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Head-to-Head: Fixing The New York Knicks

The 4-16 New York Knicks clearly need fixing, and we have some potential solutions.

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This offseason, the New York Knicks committed over $200 million to Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and Carmelo Anthony alone. It was a financial commitment that team owner James Dolan knew wouldn’t yield great benefits immediately, but was necessary in order to eventually build a contender. Still, at 4-16, Dolan’s lowest expectations aren’t even being met. The Knicks are still a mess, an expensive one at that. So, we asked three of our experts – Tommy Beer, Moke Hamilton and Nate Duncan – to debate over how much of the Knicks’ current plan they’re on board with and what they would do differently to fix them.

Essentially everything that could have gone wrong has for the Knicks. They have stumbled and bumbled their way to a bitterly disappointing 4-16 record.

We are just a week past Thanksgiving and most Knicks fans have already abandoned hopes of the playoffs, instead focusing on the distant 2015 draft. While most fans tend to be emotional and overreact, even rational New Yorkers have sufficient reason to be pessimistic.

Amazingly, the Knicks are 12 games under .500 despite playing the easiest schedule in the NBA over the first five weeks of the regular season.

However, that is about to change. The “easy” part of the Knicks’ schedule has come to an abrupt end. Seventeen of the Knicks’ next 20 opponents are currently sporting records of .500 or better.

Furthermore, eight of the Knicks next 19 games are against teams currently leading their division. They play the Raptors twice, the Trail Blazers twice, the Wizards twice and the Bulls and Grizzlies once apiece.

Per basketball-reference.com, the Knicks have a much better chance of winning the lottery (12.2%) than qualifying for the playoffs as the eighth seed (1.0%)

The Knicks’ offense has been decent, at best, thus far. They rank 22nd overall in team total true shooting percentage (53.9 percent) and 22nd overall in offensive efficiency as well.

One of the main reasons for New York’s struggles on the offensive end is due to a over-reliance on the least efficient shot in basketball: “Long two’s” (FG attempts further than 16 feet from the basket but inside the three-point stripe). Incredibly, 27.3 percent percent of the Knicks’ total FG attempts are two-point shots beyond 16 feet from the hoop. No other team in the NBA attempts more than 25 percent of their shots from this distance. In comparison, the Houston Rockets attempt fewer than seven percent of their shots from this distance.

However, if we are looking for the main culprit to blame for the Knicks’ horrendous start to the season – we need look no further than the defensive end of the floor. Put simply: The Knicks can’t consistently get stops. New York currently ranks 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing over 107 points per 100 possessions.

No need to dig too deeply into the particulars with this group, because, as noted above, this season is already circling the drain. If both Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have learned one thing from this distressing first portion of the 2014-15 season, it is that many of the players on the current roster likely won’t be around at the start of the 2015-16 season.

There has been a lot of talk in New York about how the implementation of a new offensive system (the triangle) is partly to blame for the team’s struggles. However, the Knicks were 21-40 in late February last season. They finished with just 37 wins. The principal issue is not simply allowing these same players more time to acclimate themselves to a new philosophy. This team needs a wholesale makeover. And fortunately, the stars are aligned for that to happen next summer.

New York has over $25 million coming off their books in July, as Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Barganani are in the last year of their contracts. Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith and Shane Larkin are also playing on expiring contracts, which will clear roughly another $8.8 million off the cap.

For the first time in a long time, the Knicks will have a tremendous amount of cap space with which Jackson can re-shape the roster.

Better yet, the Knicks actually have the rights to their first round draft pick next summer. That could be an extremely valuable lottery pick, possibly as high as top three if the ping pong balls bounce the right way.

The moral of the story is that the Knicks need to start focusing on the future. The Knicks won’t be fixed this season. They need to be torn down and re-constructed next summer.

Once December 15 rolls around, trade chatter throughout the league will increase. Jackson and the Knicks need to focus on maximizing cap space for next summer. As result, they shouldn’t even consider any deal unless it benefits them long-term. They don’t need to entertain any trades that aim to salvage a lost season, especially if such a hypothetical deal would inhibit their spending in July of 2015. The focus should be on creating/maintaining cap space and/or accruing additional draft picks.

Fisher will have to take his lumps this year. However, for all the doom and gloom surrounding this season, the hope in NYC is that brighter days will arrive in New York as soon as next summer.

– Tommy Beer

IN RELATED: The New York Knicks’ salary cap page

Asking how to fix the Knicks is almost like asking whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing former president John F. Kennedy or whether there truly is a meaning of life.

Where to begin?

Keep it simple and start here: The main problem with the New York Knicks, traditionally, has been impatience in the front office. Since Ernie Grunfeld left the team in 1999, whether it was Scott Layden, Isiah Thomas, Donnie Walsh or Glen Grunwald, the Knicks have been a franchise that has recently been the hallmark of impatience.

So if you want to know where to begin to fix the Knicks, it would be in the front office. The decision makers need a collective overhaul of their thought process. There are few shortcuts to building a contender in the NBA. You want to win? It begins with embracing the process that is building, brick by brick.

When you attempt to build your team via trades and free agency acquisitions, the simple truth is that you will most likely end up with players that other teams did not want.

What do Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Kawhi Leonard have in common?

They are all NBA Finals MVPs who were drafted by the team that they led to the championship. There are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, the key to getting a foundational player who can lead your team to a title is by drafting him.

Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose all have that potential, and they happen to have one thing in common: their incumbent teams will do any and everything to hang onto them.

Still, there no use crying over spilled milk. With Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher, the Knicks seem to have bright minds in control. With Carmelo Anthony, they have one of the game’s premier pinch-post offensive weapons and a system that can take advantage of his gifts.

The main problem for the Knicks? The auxiliary pieces around him aren’t a great fit. The current Knicks are nothing more than a collection of what I would refer to as “single-impact” players.

Iman Shumpert? He is a plus-defender who has not been consistently able to find a way to meaningfully contribute on the offensive end. The same can be said for Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy.

Amar’e Stoudemire and Tim Hardaway, Jr.? They’re the opposite: primarily offensive weapons who can’t stop a nosebleed.

Guys like Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson and even Marc Gasol—guys who impact both sides of the floor—those are the guys who can win championships in the NBA.

The Knicks have a dearth of them.

In all likelihood, this season is lost for the Knicks, but there are worse places to be for a team with its own 2015 first round pick (likely a lottery pick) and one that will have truckloads of cap space this summer.

Marc Gasol is and should be the apple of Jackson’s eye, but it’s difficult to see him leaving Memphis. The goal for this team this summer, aside from scoring with their upcoming draft pick, should be a two-way player that can defend the paint and create offensive opportunities within it.

Butler, Gasol, Al Jefferson, Aaron Afflalo, Greg Monroe, Omer Asik, Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris could all make great sense for the Knicks, but the key will be to avoid maxing out the wrong player.

If I could have any two players from the above crop, it would be Gasol and Butler, but their hefty price tags make the acquisitions risky.

And now, I find myself rambling

Wanna know how to fix the Knicks? There are no shortcuts. Only patience can save them and help Anthony win a championship in New York. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a NBA Champion.

– Moke Hamilton

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Moke and Tommy have already hit the major points on the Knicks’ performance to date. There’s no fixing them this year, and more importantly no such attempt should be made. At 4-16 after Thursday’s loss to Cleveland, and with Carmelo Anthony clearly not fully recovered from his bout with back spasms, all hope of the playoffs is lost.

New York’s 40.5 win Vegas over/under was always wildly optimistic before the season. This is a team that wheezed its way to 37 wins a year ago on the back of a career year from Carmelo Anthony at age 29. Rare is the player who experiences his best year at that age, and he was likely to regress quite a bit even before his recent injury. The trade of Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert and the pick that became Cleanthony Early was a clear downgrade in talent, necessary though it might have been to appease Anthony amidst rumors of friction between he and Chandler and his impending free agency. Almost all the important players on this team were all likely to be worse this year. Throw in a first-year coach, growing pains with the triangle, and precisely one above-average defensive player on the roster (Iman Shumpert), and the 35-27 or so record the Knicks would need to make the playoffs over the rest of the season is unattainable.

The plan now needs to be to play for next year and beyond. Anthony should be shut down immediately until he is fully healthy. The losses will augment their draft status, but Anthony is also going to need to play well enough at the end of the year to convince free agents that he is still a true superstar player worth joining. With a potential $25 million in cap space this summer and another potential $20 million in 2016 with the rising cap, that needs to be the Knicks’ focus.

Given that, the acquisition of the now-33-year-old Jose Calderon and his approximately $7 million per year through 2017 was a curious move. But he could likely be dumped on a team like New Orleans for salary cap flotsam that expires this summer. The Pelicans, under pressure to win now and with little hope of cap space through 2017,  could really use the Spanish point guard’s shooting and passing on their second unit, or alongside Jrue Holiday (who can guard twos) in the absence of Eric Gordon. The Knicks could then increase their 2015 treasure trove to as much as $30 million, depending on what happens with J.R. Smith’s player option and Iman Shumpert’s restricted free agency.

The Knicks are not quite in total rebuilding mode, as the goal should be to get as good as possible in 2015-16 (when they owe a pick to the Raptors from the Andrea Bargnani trade anyway). But they should absolutely get what they can for veterans on the roster who are not going to be on that team, while avoiding taking on long-term salary, seeing which of their young players might make an impact, and bettering their draft status. With Anthony, a high draft pick, and two or three big free agents over the next two years, the Knicks can at least get back into the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff mix.

-Nate Duncan

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