30 Teams in 30 Days: Knicks settle in with new leadership, but still face key question
Can franchise move forward with Carmelo Anthony or will they move on from him?
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: New York Knicks
2016-17 Record: 31-51
Who’s new: Frank Ntilikina (Draft), Tim Hardaway Jr (free agency), Ramon Sessions (free agency), Michael Beasley (free agency).
Who’s gone: Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday.
The lowdown: Locked in stagnation under the direction of Phil Jackson, the Knicks posted their fourth straight losing season and braced for upheaval.
It began with such promise and ended with such disappointment. The Jackson Era fizzled out because 11 rings as a head coach meant nothing when it came to being a general manager. Jackson couldn’t spin the same magic in the front office and was sent packing by Jim Dolan, who once again had his heart (and wallet) in the right place when he hired Jackson, but the owner’s instincts were all wrong for the umpteenth time.
In the end, the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis couldn’t save Jackson, who clashed unnecessarily with Carmelo Anthony and the media and even Porzingis, who skipped the season-ending meeting with Jackson in a snit and bolted home to Latvia.
It was either Jackson’s hubris or lack of front office experience or maybe both that doomed him. That, and his religious attachment to the triangle offense that he insisted his coaches adopt, or else. Led by Anthony, the players hated the triangle and felt stifled by it.
In addition, Jackson’s final off-season as a GM was disastrous. The players he obtained from Chicago, Rose and Joakim Noah, did nothing to elevate the club. Noah was a GM-killer; overpaid and under productive, he struggled with injuries and then earned a suspension (to be served at the start of this season) for using illegal substances.
The infighting and lack of morale sucked the life of what little momentum the Knicks had, and Anthony spent much of the season in a Jackson-created funk.
So, Dolan had little choice but feed Jackson to the wolves. Steve Mills, the long-time company man, became team president and Scott Perry, formerly of the Kings and Magic, was hired as GM. Perry will call the shots; he had a mixed track record in Orlando as an assistant but played an important role in the Kings’ 2017 draft strategy before the Knicks grabbed him.
Despite the housecleaning, the Knicks still had one pressing matter: What to do with Melo.
Clearly, the Knicks have no use for a 33-year-old with declining skills and a salary that pays $26 million this season; the club wants to move into another direction. However, Melo’s no-trade clause — the final and perhaps fateful mistake by Jackson, who gave it to him — gave Melo the hammer in negotiations. The Knicks couldn’t trade him unless he agreed to the potential new team, which of course decreased the number of destinations.
Throughout the summer, then, the saga of Melo has haunted Mills, Perry and the Knicks. There was talk with Houston, which is preferred by Melo, but the Rockets have nothing the Knicks want in return. It’s possible that nothing will be settled prior to training camp late next month and Melo, with two years (one and an option) left on his deal, could remain on the roster as a disgruntled star, leaving a messy situation intact.
Before Perry arrived, and during Jackson’s final days, the Knicks drafted Ntilikina, a teenage point guard from France who was voted MVP of the FIBA Under-18 championship. Perhaps Jackson struck gold again in the draft with an international player. However, the Mavericks took Dennis Smith Jr. with the very next pick; Smith was impressive in summer league (Ntilikina was injured) and drew raves for his potential and skills.
Also before Perry officially came aboard, Mills gave $71 million over four years to Hardaway, a decision met with almost universal surprise around the NBA. Hardaway did show positive stretches with the Hawks last season (14.5 points per), yet his track record suggests he’s nothing more than a solid reserve or sixth man. The surprise is that Mills gave the contract before signing a GM; would Perry have done the deal?
It was no surprise when the Knicks declined to bring back Rose. In stretches, Rose was solid last season and averaged 18 points on 47 percent shooting. But his three-point range was abysmal (21 percent) and he constantly looked off teammates and played selfishly (only 4.4 assists spread over 32 minutes per game), perhaps in a misguided search for a big free agent deal.
Well, no such deal materialized and Rose settled for peanuts when he signed with the Cavaliers, going from $21 million to $2 million, one of the heftier pay cuts in NBA history.
The Knicks don’t figure to be a big factor this season and smartly are pushing the reset button. One way to expedite the rebuilding process is by getting something of value for Anthony, and to do it quickly, before his value drops further.
Coming Next: Minnesota Timberwolves
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