Former Knicks Finding Success in Playoffs a Sobering Reality for New York

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2017

Atlanta Hawks' Tim Hardaway Jr., right, is congratulated by Malcolm Delaney after shooting a three-point basket in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday, April 7, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

They've been popping up everywhere and every night, in different sizes and jerseys.

For fans of the New York Knicks, there's been no escape.

While team president Phil Jackson and the rest of his front office may be home scouring scouting reports in preparation for the upcoming NBA draft, a whopping 18—yes, you read that number correctly—former Knicks players have spent the past couple of weeks competing in the NBA playoffs.

Those men are: Trevor Ariza, Matt Barnes, Jose Calderon, Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, Channing Frye, Jerian Grant, Tim Hardaway Jr., Brandon Jennings, David Lee, Robin Lopez, Nene, Zach Randolph, Kevin Seraphin, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Jason Smith and Derrick Williams.

(Let's not forget one-time head coach Mike D'Antoni either.)

To be fair to Big Chief Triangle, as Jeff Van Gundy once so eloquently put it, some of these now-former Knicks were jettisoned before his 2014 arrival. Eleven of them, however, played under Jackson. From that group, seven were traded away and one was waived.

From left to right: David Lee, Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford.
From left to right: David Lee, Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford.David Dow/Getty Images

So, taking all that into account, the question must be asked: Is this yet another indictment of Jackson's tenure in New York or just a Knicks-ian coincidence?

We can all agree the Wizards aren't in the playoffs because of Jason Smith's ability to sometimes hit a mid-range jumper, and that Derrick Williams hasn't put the Cavaliers on his back.

But some of these players, and the success they're enjoying, do provide a glimpse into the issues that have plagued the Knicks since Jackson took the reins.

Take, for example, Robin Lopez.

The Bulls center, who Jackson traded last summer and who played a major role in Chicago's pushing Boston in the first round of the playoffs (13.2 points, 6.9 rebounds), is known more for his disdain of mascots than for anything he does on the floor. In fact, this season Lopez put up slightly worse numbers (10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game) than he did during his lone year in New York.

So why was getting rid of him a mistake?

Lopez is signed through 2019 at about $14 million per year. That may sound like a lot, but for a starting-caliber 29-year-old center, it's a bargain given the current NBA marketplace. Worse still, Lopez was traded to bring in impending free agent Derrick Rose, who the Knicks could have signed this offseason if they so desperately wanted him, and clear space to hand a broken-down Joakim Noah an outrageous four-year, $72 million deal.

Al Horford and Robin Lopez.
Al Horford and Robin Lopez.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Oh, and Jackson threw point guard Jerian Grant, a 2015 first-round pick, into that trade too.

Grant has barely seen the floor in the playoffs, but in the regular season he boosted his three-point shooting percentage from 22.0 to 36.6. He may not project as a star, but it was his athleticism and ability to attack the lane that propelled him into the draft's first round. If his jumper is fixed, there's a good chance Grant, just 24, enjoys a solid NBA career, one the Knicks could have prospered from had Jackson not prematurely cut bait.

The same could be said for Tim Hardaway Jr., selected 24th by the Knicks in the 2013 draft. Hardaway, a guard, spent two seasons in New York mostly running in the mud. His intriguing rookie campaign (10.2 points and 36.3 percent from downtown) was followed by a disappointing sophomore year. He slumped from deep. His effort waned.

According to ESPN.com's Chris Broussard, there were issues between him and Carmelo Anthony. So in June 2015, the Knicks sent Hardaway to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for…the draft rights to Jerian Grant.

To recap: Jackson traded Hardaway for Grant, who he then traded along with Robin Lopez for one year of a subpar Derrick Rose and cap room to ink Noah, perhaps the greatest example possible of turning something into nothing.

And you wonder why the Knicks seem cursed.

Meanwhile, Hardaway has transformed himself into a legitimate NBA starter—with the potential to morph into something even greater. He averaged 14.5 points this season on a career-high 45.5 percent shooting and has nailed multiple big shots in the Hawks' first-round battle with the Wizards.

Also, his 6'6", 205-pound fame and ability to switch onto bigger players on defense provides the Hawks with flexibility, traits the Knicks could desperately use.

J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

But fine, all executives make mistakes. The thing is, Jackson's been down this path before. Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith were packaged and shipped to Cleveland as part of a three-team deal.

What'd the Knicks receive? Lou Amundson, Lance Thomas, Alex Kirk and a 2019 second-round pick from the Cavs.

There's more.

This year's playoff rosters are littered with examples of Jackson's recklessly discarded assets:

  • Wizards guard Brandon Jennings, whom Jackson waived late in the season instead of trading before the deadline (the Brooklyn Nets got a first-round pick for Bojan Bogdanovic and taking on some bad contracts...Jennings should have yielded similar returns).
  • Jose Calderon, for whom Jackson misguidedly flipped Tyson Chandler—only to be later used as additional sweetener in the Rose deal.
  • Derrick Williams, while far from a stud, could have been shopped two deadlines ago as well.

And imagine what it will be like next year when Knicks fans are (likely) forced to watch Anthony catch fire for a different team, or maybe in two or three years if the relationship between Kristaps Porzingis and Jackson continues to fray.

All of this is a symptom of the greater disease that's infected Jackson's reign as MSG head honcho: The inability to stick with a single plan and to let young players or young coaches find their way, coupled with a refusal to dive head first into a rebuild.

Instead, the Knicks are left with few options and even less promise, barring some lottery luck.

Instead, New York gets to watch the ghosts of its past while other teams leverage Jackson's discard bin into playoff wins—something the Knicks haven't seen since the 2012-13 season.

Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks, and other things, for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman and listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here.

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