Every offseason, there are numerous teams looking to leave the depths of the league basement and re-enter the world of relevancy. The New York Knicks fit this bill perfectly.
After winning 54 games during the 2012-13 campaign and reaching the playoffs for the third consecutive year in the process, the Knicks have managed to win only 49 games the past two seasons. Overall, the franchise has missed the past three postseasons, while employing multiple head coaches and enduring more than their share of roster transformations.
The mission for team president Phil Jackson this summer was simple – to put a much more competitive unit on the floor next season. Before elite free agents ever consider New York a prime destination again, the organization will have to show that it is truly serious about winning at every possible stop of the journey.
On paper, Jackson has delivered a unit with a proven history of being productive on the court. But the keyword in the previous sentence, history, doesn’t have any bearing on the current state of the franchise – which has been rife with losing as of late.
In many ways, Jackson is banking on some of his key offseason acquisitions getting a second wind with a change of address. It is an ambitious philosophy and one filled with risk, but if the plan pans out it could lead New York back to the playoffs in relatively short order.
The first order of business was to hire a head coach to lead the effort. The Knicks surprised many by bringing in Jeff Hornacek to fill the void. Hornacek owns a 101-112 (.474) career record over three seasons as an NBA head coach (all with the Phoenix Suns). New York is hoping they get the Hornacek who coached the Suns to a surprising 48-34 record in 2013-14, not the version who finished 53-78 the next season and a half before being dismissed.
Jackson and company then turned their attention to the trade market, where they kicked off the offseason in style with a mega deal acquiring former league MVP Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls for center Robin Lopez and guards Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant. The Knicks will also sent a 2017 second-round pick to the Bulls as part of the deal.
Rose was essentially the club’s marquee addition before free agency began. Whether fans realize it or not, New York was unlikely to get a player of Rose’s caliber to sign the dotted line via free agency.
Next, the Knicks turned their attention to former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, agreeing to terms on a four-year, $72 million deal.
However, Rose and Noah each come with their own set of risks. Rose will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and has been openly preparing to fully test the market. Noah has missed over 60 games the past two seasons and appears to be far removed from his stellar performance during the 2013-14 campaign when he finished fourth in MVP voting.
The club also managed to further upgrade their backcourt by securing an agreement from veteran guard Brandon Jennings on a reported one-year, $5 million deal. The Knicks lost last year’s starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo to the Sacramento Kings via free agency, but agreed to terms with Courtney Lee on a four-year, $50 million deal.
Each of the Knicks’ additions – Rose, Noah, Jennings and Lee – all offer a strong dose of playoff experience during their respective time in the league.
The star of the show in New York is forward Carmelo Anthony, who has never averaged less than 20 points per game since entering the league in 2003.
Jackson has undoubtedly improved the franchise heading into next season. But will the chemistry be there from day one? On paper, this unit has playoff appeal and potential. But can New York shake off the losing habits, maintain their health and stop the missed playoff streak?
Time will tell, but the franchise finally appears to be pointed in the right direction.
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