30 Teams in 30 Days: New York Knicks looking to turn corner
New coach, intriguing rookies and Kristaps Porzingis' return provide hope
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s Team: New York Knicks.
2017-18 Record: 29-53, did not qualify for the playoffs
Who’s new: Coach David Fizdale, Kevin Knox (Draft), Mitchell Robinson (Draft), Mario Hezonja (free agency), Noah Vonleh (free agency)
Who’s gone: Coach Jeff Hornacek, Michael Beasley, Kyle O’Quinn
The lowdown: Hornacek’s days were numbered as coach … everyone knew that. He never put his stamp on the franchise — to be fair, he had little to work with — but more important, new GM Scott Perry wanted his own man, which is rather routine and understandable.
That man became Fizdale, who was hugely popular as an assistant coach in Miami during the “Big Three” era and in Memphis as a coach where he was beloved by all (except maybe Marc Gasol). Fizdale didn’t win that confrontation, yet was an attractive candidate on the market nonetheless after Memphis cut him loose. Assuming Fizdale learned his lessons in Memphis and will be better off for it, the Knicks made a good hire. Fizdale has the personality to deal with the demands of New York and the prey-hungry local media will love him.
Because Perry was hired in July of 2017, he never had a Draft or free agency in New York until now, so this summer was his first real roll-up-the-sleeves moment. He made only a few minor cosmetic changes, electing not to do anything to jeopardize the projected millions the Knicks will have to spend in the summer of 2019, and the early returns are favorable.
He used the first-rounder on Knox, who never really stood out in his one season at Kentucky because of the system and all the talent there. But Knox put lumps in the throats of Knicks fans during NBA Summer League as he showed grit, all-round skills and a take-charge attitude. He also comes with an NBA body despite being just 18 and moves extremely well on the floor. It’s hard to know if that’ll transfer into his rookie season, but he should factor into the rotation (if not in the starting lineup) right away. That says plenty about him, and also about the lack of competition on the Knicks.
Perry also grabbed Robinson in the second round. He endured a checkered path toward the NBA, never playing a single game in college after going back and forth at Western Kentucky. Robinson shined in NBA Summer League play and the Knicks were impressed by the 7-footer’s length, ability to run the floor and skill around the rim. No doubt, he’s raw and unpolished, and a year away from the game didn’t help. That said, Robinson might play his way into the Knicks’ rotation this season.
Perry was on the front office staff in Orlando when the Magic drafted Hezonja three years ago at No. 5 overall. Hezonja never sizzled there and, despite not having much competition for minutes, didn’t play his way into a prominent role. The Magic didn’t extend his rookie contract and Perry pounced.
It’s hard to know what the Knicks have in Hezonja. He’s a below-average shooter, and with Knox and Tim Hardaway Jr. on the depth chart, minutes at the swing position might be limited. Yet, the Knicks didn’t make a massive investment and if nothing else, Hezonja will be a rotation-filler.
A more important offseason looms in 2019 when the Knicks will most likely be back in the Draft lottery and also have upwards of $30 million or more to spend. Will the Knicks finally seize its big-city advantage over the rest of the NBA and get a lead singer?
The idea of the Knicks being this destination franchise was always overstated. That’s perhaps due to the perception of the franchise, the high cost of living (yes, millionaire athletes have budgets, too) and playing in New York doesn’t automatically translate into big endorsement bucks. With the exception of Amar’e Stoudemire eight years ago, the Knicks haven’t maximized the built-in charms of New York among star free agents (Carmelo Anthony was obtained via trade). Perhaps that changes in ’19 when Kyrie Irving (raised in New Jersey) and a few others can hit the market.
Perry is out to make the Knicks attractive enough, from a financial and talent standpoint, to be on the radar of stars who are looking for a change in scenery, which is happening at an increasing rate lately. A successful return by Porzingis and a strong rookie season by Knox will go a long way in making that happen.
Coming next: Los Angeles Lakers
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