By Stephen Scafidi
As Phil Jackson heads into the third year of his what he said would be a five-year process, the New York Knicks are not much better than the team he started with.
In what could be a do-or-die summer for the novice executive, Jackson must make some important decisions including naming a head coach and surrounding Carmelo Anthony with better talent.
One thing is for certain next year, Jackson is dead-set on keeping the outdated triangle offense in New York and is hell bent on making it work one-way or another – even if that means keeping interim head coach Kurt Rambis full time next season, a move that fans are opposed to. Owner James Dolan would eventually have to sign off on any Jackson signing, but the probability of Rambis returning in 2016-2017 in some capacity is almost certain.
However, is Jackson doing his due diligence and talking to other head-coaching candidates or is he just going through the motion? Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are heading to Minnesota and Washington respectively, but other viable options still remain. Jackson should at least give Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and David Blatt a call in the near future before the coaching well dries up. Jackson and Van Gundy’s connections with New York run deep and ties to the garden are obvious. Blatt was a former teammate of Knicks’ general manager Steve Mills back at Princeton University and is reportedly willing to run the triangle while bringing his own identity on defense. All three coaches have better career records than Rambis, who sits at 65-165 all-time – not really something free agents have at the top of their lists when picking a new home in July.
With or without Rambis, New York’s Achilles heel is its backcourt. The primary goal of Jackson & company this offseason is inevitably stacking up bearable talent at the guard positions. With the frontcourt solidified for the foreseeable future with Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez, there is no need to spend New York’s almost $30 million in cap space on a big man.
There is an issue with upgrading at the guard positions, however. This year’s free agency class isn’t anything to write home about outside of Kevin Durant, who could bolt from Oklahoma City if it loses in the second round of the playoffs. Next years free agent crop of point guards will include Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry to name a few. It could be in New York’s best interest to go big on a shooting guard this year and hope players like Jerian Grant and Tony Wroten could fill the gap at point guard another year.
Grant had a sub-par rookie season until the final two weeks, when he averaged 14 points and five assists. Wroten will have to prove himself to Jackson and whoever the coach may be after coming off an ACL tear in December and not playing competitively since. Jose Calderon will remain under contract for one more season with the Knicks, but it is unclear if a stretch provision will be used on his contract to waive the 34-year-old.
Arron Afflalo is almost certain to opt out of his $8 million second year and leave a gap at the shooting guard position. Here is where New York can get crafty. Two players who will be free agents looking for a bigger opportunity will be Kent Bazemore of the Atlanta Hawks and Allan Crabbe of the Portland Trailblazers. New York certainly has the money and the stage to flaunt talent. Take a look at Derrick Williams, who gambled on a one-year contract with the Knicks in order to raise his value. His play certainly did that and it may prevent New York from retaining him next season. A shooter like Crabbe would certainly be great for New York, which struggled from beyond the ark at times last year. Bazemore has filled out to be a solid prototypical “three-and-D” type player in place of Demarre Carroll after he left for the Toronto Raptors. Bazemore could be a legitimate starter in New York after doing so for Atlanta all season, a team that finished fifth in the East and is in the playoffs.
Anthony has already voiced his concern for New York to improve over the summer. Jackson will be entering his most important summer during his stint with the Knicks as he looks to get this team back into the postseason after almost doubling the team’s wins 17 to 32 for the second best improvement in the NBA, according to NBA.com.
Cross KD off your wish list, Knicks fans. He isn’t likely to take his talents to New York. Settle for a few mid-range players that will take to the triangle well and mesh with a 34-year-old Anthony and a budding Porzingis. Place your bets on 2017 when New York should go all-in on Westbrook, a media-savy player who isn’t afraid of the attention. He also runs his own clothing line out of Barney’s. I’m sure the Big Apple would make that partnership much more profitable.