What the New York Knicks Have to Do to Get Back to Playoffs
The New York Knicks were supposed to make a huge leap from a disappointing 2014-15 run in the NBA. Considering how bad off they were a season ago, they arguably did.
Their jump didn’t result in a meaningful April, but the Knicks did post 32 wins (15 more than last year), and instead of sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, they worked their way to third, above the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets.
The second-worst team by record a year ago, the Knicks made an impressive climb, and it was largely thanks to creative roster moves by Phil Jackson. Carmelo Anthony remained a key piece to the puzzle – especially him being healthy – as did the additions of rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, two-way shooting guard Arron Affalo and center Robin Lopez.
The moves weren’t enough to get the Knicks back to the playoffs, but the moves preceding those moves shed unwanted salary and put New York in a better position moving forward.
There are still problems in the big apple, of course. Interim coach Kurt Rambis replaced an ineffective Derek Fisher, but thus far he also hasn’t proven to be an adequate option to run the team.
His days as the head man in Minnesota suggested as much, and his inconsistent moves while running the Knicks likely cements it. That could put Phil Jackson in a tough spot, as he hand-picked Fisher before giving up on him in light of an off-court scandal and now his hand-picked interim replacement is also looking like a failure.
Does that mean the writing is on the wall for Jackson himself to leave after just two years on the job? It could, and if it means more of Rambis at the helm, it probably should.
We can’t know Jackson’s long-term plans yet, but if they (wisely) don’t include Rambis, they should be more geared toward a coach that actually knows what they’re doing.
With a coaching change absolutely necessary for the Knicks to take the next step toward a positive (and successful) future, it begs the question: who do they bring on?
There are a litany of interesting options. Some suggest former Knicks great, Patrick Ewing. The former player has been a long-time assistant and has proven his worth, yet continues to get passed up for the lead jobs. Does that mean he’s not good enough, or could a team like the Knicks finally give him the chance he’s worked for?
Former Jackson disciple Luke Walton is certainly among the top candidates, as he helped the Golden State Warriors to an impressive start earlier this year and has learned under Steve Kerr the past two years. He appears to be ready (if interested) to make the jump to being a head coach, is young and knows Jackson’s Triangle system.
A more veteran and splashy approach via Tom Thibodeau would be more than acceptable, as well. The man known as “Thibs” has years of assistant coaching experience and built the Chicago Bulls into a defensive powerhouse before parting ways with Chicago last summer.
David Blatt could be a very interesting hire. He had major success at a high level overseas and upon taking over the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first year on the job, nearly won a league title. Blatt is an extremely underrated coach and due to Cleveland players souring on him, was fired mid-season this year, despite getting off to a stellar 30-11 start.
There could be other options for Jackson to consider, but the best ones appear to be the most obvious ones. If Jackson wants a guy he can control behind the scenes, Walton or even Brian Shaw could make sense. Walton appears to be the brighter coaching mind of the two and would be the more attractive long-term piece, but he’d likely run Jackson’s offense and align with his vision of how the Knicks should look and play.
If Jackson wants a coach to come in and leader and win right away, Thibs or Blatt make serious sense. They wouldn’t allow him to dabble in coaching decisions and probably wouldn’t run his system, but they would otherwise be fantastic additions and upgrades over any coaches they’ve had in recent years.
At the moment, Walton probably leads the way. Of course, we could still learn that Jackson intends to step away or keep Rambis on as head coach. Stay tuned.
Regardless of what happens at the head coach spot, changes are coming in New York. Jackson had his eye on the long game when he drafted Kristaps Porzingis, so it’s obvious that while he’d like the playoffs to be a relevant topic in NYC, he has his eye more on the future than the here and now.
That could rub Melo the wrong way. Anthony has gone public about his desire to both stay in New York and win, but at least for the moment, it’s very possible he might not get his way. That could mean a trade coming this summer, which could go a long way in shaping the rest of the roster.
Whether Melo stays or goes, there are other pieces the Knicks should shed. Point guard Jose Calderon is a waste on the defensive end and has been relegated to spot-up shooting offensively. Unlikely to get anything back in a trade, he needs to be unloaded no matter the coast.
That could clear the way for Jerian Grant to take over as the starting point guard next year, or it could make way for the team to add an impact point guard. The likes of Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings and Rajon Rondo are some interesting upgrades that should be readily available on the open market this summer.
Rambis doesn’t appear to be a fan of Afflalo and he didn’t dramatically change New York’s prospects on either end, so he could also be headed elsewhere this summer.
The other aspect is who the Knicks could bring in. With or without Anthony in tow, New York will be looking to strike big in free agency after failing to lure LaMarcus Aldridge and others in free agency last year.
That obviously is going to have their focus on bringing in Kevin Durant, while Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and others will also be scheduled to hit the open market.
The possibilities are endless at this point, and it really is going to depend on what Phil Jackson does next. Staying on would be the first decision and Knicks fans should hope that’s the case. It may not look like he’s done much, but in two years Jackson eroded a disappointing, over-paid and dysfunctional roster and built it back up into a borderline playoff contender that has a future building block penned in at power forward.
Step two would be adding the right coach, which could/should lead to bringing in the right talent in free agency. New York fans need to be patient and take it one step at a time, however. For now, the ball is in Phil Jackson’s court.
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