Top Offseason Priorities and Targets for the Knicks
Enough dogma: This New York Knicks' offseason must not be about one offensive scheme or another.
It mustn't be about analytics; it mustn't be about not being about analytics. It mustn't be "win now" or "tank—I mean, development year." No Oprah Winfrey-style giveaway of draft picks; no weekly invocation that picks are sacrosanct and untradeable.
Put in the simplest and most complex terms: This season must be about making a team—and all the crunchy, silky, chewy, sticky stuff that goes into one.
Particularly, it must be about the sloppiest goop of all: personalities.
The Knicks have just completed a season in which they finished far enough from both first place and last place to ensure all players and fans, regardless of competing personal objectives, could be equally unhappy.
Their best player fell with a devastating injury and was nowhere near the bench the remainder of the season. Their player with the highest guaranteed salary was quite literally banished after losing patience with a coach who wouldn't put him on the active roster. The team had flipped into "dysfunctional" territory.
By firing head coach Jeff Hornacek, the New York head office has another chance to become functional—a tall order in New York.
Here's what they should be looking for to avoid immediately bumbling into the usual tomfoolery.
Hire a Head Coach Who Is a Leader of People
Some coaches are tacticians. They are geniuses with a whiteboard who can draw up the perfect play—and suck the life out of the squad who needs to execute it.
Yet, during double overtime, when even the most professionally well-conditioned and highly paid-for lungs ache, muscles burn, joints tremble and minds reel, a team may need more than slick inbound play to keep them motivated.
Shouting "Remember you make $15 million a year" is probably not helpful when scraping back from a 20-point deficit, either.
Then again, maybe it is. People kick it into high gear for different reasons, and a coach with that emotional intelligence knows how to coax the best out of one player and kick the best out of the next.
A veteran team with players who know one other, such as the Golden State Warriors, have entirely different challenges than a young team starting from scratch, such as the Philadelphia 76ers in recent years.
The Knicks, however, are in that awkward phase: a mix of vets and youth, middle of the pack, not sure if they want to win or lose. It takes a special head coach to guide that kind of squad.
As New York's head office conducts interviews, it should consider whether the person is someone who can get an entire team moving in one direction while also motivating each individual with whatever makes them tick: money, minutes, wins, stats, starts, teammates, fun, stability, development, competition, respect, looking good in their contract year, being part of something greater than themselves, needing to win, hating to lose, just loving the game of basketball.
That ability should extend to the rest of their staff as well. They must develop players and appropriately value stats, but they don't need to be statisticians and player development coaches themselves necessarily, just as long as they value the input of the staff who are.
Re-Sign Jarrett Jack
Free agent Jarrett Jack is the perfect veteran for this gangly, voice-cracking Knicks team. He's that cool high school math teacher who believes in you, gets you to stop slacking off and helps you become the adult you want to be.
The 34-year-old took an unguaranteed contract, won the starting point guard position, surrendered that job gracefully to his juniors after the All-Star break and became the most ardent cheerleader in Madison Square Garden.
It is imminently possible the Knicks will have to cringe through months of hard-fought losses and weeks of throwaway "seeing what we've got in our young players" next season.
How can a team build "a winning culture" through that much losing? Ask Jack. He told reporters April 7, (via the New York Post's Fred Kerber:)
"People might think I'm crazy, but I love the losing streaks and the downside of the season because it really shows who you are, collectively, individually.
"Everybody can high-five when you're winning. Who can give me something while we're losing? We gotta fight and grind and try to pull any type of positive energy from somewhere. Those are the people I want to be around. I pride myself on trying to be one of those guys."
Give that man another contract—and guarantee it.
Draft a Player Whose Mind Is NBA-Ready
NBA rookies find themselves in all manner of uncomfortable situations that may negatively impact performance.
When considering which young player to select on draft night, the Knicks should look not only to stats and game tape but also to their interview and background scouting to see if the personality, not just the game, can stand up to the pressures of professional basketball.
It isn't just scrutiny, reporters and the temptations of New York City that will be a challenge for a Knicks rookie: All of the top 10 choices will have been away from home before with microphones in their faces.
However, with the exception of international players who have played professionally overseas, most draftees have not had teammates 10 years their senior who eat dinner with their wives and children instead of their point guards.
Many are used to being the best player on a team that always wins in an arena where the seats are always filled.
How will they respond to loneliness, riding the bench, losing more often than they win, playing hard for small crowds, being booed by large ones? How will they handle the largest paychecks they've seen and all the people who want a piece of it?
It's impossible to divine the future. Yet the front office should keep their ears tuned for signs of weakness. Upperclassmen, Europeans who've played pro, underscouted sleepers from mid-level teams who've fought through adversity might be preferable to the hotly heralded one-and-dones.
Make Peace with Joakim Noah
Hornacek is gone: Let the healing begin.
Although Scott Perry was not part of the Knicks management at the time, he and the rest of the front office must own up to the fact the team knowingly and of their own free will gave Joakim Noah an oversized contract, and their previous coach only made it more difficult for them to trade it away.
The only way forward is to make friends again with Noah. They could give him his minutes or buy him out, paying him every cent of the money they agreed to pay him. There may even be another way to respectfully part ways that doesn't include gutting either his contract or the remainder of his career.
Regardless of the outcome, Noah's future will cost the Knicks money. How they choose to spend that money—salary, buyout, long drawn-out battle with the player's union—will determine how free agents view the new regime going forward. Best to show them an organization that honors the deals it makes.
Re-Sign Kyle O'Quinn
In my fantasy world, Kyle O'Quinn, Enes Kanter and Noah—who are all supremely lovable in their own ways—exist in perfect symbiosis. They play rock, paper, scissors to decide who starts every night, and they surprise Luke Kornet with a start once a month.
In reality, though, both O'Quinn and Kanter have player options they may decline in hopes of bigger deals. For the latter, that would be above $18.6 million, and the former could deservedly ask for comparable once he declines his meager $4.25 million.
The Knicks might appeal to both players' apparent good natures and zeal for playing in New York and casually talk them into below-market salaries during a casual beard-grooming trip. Or they might not, and it will be a toss-up between Kanter and O'Quinn. In that case, fate should favor KO.
Although Kanter's relentless work on the offensive glass, strong post moves, efficient bank shot, infectious manner of infuriating opposing players and almost worrisome level of toughness make him a fan favorite, O'Quinn has many of the same assets, plus others.
O'Quinn is by far the superior passer and defender, and he also sinks the occasional three ball. His blocks are ferocious (occasionally flagrant, but never forgettable). He is versatile, improves every season and like Kanter, he has energy and toughness to spare. It's a difficult choice, but in this case, the local boy from Queens wins it.
Maybe you don't like this list. It's a lot of gushy stuff about thoughts and feelings. Well, get over it. For years, critics have griped that the Knicks lacked character.
Well, to fix that problem, you have to start with the characters.