5 Ways New York Knicks Can Turn Things Around This Offseason
The New York Knicks have missed the playoffs the last four years, but that only scratches the surface of the team’s drought. They’ve had only won one playoff series since 1999-2000 when they went to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Sure, they’ve made the playoffs five times since then, but to what end? They’re 9-21 in the postseason since then and have never realistically contended for anything. When we talk about the Knicks “turning things around” are we talking about them getting into another pointless postseason “run” where they get bounced out of the first round in six games?
Adding a couple of the right players in the weak Eastern Conference puts that goal within reach. It just doesn’t take very much. But I don’t believe that’s going to satiate Knicks fans.
Rather, turning it around should mean they get back on track to get to be a contender to be in the Eastern Conference Finals—or even deeper. That’s going to take more than one season, but more of the groundwork can be done this summer toward that long-term goal.
Here are five things they can do to that end in a logical sequence.
Find a New Home for Carmelo Anthony
Whatever your feelings are regarding Carmelo Anthony—and I know those feelings are quite mixed among Knicks fans these days—it is clear he is not a part of the future. For that reason alone, the Knicks should figure out a trade to officially move on.
That’s going to mean taking less back for him than most Knicks fans would like. Perhaps even almost nothing. It might mean having to take back a bad contract or two. Something like Austin Rivers and Jamaal Crawford passes the ESPN Trade Machine.
Crawford has two years left on a horrible contract, but the Knicks could always use the stretch provision on him and pay $17,246,988 over three years ($5.7 million per year), which would give them roughly another $10 million in cap space to play with this summer, based on figures at Spotrac.com.
With about $70 million in salaries and holds, they’d have in the ballpark of $30 million to spend, though, there are too many variables that are unsettled right now (including how many games the Finals goes) to give a hard number of how much cap space they’ll have.
There are things to bear in mind. Anthony has a no-trade clause, so he gets final approval of any trade. Furthermore, he has a trade kicker, which is easier to manage if he should waive the final year of his contract (which would also make him easier to move), as ESPN's Ian Begley explained:
"If he is traded before July 1 and wants to collect the entire trade kicker, it is spread out over two seasons. If he is traded after July 1, the entire trade kicker is allocated for 2017-18. However, if Anthony agrees in writing to become a free agent in 2019, thereby eliminating his player option that season, the trade kicker can be spread over the 2018-19 season as well."
This is all significant because the more attractive the team he's going to, the more likely he is to do that, and the easier he would be to move. Ergo, a short-term hit could turn into a long-term gain, as the Knicks would be freed up of a lot of salary in the 2018-19 season.
And just in making the trade, they accomplish the most important thing they can possibly accomplish this summer: They turn the page.
Abandon the Triangle
- The triangle offense was all the rage of the 90s and the 00s.
- It is not the all the rage of the 10s.
Having money to spend doesn’t do much good if no one wants to play for the Knicks. And that makes this next point extremely crucial.
There are two facts to understand here:
Understand that this is neither an endorsement nor an indictment of the quality of the actual offense. It’s an assessment of the perception of the offense. Players don’t want it. Chuck Klosterman wrote about this over five years ago for the now-defunct Grantland.com:
“If Jackson’s use of the word “pariah” seems overly dramatic, consider this: I spoke with another coach about the Triangle for more than an hour, but only after agreeing our conversation would remain off the record. His reasoning? He fears being perceived as a “Triangle coach” could marginalize his reputation. The conventional wisdom is that coaches who love the Triangle are inflexibly married to its principles and unwilling to adapt to new personnel. Whenever a team using the Triangle struggles, the Triangle absorbs the blame. And since so few people really know how (or why) the Triangle works, it becomes a circular criticism. “No matter what I say in this interview,” the coach told me, “nobody will understand this offense. It’s impossible to explain over the phone.””
Phil Jackson’s failure in New York to make the offense work isn’t going to help sell players on it. And this is really what things distil down to. Any type of offense needs players to make it work, and if players don’t want to come to New York, nothing will work.
Perception is reality here, and you can’t change the latter without changing the former, and that can only happen by never using the word triangle again.
Get a Real Defensive Coach
Whatever you want to say about the triangle, the defense was worse than the offense. According to NBA.com, the Knicks were 18th in offensive rating and 25th in defensive rating this past season.
At least part of the reason for that is Kurt Rambis is the primary defensive coach. Apart from the Knicks’ woes on defense is the fact that the players seem to have a severe issue with Rambis as a coach.
Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical reported in April:
“After his first season as Knicks coach, Hornacek is still trying to incorporate a system that is foreign to him, armed with a Jackson-installed assistant coach, Kurt Rambis, who is beyond unpopular with the players, league sources said. When players want coaching and teaching, they get yelling, sources said. Most wonder about Rambis’ allegiances, because after all, he’s Jackson’s guy, not Hornacek’s.”
Going after a defensive assistant with a proven track record would help restore a sense of harmony to the team. Someone like Andy Greer, who has been with Tom Thibodeau forever (and is with him and the Minnesota Timberwolves now), has the pedigree. If the Knicks wanted to go a little outside the box, Shane Battier might be hired away from the Miami Heat.
Whatever they do, the Knicks need someone who can foster confidence and camaraderie among the players. Almost nothing they do matters if there’s infighting, and it’s pretty clear that is going to persist as long as Rambis is there.
And he’s not a hill anyone should die on.
Draft a Point Guard
Last summer the New York Knicks traded for Derrick Rose. It was the latest in a series of moves to try and find the Knicks a permanent point guard. He's not the answer and the Knicks should let him go wherever he wants. Sunk cost and all that.
I wrote earlier about their struggles over the last decade and why I think Frank Ntilikina could put an end to that search:
“Over the past decade, they've had Ron Baker, Jose Calderon, Jamal Crawford, Jeremy Lin, Toney Douglas, Chris Duhon, Raymond Felton, Jerian Grant, Brandon Jennings, Pablo Prigioni, Nate Robinson, Derrick Rose and a 39-year-old Jason Kidd try to fill the role. There's probably a few others who have been forgotten.
Can anyone remember everyone who has been through the turnstile that has been New York's point guard position since Marbury left in 2008?”
We’re in an era where the high pick-and-roll between a stretch-big and a point guard is the cornerstone play of the league. Almost everything else a team does that can be effective comes out of that. That’s why most of the successful teams have a point guard who can run it (Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, etc.) or a pseudo point guard like James Harden.
You also need a big who can stretch the court on offense but protect the rim on the other, a la Draymond Green (which the Knicks already have, but more on that later).
Read the article for more details, but I think Ntilikina is the perfect man for the job. He’s malleable and smart, he has the type of passing, shooting and ball-handling that makes him a fit on offense, he’s long (with a 7’0” wingspan), and that makes him a versatile defender, and he has championship mettle.
The Knicks are already hallway to their dynamic duo. All they need to do is hope that Ntilikina will fall to them. If he doesn’t, Dennis Smith would be a good backup plan. But either way, the Knicks need to use the pick on a point guard with a future.
Build Around Kristaps Porzingis as the Center
Back to the big man who can stretch the court and protect the rim. There’s a reason that Porzingis has been dubbed the Unicorn.
According to Basektball-Reference.com, through two seasons, Porzingis has blocked 264 shots and drained 193 threes. There are only three other 7-footers who have done that in NBA history: Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani and Spencer Hawes. Of that group, Porzingis is the tallest (7’3”), averages the most threes per game (1.4) and nearly twice as many blocks (1.9 compared to Hawes, who is second at 1.0) as the other three.
Even if you remove the height restriction, no player in history has averaged more blocks and more threes than Porzingis.
Porzingis won over the initially reluctant Big Apple fanbase in his rookie year, but last season the team seemed intent on misusing him. The adherence to the triangle is getting in the way of Porzingis progress, compelling him to play too often as a traditional power forward.
The young Knicks star was so frustrated that he left for Latvia early, skipping out on his exit interview.
His brother and agent Janis Porzingis spoke with Begley about it:
"Kris wants to stay in New York; he feels at home there. There is no question about it. The only thing he wants is for the Knicks to create an environment where he can develop and grow as a player and win," Janis Porzingis said earlier this month. "If he were traded, he would play out his contract and head into free agency, where he can choose his own destiny."
When you get a unicorn, you try and treat it like a horse. Why would you want to force something extraordinary into being ordinary?
The Knicks need to 1) make Porzingis the center of the offense and 2) make it abundantly clear to Porzingis that’s what they’re doing. I feel I’m on fairly scientific grounds when I say that unicorns can only make magic when they’re happy. So, make Porzingis happy.
Everything else they do needs to be with this one objective. He needs to be the cornerstone they build upon, and he can be if they do everything else.