Even though patience isn't a virtue for fans in the Big Apple, the New York Knicks are in the midst of a transition period that will likely see the franchise continue to struggle on the court during the 2014-15 NBA season.
Last year was an unmitigated disaster coming on the heels of a 54-win season in 2012-13, the most wins by the Knicks since the 1996-97 campaign. There are reasons for optimism, though, starting at the top with the addition of Phil Jackson to the front office and return of Carmelo Anthony.
Jackson came on board late last season, taking over in an official capacity as president of the Knicks on March 18, and said during his introductory press conference that an emphasis has to be put back on team basketball, via Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports:
I know you all know about the vaunted Triangle offense, and it's been maligned in the past few years, but I believe in system basketball. Steve Mills came out of Princeton. I came out of a system that we ran here in New York in which team ball was an important aspect of playing, and we believe that’s what we want to get accomplished as we go forward from here.
Too often last year, the Knicks' offense boiled down to getting Anthony the ball and everyone else getting out of the way. The seven-time All-Star agreed to stay in New York for $124 million over five years.
Re-signing Anthony was the first major roster move Jackson made, but his top personnel decision came on June 10 when Derek Fisher was hired as New York's head coach. He is moving directly onto the bench after a successful 18-year playing career.
With those two moves out of the way, the Knicks are going to focus on their future. They are still locked into bad contracts, including Amar'e Stoudemire ($23.4 million) and Andrea Bargnani ($11.5 million) that prevented them from being major players in free agency, but the good news is those deals come off the books after next season and will give Jackson more financial flexibility.
Even when they are bad, no one can accuse the Knicks of being boring. With the release of their 2014-15 schedule, there's certainly a lot to discuss. Read on for a look at their championship odds, top games to watch and a record prediction.
|To Win Eastern Conference||30-1|
|To Win NBA Championship||60-1|
Los Angeles Lakers at New York Knicks
When: Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. ET
It's ironic that a game between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers would be highlighted when both franchises are in the midst of a transition period.
The Lakers did everything they possibly could to get better in the offseason, including pursuing Anthony to join Kobe Bryant in Hollywood. Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard of ESPN.com even said they were the biggest threat to steal Anthony from the Knicks:
While the Knicks remain confident in their chances to convince Anthony to return to the Big Apple, the Lakers' pitch...made what one source described as a "strong impression" on Anthony, who is living and training in Los Angeles this summer, and has made his decision over the holiday weekend "tough," according to another source close to the situation.
Los Angeles' efforts turned out to be for naught, as Anthony took the bigger max contract from New York and will start the final phase of his career in Knicks orange.
However, the Lakers' pursuit of Anthony isn't the only storyline that makes this such an intriguing matchup. The Knicks are walking around with the man Los Angeles assumes should be working in Hollywood: Jackson.
Before the Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni to be their head coach in November 2012, Jackson was being courted by the team and, in a different report from Shelburne on ESPNLosAngeles.com, would have accepted the job if it had been formally offered.
Instead, the Lakers went 67-87 under D'Antoni and Jackson found a new home and job with the team he spent 10 years as a player from 1967 to 1978.
Fisher also has a well-documented history with the Lakers, playing 12.5 seasons in Los Angeles and winning five NBA championships with the franchise.
No one suggested Fisher would have been hired to coach the Lakers when he decided to retire, but it's still another case where a longtime Los Angeles star wound up on the East Coast.
New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers
When: Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. ET
There will come a day, long after both players have retired, when we look back on what Anthony and LeBron James brought to the game of basketball. They were drafted in the same year, two picks apart in 2003, but their friendly rivalry started before that night.
Anthony and LeBron's first high-profile battle came in February 2002 when Anthony's Oak Hill Academy team traveled to Sovereign Bank Arena for a matchup with LeBron's St. Vincent-St. Mary squad.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com did a retrospective of that game in February 2012, noting that truly was the beginning of both players' journey to NBA superstardom:
Just a few days later, James made his debut on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the banner "The Chosen One." Ten months later, when he did get his rematch with Oak Hill, he got the victory in a game that was broadcast on ESPN2. Anthony was gone by then, on his way to winning a national title in his one season at Syracuse.
Now, as both players enter their 12th season in the NBA, LeBron has become one of the most beloved athletes in the world for his ability on the court and making the monumental decision to go back home after four years in Miami.
Anthony, on the other hand, is still trying to prove the doubters wrong. Jackson tried to bait him into taking a lesser contract so the Knicks could spend more money on free agents, which naturally led to whispers that the All-Star forward is all about cash and doesn't care about winning.
There's a lot of work for the Knicks to do in order to compete with the best teams in the Eastern Conference, like Cleveland and Chicago, but it's not Anthony's job to manage the salary cap. Plenty of great teams have been built with one max player on the roster.
Unfortunately for Anthony, he's always going to live in LeBron's shadow because of how historically great the Akron-born superstar is and how he wanted to make things right with his hometown.
It may not be much of a battle, but the storylines and intrigue surrounding the first matchup of LeBron and Carmelo in New York since the former went back home is too much to pass up.
Even though the Knicks are going to struggle this season, things aren't as dire as they might seem. They did win 37 games last year when everyone acted like the sky was falling and look better on paper.
How will the Knicks fare in 2014-15?
Anthony will always be the focal point of the offense; Samuel Dalembert is an effective defender and rebounder in the paint; Amar'e Stoudemire is a waste of money but still effective enough at 11.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game off the bench.
The addition of Jose Calderon at the point guard position gives the Knicks a solid option to run the offense, which was never Raymond Felton's strength. Cleanthony Early was a draft steal as the 34th overall pick in June. He's a long, athletic player who can score and will play hard on defense.
It's not enough to push the Knicks over the top in a muddled Eastern Conference, but they can compete for one of the final playoff spots and build toward the future when they have more room to operate.
Final Prediction: 39-43 (3rd in Atlantic Division)
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