30 Teams in 30 Days: Knicks remix roster to fit with 'Melo
Addition of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah could wind up as steals
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, 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 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today’s team: New York Knicks
2015-16 record: 32-50
Who’s gone: G Arron Afflalo, G Jose Calderon, G Langston Galloway, G Jerian Grant, C Robin Lopez, F Derrick Williams, G Tony Wroten
Who’s new: C Guillermo Hernangomez, G Brandon Jennings, F Mindaugas Kuzminskas, G Courtney Lee, F Maurice Ndour, C Joakim Noah (via free agency); G Justin Holiday, G Derrick Rose (via trade)
The lowdown: After three straight losing seasons, the Knicks are trying to rebound and salvage what’s left of Carmelo Anthony’s prime years.
Give ‘Melo this much: He wants to see this process through and remain a Knick. This can be taken a few ways. Either he’s a hard-core devotee of the franchise (possibly) or his family’s lifestyle is too rooted in the city and its charms to leave (very likely). There’s a bit of truth in both, so ‘Melo is on board with whatever team president Phil Jackson is doing to get things turned around. He has made himself clear: He doesn’t want to go to another place (and neither does Mrs. Melo, we assume).
Therefore, Jackson didn’t have much choice when it came to rebuilding the Knicks. He had to do everything with ‘Melo in mind. A complete tear-down wasn’t in the cards, because then, he’d waste the estimated two or three years that ‘Melo has remaining at an All-Star-like level. So Jackson compromised without destroying the Knicks’ salary cap space. He traded for Rose and signed the free-agent Noah at reasonable cost.
Were those bold, championship-like moves? No. It was done to make the Knicks respectable, and maybe interesting to watch, all while keeping their options open for the future.
Rose (the Kia MVP in 2011) and Noah (the Kia Defensive Player of the Year in 2014) were once cornerstones of a very good Chicago Bulls team. Then, injuries hit and reduced their ability and leverage, at least in the short term. Maybe Rose will elevate his game this season (he is a free agent next summer) and stay healthy. Maybe Noah will return to being a bouncing bundle of energy with a deft passing touch and reinsert himself back into the pack of elite centers. At this point, what do the Knicks, Rose and Noah have to lose? They all need each other.
Jackson had little choice to reel in Rose and Noah because the Knicks didn’t have a No. 1 Draft pick and weren’t attractive enough to fetch a free agent atKevin Durant’s level. Jackson has kept the Knicks’ payroll manageable just in case they’re on radar for future free agents. Rose’s contract puts him on a sort of trial basis — if his body is dependable and he has a rebirth, the Knicks will extend an offer. If not, they move on. A potential win-win for Jackson and the Knicks.
As for Noah, the Knicks essentially exchanged him for Robin Lopez, who proved functional during his time in New York and nothing more. Jackson is hedging his bet that a healthy Noah will be an upgrade, and if not, then his salary won’t prevent the Knicks from finding help.
The task of making this work belongs to coach Jeff Hornacek, hand-picked by Jackson after a search. Hornacek had a few good seasons in Phoenix and has shown to have the temperament necessary to coach a team of veterans. To hire Hornacek, Jackson went beyond his comfort zone of former colleagues. Hornacek’s performance will be crucial to Jackson’s rep after he struck out with Steve Kerr and his hiring of Derek Fisher proved disastrous.
To pad out the rotation, Jackson signed Lee (four-year, $48 million deal) and Jennings ($5 million, one year), both of which are great value buys. Lee is a quick and decent scorer who can play both guard positions. Jennings will back up Rose and provide insurance, an important job considering Rose’s fragility. All told, Jackson’s summer haul was impressive, especially when factoring the reasonable cost. For once, somebody didn’t waste owner Jim Dolan’s millions.
Despite ‘Melo, Rose, Noah and the rest, the key to the Knicks’ season will be the continued development of Kristaps Porzingis. If his game goes up a notch, then the Knicks could find themselves a top-five or six team in the East. That’s where Noah’s presence will be important — he can be a guiding light to Porzingis and show him the big-man ropes.
No doubt, Knicks fans were encouraged by the summer moves and decisions. And so is ‘Melo. He doesn’t have many more star years left; better to spend them with good company. He has that.
Coming Next: Sacramento Kings
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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.
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