 points while shooting 33 percent from long range. Many hoped for Shumpert to have a breakout season after his solid showing in the 2012-2013 playoffs. 

    But Shumpert looked lost for the majority of the season. The swagger and confidence that made him a fan favorite had vanished. He still contributed quality minutes defensively: He averaged nearly two steals a game while regularly guarding the opposition's top player. His offensive production was at times nonexistent, however.

    As I've mentioned ad nauseam in this slideshow, the Knicks have no cap room and no draft picks. Unless Phil Jackson pulls off a near miracle, next year's Knicks team will look quite similar to the team that failed to qualify for the playoffs in a historically terrible Eastern Conference. 

    Shumpert can make a huge difference. An athletic 6'5" shooting guard, Shumpert has the potential to be one of the more complete two-way players in the league. But entering his fourth year in the league, Shumpert won't be able to rely on his potential anymore. He needs to produce.

    If Shumpert can turn things around next season, it would greatly benefit a Knicks team desperate for production.

No. 3: Re-Sign Carmelo Anthony

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    As the Knicks stumbled through their listless 2013-14 campaign, it often seemed that Carmelo Anthony's contract status received more attention than the day-to-day workings of the team.

    Anthony made it clear early in the season that he planned to opt of his contract after the year, as he'd be entitled to making more money by doing so. He never explicitly said he'd leave the Knicks. Rather, he insisted that he loves New York and merely wanted to experience being a free agent.

    But with the current situation in New York, it would be difficult to see Anthony opting to stay with the Knicks. The New York native demanded a trade to the Knicks in 2011, and the team gradually improved each season with him until last year. Now, with a barrage of unmovable contracts and a seemingly bleak immediate future, it wouldn't make much sense for Anthony to stay if he wants to win a championship anytime soon.

    Yet Anthony's wife, Lala Vasquez, said in January on Bravo TV's Watch What Happens Live that her husband will probably stay with the Knicks. 

    Still, that was before Anthony and the Knicks officially failed to qualify for the playoffs, something Anthony had never experienced in his 11 previous seasons. Anthony is 29, and his window for winning championships is closing quickly. One would think that he'd probably want test his luck elsewhere.

    This is where Phil Jackson comes in, and where New York general manager Steve Mills (and Creative Arts Agency) were supposed to come in. Jackson needs to somehow convince Anthony to stay in orange and blue. Sure, Anthony has his faults, and I'm not denying their existence. He too often relies on isolation offense and tends to slack off on defense.

    But with one of Jackson's disciples expected to take fill the Knicks' head coaching job and institute the pass-friendly triangle offense, Anthony would be forced to adapt. It could work. We just not may get the chance to see it.

No. 2: Hire a New Coach

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    After leading the Knicks to a 54-win season and the second round of the playoffs in 2012-2013, Mike Woodson appeared to have solid job security. Woodson's Knicks won a playoff series for the first time since 2000 and their first Atlantic Division title since 1994. And he had this awesome shirt.

    But when the losses started to pile up, the pressure proved too insurmountable for Woodson, as it took just one unsuccessful season to negate the team's most prosperous run since the Jeff Van Gundy era.

    Eight coaches have been hired and fired since Dolan became Garden Chairman in 1999 (not counting Van Gundy, who was on the bench before Dolan arrived and left in 2001). With all basketball decisions going through Jackson now, he is expected to hire a coach that he has previously had a working relationship with.

    According to ESPN's Ian Begley, Jackson reportedly reached an agreement with Steve Kerr a few weeks ago. But Kerr took the job in Golden State, and the Knicks' head coaching position is still vacant.

    Derek Fisher appears to be Jackson's top choice to fill the vacancy at this point, and per ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburn and Marc Stein, the two are scheduled to meet soon. Fisher recently finished his 18th NBA season when his Oklahoma City Thunder were bounced from the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs.

    Other potential coaches who have been rumored include Mark Jackson, Van Gundy, Rick Fox, as well as Jackson himself. The Zen Master has repeatedly stated that he is not interested in coaching next season, though.

    Fisher may be the Knicks' best bet, given his extensive experience with the triangle offense and renowned reputation as a locker room leader. If he were to take the job, he would be following in Jason Kidd's footsteps in taking a head coaching position immediately upon retiring as an active player. Similarly to Kidd, Fisher has long been lauded for his basketball intelligence and locker room presence.

No. 1: Reinvigorate the Fan Base

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    Above all else, Jackson needs to find a way to make the Knicks exciting again. This point essentially encapsulates the entire slideshow. Knicks fans are getting tired.

    New York fans are painfully passionate. When the team is good, they will show up in droves. When the Knicks are winning, the Garden is a fun place to be. See: Linsanity. 

    But when the Knicks aren't fun to watch, fans will voice their displeasure. And there was plenty of that this season; the fans regularly booed the squad, as its poor play resulted in the team's first playoff miss since Anthony's arrival. By the end of the season, fans had long moved on from rooting for the team, with the hope of a playoff run long gone.

    In my opinion, it will take a long time for the Knicks to be seriously competitive again. Sure, the Eastern Conference is horrid; but the Knicks need a lot of work.

    But little changes can spark excitement. Perhaps hiring a high profile coach. Re-signing Anthony. Shumpert regaining his shooting stroke and become a solid two-way player.

    It's been over 40 years since the Knicks raised an NBA championship banner into the rafters of the Garden. And, unfortunately for Knicks fans, even Phil Jackson likely won't be able to completely turn things around quickly.