The New York Knicks are in need of help across the board if they are to turn things around and be competitive in the East this year, but with the help of a surprising name, they may just be able to do it.
Andrea Bargnani once again fell victim to false expectations after being acquired in exchange for three draft picks last summer, but upon his return from an elbow injury—and in a new regime—he could still turn out to be an important player for the Knicks.
Bargnani clearly wasn't a great fit alongside Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, but now that Chandler is gone, he should be able to find minutes at center, where he'll truly be able to help spacing, as opposed to clashing with Melo at forward.
Last season, Anthony and Bargnani struggled to coexist at forward. Both players wanted to work in the mid-range area, and this wasn't helped by having a player like Chandler in the middle who is only effective around the rim.
The triangle offense should help create open shots for the Italian, although he will need to work on his passing if the system is to work properly. Derek Fisher will certainly help Bargnani to pick up the required skills—the younger players he coached in summer league seemed to pick up the system pretty fast.
Bargnani's 2013-14 season will be remembered for a few embarrassing moments and his career-low three-point percentage of 28 percent, but it wasn't all bad. In fact, there was a handful positives to take before he bowed out with injury in January.
For starters, Bargnani appeared to be one of the few players putting in effort on a rather apathetic team, highlighted by his aggressive head-to-head matchup with Kevin Garnett in December and the injury that ended his season while he was driving hard to the rim against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Admittedly, Bargnani was unimpressive as a team defender, although he did manage to record a career high in rebounds per 36 minutes (not that 6.4 is particularly impressive) and had his moments as a one-on-one defender.
His best offensive basketball came during a stretch of 14 games from November to December in which he averaged 17.4 points on 46 percent shooting while Chandler was out, but the period also saw the Knicks play some of their worst defensive basketball with him in the middle, conceding an average of 98.2 points per game.
He'd be better suited moving forward to coming off the bench to provide offense rather than being relied upon as the team's primary all-around center.
At this point, Bargnani has faded almost completely into the background. No one's talking about him anymore, and the general consensus, understandably, is that he brings nothing to the table other than his expiring $11.5 million contract.
However, there is still a chance Bargnani could turn into a real contributor for the Knicks. He's in a contract year and has every incentive to work hard. He has also been reunited with Jose Calderon.
The last time he was in a contract year with Calderon as his point guard, he averaged a very efficient 17.2 points per game and earned a five-year contract from the Toronto Raptors, which didn't seem quite so bad at the time.
New York is unlikely to bring back Bargnani in any scenario, but the center is very much playing for his next NBA contract. He'll be a completely unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career next season and stands to take a huge pay cut on his current contract at this rate.
Even Phil Jackson is of the belief that Bargnani will fit well in his system.
"He's overlooked. We think he's going to really do well in the system we have," Jackson said on MSG Network during Summer League, per the New York Daily News. "We have a couple of guards he likes to play with, Jose Calderon and Pablo Prigioni, and I think he's going to be a surprise and a pleasant one for our fans."
Chemistry with the two point guards is going to be very important, as is the additional spacing afforded by Chandler's departure, and Bargnani has the skill set to capitalize on it if he puts in the effort.
Bargnani has always had the talent to be an efficient role player, but no-one has been able to bring it out of him. If anyone can finally do it, you'd have to think the Zen Master would be the one, especially with Bargnani in a contract year and playing with his favorite point guard again.
This is not going to be an All-Star season for Bargnani by any stretch of the imagination, but it's absolutely possible that Jackson and Fisher could help him turn into an effective role player before he hits free agency.