The New York Knicks are rightly among the most scrutinized franchises in the NBA, and even in all of North American professional sports. New president Phil Jackson, who played for the organization before embarking on a legendary coaching career, has quite a maiden challenge as a front-office executive.
Jackson has already made one high-profile trade, sending All-Star center Tyson Chandler and previous starting point guard Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks. The wheeling and dealing could continue with some of the Knicks' premium current players, too.
But will general manager Steve Mills be around to make these monumental decisions? Conflicting whispers have hinted he may not be, but the latest buzz suggests that Mills is going nowhere.
Pleasing superstar scorer Carmelo Anthony has to be the No. 1 priority for Jackson and Mills. Upgrading the roster is the best way to do that—be it through potential trades or further free-agent pursuits.
Let's examine the latest NBA rumors emerging from the Big Apple and what they mean for the organization's future.
Breaking Down Rumored Trade Assets
A convoluted backcourt rotation may lead to one or more of the following players being traded: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Shane Larkin. This according to a recent report by ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley.
One player who won't be included in any packages, per Begley's source, is Tim Hardaway Jr. That makes some sense, given the versatility Hardaway has to play both wing positions. Although Shumpert seems to be the more proven commodity in that regard, particularly on defense, Hardaway has more offensive upside.
Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal objects to this logic in his analysis:
If Jackson and the Knicks are finally looking to build a complete, two-way roster, rather than one that prioritizes offense over everything else, then exploring what they can get for Hardaway makes the most sense.
Smith had a lackluster 2013-14 campaign just a year after winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. With how volatile his temperament tends to be, it will be difficult for the Knicks to shop Smith to others for any decent compensation in return.
In that context, Grantland's Jared Dubin believes Hardaway may be the best player to trade:
As for Larkin, he just arrived in the Dallas trade, so it's unclear what his role will be moving forward. Since he doesn't cost much as a former second-round pick and possesses exceptional quickness, it's worth at least exploring what he brings to the court.
Having averaged just 10.2 minutes per game as a rookie, though, Larkin would net hardly anything. The Knicks might as well retain him and see if he can crack the point guard rotation that features 37-year-old Pablo Prigioni and Jose Calderon. Larkin's speed would offer a nice change of pace over Calderon and his lackluster athleticism.
Steve Mills Reportedly Staying As GM
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reports that Mills was a top candidate for the new executive director of the players' union. But fear not, Mills fans: A source tells Isola that Mills will remain in his post in New York's front office.
All indications are that the collaborative effort to rebuild the roster between Mills and Jackson is going swimmingly, too.
This may not seem like a big piece of news, but the last thing the recently unstable Knicks organization needs at this point is another shakeup. The power structure appears cemented. Jackson and Mills working well together is vital, and the pair evidently concurred on the hiring of head coach Derek Fisher.
With those philosophies in alignment, some semblance of synergy can begin to be salvaged in New York, with Anthony leading the way as part of the triangle offense. There will be plenty of cap room to play with in the 2015 offseason, so the more Mills can be on the same page with Jackson and help him as he adjusts to life as a marquee decision-maker, the better.
Mills outlined his vision in an interview with the New York Post's John DeMarzo:
We’re trying to build a roster that has a little bit better balance than it looks right now. We’re a little too heavy at the 2-guard right now. We need to have a good group of bigs who are flexible, guys who can play the 4 or 5, guys who can stretch the floor a little bit and who can pass. That’s going to be an important component of what we try to do as Coach [Derek] Fisher builds his team and a style of play.
The key for anyone who comes to New York—or anyone still there—is to buy in above all else. Seeing Mills leave would have created a rather bleak outlook for the franchise's immediate future. It may have signaled a waving of the white flag of sorts.
Now that Anthony is secured for the long haul and the front office remains intact, the Knicks can make tangible progress within the next two years—especially since they are competing in the inferior Eastern Conference.
Knicks Pursuing Free Agent Dahntay Jones
One of the better NBA seasons Jones had came in 2008-09 with the Denver Nuggets, where he started a career-best 71 games. Jones was Anthony's teammate, and according to Isola's report, Melo and Jones have been in touch.
"Jones was in contact with Anthony prior to Anthony re-signing with the Knicks," writes Isola. "Jones had been in Los Angeles working out for the Clippers. Anthony lives in L.A. during the offseason."
The swingman Jones offers the potential to fill in as a role player at best, but with more combined experience than either Shumpert or Hardaway boast. Having innate chemistry with Anthony and a competitive streak on defense will also help his cause to wind up with the Knicks.
The market to land Jones is competitive even beyond the Los Angeles Clippers, though, per Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy:
Since the Knicks drafted both Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who project best as small forwards and occupy Anthony's traditional position. Thus, the emphasis should be focused on the front line, where New York needs to get tougher beyond Samuel Dalembert.
Between beat-up veteran Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, who played just 42 games last season, there isn't much depth to speak of in the frontcourt. That ought to be a priority when the Knicks trade whomever they desire from their surplus supply of perimeter players.
Adding another similar player to the mix in Jones would provide the younger players with a mentor, yet it wouldn't be best for either the short-term or long-ranging future. It's also important for Mills, Jackson and the front office not to press too hard, as the next two summers figure to be their time to truly upgrade the star power surrounding Anthony.
The Knicks' return to NBA prominence may not be immediately on the horizon, but in light of the recent rumors, there is a foundation in place to build a more sustainable winner once the 2014-15 season concludes.
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