The New York Knicks won 66 percent of their games in 2013, earning their third consecutive trip to the playoffs and capped off the season with an appearance in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The future appeared bright.
The 54 victories, in 2013, were the most the franchise had posted since 1997 when the club was in the midst of a 14 season playoff run. The Knicks haven’t reached the playoffs since.
Four seasons ago, in NBA time, might as well be ancient history. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Joakim Noah, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard and Luol Deng were All-Stars in 2013. Bryant, Duncan and Garnett are out the league awaiting enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, while Deng, Howard and Noah are the latest victims of Father Time.
The Knicks head into the 2017-18 season at the beginning stages of a long-term rebuilding project. The club traded All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the start of training camp in exchange for center Enes Kanter, forward Doug McDermott and second round pick. New York also allowed former league MVP Derrick Rose, an 18 point scorer last season, to walk in free agency.
The Knicks are in a clear state of rebuild and all hopes in the Big Apple are hinging on promising big man Kristaps developing into the next great franchise player – or at the very least solidifying himself as a core building block.
Through two seasons Porzingis has flashed the tools to eventually become a top 20 player. But the big man has battled injury and inconsistency. Still, Porzingis currently boasts career averages of 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. At 7-foot-3, being a 44 percent career shooter from the floor isn’t ideal, nor is the 4.1 per 36 minute personal foul rate he posted last season. But Porzingis heads into training camp as the unquestioned top dog for the Knicks for at least this season.
“I don’t need to force it,” Porzingis told Newsday on Tuesday. “The first thing I’ll do, I’ll be the hardest working guy. We have a lot of guys that work hard. I’ll work hard also and give an example and then from that hard work you can be a leader.”
The Knicks’ front office has a collection of veteran talent they’ll rely on to ease the burden Porzingis will face. Noah, Courtney Lee, Ramon Sessions, Michael Beasley and Jarrett Jack provide plenty of experience but none of those guys possess the upside or have been entrusted to carry a franchise at any point of their careers like the expectations on Porzingis.
“The goal this summer wasn’t to get big and gain weight,” Porzingis said on his preparation for the increased workload. “It was to get stronger, more explosive, get my body tighter. That is going to help me everywhere on the floor.”
Other Knicks Notes – Logjam at center
After acquiring Kanter from Oklahoma City, the Knicks enter training camp with four centers on the roster. This will be an opportunity for Kanter to finally log significant minutes since entering the league (career 21 minutes per game average).
Kanter is owed $17.8 million this season and has a player option worth $18.6 million. Reserve center Kyle O’Quinn is owed $4.1 million this season and also has a $4.3 million player option for the 2019 campaign. Noah is owed $55.6 million over the next three seasons and effort aside, is a shell of his former self. Lastly, Willy Hernangomez made the All-Rookie team last season by averaging 8.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 72 contests.
The ability of head coach Jeff Hornacek to create playing time in the post will be an important area to watch. But it wouldn’t be out of the question for the Knicks to explore the trade market to unload one of these in order to free up playing time and reduce its current roster duplication.