They need to become a functional, working franchise again. They need to develop the players who will contribute beyond 2014, and have the balls to bench the many high-priced vets who won't be in New York next season. If that results in a playoff berth, then all the better!
Installing the Triangle offense and whatever Unnamed Shape Defense Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have in mind means this year can be used to identify which players are viable long-term and what types of players are needed going forward. This task takes on greater immediacy, given that the team is built around a thirtysomething Carmelo Anthony.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
3rd in Atlantic Division - 9th in Eastern Conference
Coming off of an exciting 54-win season in 2012-13, in which the Knicks advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000, things finally seemed to be heading in the right direction. Mike Woodson's spread offense opened up the floor for the Knicks and made them a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams to deal with.
Coming back with seemingly the same roster in 2013-14, the Knicks entered last season with the intent to pick up where they left off and continue to progress into one of the biggest threats in the Eastern Conference.
Yeah... not so fast.
Mike Woodson and the gang got off to an abysmal start. Dropping 15 their first 20 games, including a nine-game losing streak, the new energy that they had established was demolished in the blink of an eye. Especially since, unlike their inner-state rivals in Brooklyn that turned their season around after a 10-21 start, the Knicks never recovered.
Seven minutes into the fourth game of the season, defensive anchor Tyson Chandler suffered a rib fracture that would keep him out of the lineup for the next 20 games. Two weeks following his mid-December return, he experienced an upper respiratory infection that sidelined him for an additional week. The conditioning work Raymond Felton had done to play better basketball in 2012-13 was just fool's gold. J.R. Smith went from Sixth Man of the Year to reigniting all the negative things people used to say about his approach to the game. Overall, the team just did not play with a sense of urgency, they couldn't defend anyone and they took the floor with the body language of "yup, we're going to lose again."
If New York's energy wasn't completely dismantled already, it certainly was after another horrific month in February where they experienced a 2-13 stretch. It was over. The season would become a big time disappointment, leaving Knicks fans wondering how in the world the flip can be switched off that fast.
One thing is for sure, it wasn't Carmelo Anthony's fault. You can say whatever you want about him, the guy is insane with the ball in his hands and he put together one of his best seasons from an individual standpoint. The seven-time All-Star posted 27.4 points, a career high 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, along with career highs from beyond the arc (40.2%) and the free throw line (84.8%).
Hell, Melo even dropped 62 points and 13 rebounds on Charlotte in late-January.
It's too bad he didn't have much help. Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. got off to a promising start to his career, scoring over 10 points per game and establishing himself as one of the better young two-guards in the game, and Amare Stoudemire looked better physically and scored 14.5 points per game after the All-Star break, but it wasn't enough.
The Knicks went on to win 17 less games than the season before, as the disappointing squad kicked themselves out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with a 37-45 record. That certainly wasn't the way they had expected things to go in Carmelo's contract year.
Nobody really knows what is in store for the future in New York, but one thing is for certain - it is time for some changes to be made.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Derek Fisher, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, Shane Larkin, Cleanthony Early
Key Losses - Mike Woodson, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin
Lots of changes were made in New York this summer, starting from the top. Phil Jackson inked a five-year, $60 million deal to become the president of the Knicks and take over basketball operations, and this summer was his first offseason on the job. As Mike Woodson had overstayed his welcome as head coach, Jackson shook things up by hiring his buddy Derek Fisher to take over. Similar to Jason Kidd last year, Fisher is in the process of transitioning into a head coach just months after wrapping up his playing career.
Phil Jackson? Derek Fisher? Embrace the triangle offense, Knicks fans.
The top priority, of course, was the status of unrestricted free agent Carmelo Anthony, who a large portion of people predicted would skip town and head to a "better" situation. Two weeks after free agent negotiations become legal on July 1, Carmelo remedied the Knicks' anxiety by signing a five-year, $124 million extension to fully dedicate himself to the Knicks long-term.
After every member of the New York Knicks sagged into their chairs and experienced a simultaneous sigh of relief with Melo on board, the Zen Master needed to do something to give the roster a different look. Just prior to the 2014 NBA Draft, New York sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas in return for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, two second round picks and Wayne Ellington, who the Knicks ended up releasing.
The deal saves the Knicks some money from an immediate standpoint, as Chandler and Felton are due a combined $19 million in 2014-15 while the package New York received will make around $13 million, and gives them a much-needed shakeup in the starting five. The point guard spot is especially where the Knicks will see a difference, as Calderon is an extremely efficient point guard that runs the offense well and doesn't go outside of his limitations. As Calderon aims to ease the blow from Felton's inconsistency, Dalembert will provide a defensive lift while his contract expires at the end of the season.
In the draft, the Knicks snatched up Wichita State's Cleanthony Early in the second round with the 34th overall pick. Early is 23 years old, but is a terrific 6'7" athlete with a 40-inch vertical leap that has a chance to carve out a solid career as a rotation forward. He may not get a chance to play regular minutes right away, but he has a versatile skill set that should grant him an opportunity at some point.
To shake up bench brigade with a small deal, the Knicks traded Wayne Ellington, who New York acquired in the deal with Dallas, along with Jeremy Tyler to Sacramento for Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw. Acy especially should help build a more competitive practice environment and will bring a lot of energy every time he hits the floor, on account of his high motor and leaping ability. He also has a very quick second-jump and is active on the glass.
New York also signed the seven-foot Jason Smith to a one-year, $3.3 million deal to round out the frontcourt rotation. Smith's 2013-14 campaign came to a close earlier than expected due to season-ending knee surgery in mid-January, but the six-year veteran was on his way to a career year behind averages of 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in New Orleans last season. Smith isn't necessarily a tenacious rebounder or defensive anchor, but he is a skilled big with a soft touch that is efficient in the pick n' roll/pop game.
On the downside, Smith hasn't appeared in more than 51 games over the last three years. If he can stay healthy, however, he has a chance to earn some serious minutes with the Knicks this season.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Samuel Dalembert / Jason Smith / Cole Aldrich
PF - Amare Stoudemire / Andrea Bargnani / Quincy Acy
SF - Carmelo Anthony / J.R. Smith / Cleanthony Early / Travis Outlaw
SG - Iman Shumpert / Tim Hardaway Jr.
PG - Jose Calderon / Pablo Prigioni / Shane Larkin
X-FACTOR - Patience
This thing is not going to turn around overnight. This is a new roster, which is practically at the same talent level as last year's squad, with a new general manager and a first-year head coach. The Knicks are not going to transform into Eastern Conference contenders this season, but the loyal New York fans have to remain patient (I know, you're getting tired of hearing that).
Playoffs or not, the Knicks can still put themselves in a better place. Even beyond the record, the team's overall morale and energy level will show just how far they've come from last year. This season isn't about winning a championship, it's about establishing a brand new culture.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
Carmelo didn't re-sign because he thought the Knicks were going to turn into contenders this season, he re-signed because he has faith that they will eventually get there. The subtractions of Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton along with the additions of Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert probably won't significantly improve New York's record, if at all.
In terms of talent, the 2014-15 Knicks are pretty close to equal to last year's squad, and multiple teams have gotten better in the Eastern Conference. In addition to that, New York is investing their time in a first-year head coach that will inevitably have to learn on the fly and figure out how he wants things to be done. Then again, some teams have taken a step back in the east and the Knicks could find themselves in the mix.
Best case scenario, the Knicks play a more cohesive brand of basketball and sneak into the playoffs as a low seed. With that said, I don't think it is safe to expect a postseason berth from New York this season. It is certainly a possibility, especially when you've got one of the best players in the game with a new system taking shape, but this year is not "playoffs or bust." Everybody wants to make the playoffs, but the reality is that the Knicks still have a long way to go.
3rd - Atlantic Division
9th - Eastern Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Los Angeles Lakers preview, coming later today.