Beyond the Raptors

Beyond the Raptors: New York Knicks

A look into the Knicks, and what the Raptors can expect for the coming season.

In the first instalment of this series, we look at the teams of the Atlantic division, and get a sense for the teams that the Raptors play a combined 16 times while jockeying for home-court advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs. First off is the Knickerbockers.

Even if the hiring was expensive and questionable, GM’s across the league let out a collective groan when Dolan gave Phil Jackson that ridiculous deal to run the Knicks. He’ll only be working every two months out of three, not travel much, and attend games as he sees fit, but you know he wont be managing the Knicks like a fantasy team making optimizing moves like picking up Mike Dunleavy for a week because he plays one more game than Terrence Ross…or trading for Bargnani after a 54 win season and a ECF loss to the Pacers. We all chalk that up to Ujiri being Ujiri, but how many GM’s would have made that trade at that cost?

For Raptors fans, this isn’t so big a deal anymore since Ujiri has done nothing but clean up and improve this team since he got here; 12 more months of Hayes and Fields will work itself out considering the cap space we get at the end of the season.

The times are a changing, and with them, we have to assume the Atlantic will only get more competitive as you don’t spend that kind of money on a president and not expect improvement.

They already have a top-10 player in the league, a few promising youngsters, and finally able to see the light of day after a decade of mismanagement.

Off-Season Transactions

Phil Jackson Mike Woodson
Derek Fisher Jim Todd
Kurt Rambis Darrell Walker
Jose Calderon Herb Williams
Shane Larkin Tyson Chandler
Samuel Dalembert Raymond Felton
Quincy Acy Shannon Brown
Travis Outlaw Jeremy Tyler
Cleanthony Early
Jason Smith

So maybe we can’t totally write-off Phil. You question how much he paid to install a puppet-coach (always thought those came cheap), but turning Chandler into Dalembert and Smith at half the cost AND getting Calderon for Felton PLUS two 2nd rounders in the draft…that’s a damn good trade.

A lot happened in that single transaction: you shed the team of Felton’s fat (literal and figurative); avoid watching Chandler decompose for another season while in theory replacing his production; and you actually receive two 2nd rounders. All the while masterfully managing the cap with respect to short and long term contracts.

All that remains is keeping this team competitive enough in the short term, while adding key pieces, to keep Melo from forcing his way out of town. Moving that contract becomes less and less difficult as basketball related income increases year-over-year and the salary cap rises, but the older Carmelo gets, the harder that conversation gets.

That’s what we know and can decipher, but to try and get a better sense for this team, I had a long conversation with David Vertsberger (you can follow him on Twitter: @_Verts) of Knickerblogger about this team:

One of the most polarizing moves the Knicks made was hiring Phil Jackson to right the ship. What sense are you getting about how he is settling into his new role (new coach, Carmelo contract, etc.)?

For me, it’s a bit too early to get a good grasp of Phil Jackson’s tenure as President of Basketball Operations. One thing that concerned me was Jackson’s process (not the actual hiring, but the process) of hiring Fisher. He fixated on Steve Kerr for weeks, with the few other names coming up in conversation also being former co-workers of Jackson at one point or another. It seemed as if he didn’t extend his search beyond his inner circle, something that reminisces of poor Knicks leadership of the past. There was plenty to like, though. With many players losing tons of trade value in the 2013-14 season and the team’s financial situation in a complete bind, Jackson still managed to be considerably active during the offseason. But again, we still have a ways to go in regards to getting an accurate reading on the Zen Master.

Ignoring the boring Fisher questions of his ridiculous contract and an absolute ceiling of Jason Kidd IMHO (you see what I did there)….actually I can’t ignore this: give me something that will make Raptors-fans happy that he will be coaching the Knicks instead of anyone else that was available.

Hmm. I like the hire, so this is a bit difficult. I guess Raptors fans can be happy that the Knicks are probably going to run a semi-antiquated offensive system in the triangle? Sure, let’s go with that.

Doesn’t that sort of semi-antiquated system fit Calderon and Melo very well though?

Hard to find a system that Calderon couldn’t fit in, but I’d argue that putting Melo in a system that’s high on mid-range shots and post-ups is taking away from his improved catch-and-shoot game. Adding a deadly three-point shot turned Anthony into one of the best stretch fours in basketball, but it looks like Fisher’s plan is to have him play the three this season. I’d prefer the Knicks milk the hell out of their lone All-Star’s talents this season, not have him settle for 18-footers and get blown by defensively.

Which could be a big concern considering Calderon is also a poor defender. While Dalembert and Smith can easily replace Chandler’s production on offense at half the cost, probably, replacing everything he does on defense will be a challenge (altering shots, precise rotations). How are the Knicks going to cope with his loss? Please start your answer with “Bargnani will be looked to to…”

Tyson Chandler was not 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler last season. He wasn’t even sometimes-Defensive Player of the Year 2013 Tyson Chandler. And he was still the Knicks’ best defender by a mile. And now he’s gone. A fun exercise is asking overly optimistic Knicks fans to name this team’s best defenders. Iman Shumpert is always, and correctly, the first name that comes up. The second? Take your pick! Samuel Dalembert, Cole Aldrich, Pablo Prigioni… You catch my drift. How are the Knicks going to cope with Tyson’s loss? Not sure they can. If he remained healthy, he might have been able to keep them out of the bottom five in the league in defensive efficiency this season. Without him? It’s going to get ugly. Also, in regards to Bargnani, did you hear he’s a former first overall pick? He’s a big that can shoot. Your team should trade for him.

Stretch fours are all the rage I hear…man that trade hurt you guys. It was so lopsided that we all were waiting for the catch; even days afterwards we thought it would be rescinded, amended, anything really. Speaking of Bargnani, after only one year of him, do you see him getting another contract in the NBA?

I don’t know, can I just respond with this? (Yeah, some team will be silly enough to think they can salvage him, but I figure he’ll sign overseas for a bigger contract.)

It’s telling that failing to trade him this summer, all Phil Jackson could muster to talk him up around the league was “We have a couple of guards he likes to play with, Jose (Calderon) and Pablo (Prigioni), and I think he’s going to be a surprise and a pleasant one for our fans,” but I digress…going back to Carmelo as a devastating stretch four; I get they have a system they want to implement, but forcing a system and not playing to their best players strengths feels like the only tool Phil has in his belt is a hammer and every problem looks like a nail.

Well, we’ve yet to see the Knicks play a game yet, so I don’t want to jump to any sort of conclusion like that one. But yes, Jackson is notorious for wanting things done his way, which is understandable considering he’s had a bit of success in the game of basketball. Like I mentioned before, some of what he’s done resonates with what’s hurt this franchise in the past. But I’d like things to play out a bit more before we label Jackson.

Impressive amount of restraint for a Knicks fan; you guys are usually good for aggressive knee-jerk reactions to everything. So lets talk about things that we can answer, namely the Knicks line-up. Top to bottom, there isn’t a lot of talent, and even in a weak East, it will be quite tough to make the playoffs. Discuss…

I don’t think the Knicks are making the Playoffs. It’s not impossible, but it’ll take a good amount of things to go their way. The new system will have to be implemented quickly, not an easy task when you have the triangle offense. New York will have to stay relatively healthy, while teams above them suffer major injuries. The Knicks will be fighting with Brooklyn, Indiana and Detroit for that eighth and final spot. They have to flat-out be better than all three of those teams, which won’t be easy. They have no defense, so shooting their way past the competition is their only means of making the postseason. In a new offense, with possibly less spacing if Melo plays the three, I don’t see it.

And Carmelo must have known this signing that contract. Barring any trades that net them real value for Bargnani and Ama’re, they are going to play out their contracts and just walk, opening up ~$33m in salary. With the other free agents, the Knicks should be around the $40m mark with nine roster spots to fill. At this point, unless they can move a combination of Calderon, Smith, Shump, Hardaway (who else has value?) for a second fiddle to Melo, they have, what, ~$16m+ to fill nine roster spots (if my guerrilla math is not totally off-base). The bright side is that there are quality free agents, and players with player-options next year, but why come to a fringe playoff team with a franchise player who will be on the wrong side of 31 before he will see his next playoff game? How long can Carmelo possibly wait for help before he Denvers his way out of New York? Knee-jerk God-dammit!!!

‘ll say this about next summer: It’ll be a real test of what’s really changed in this front office. Old Knicks teams would overpay for a guy like Greg Monroe if they couldn’t find a strong running mate for Anthony. A smart team would not splurge all of their cap space away, but sign low-risk high-reward deals, short-term movable contracts, try and gather assets, maybe have another go at it in 2016 or get a second All-Star through a trade. Which side of the fence will the Knicks be on? We’ll have to wait and see.

Oh right, knee-jerk. Um. Drake’s softer than my pillow.

…and Carmelo? How patient is he? All his peers have championships or competing for one…

C’mon, if he really cared about winning as much as he says he does, he wouldn’t have re-signed with the Knicks in the first place. This summer was his moment to putting winning in front of everything else. I’m sure it was still a factor for him, but money/family/location won Melo over.

So he plays out this season, see’s Cleveland fail because they need a third star to beat the Spurs/OKC/LAC, forces his way to Cleveland for Waiters/picks/parts, then wins? Is that what we can expect?

You’re not getting a typical Knicks fan overreaction answer out of me, Sam. Stop baiting me.

Over/under on games won?

36.5 I would say. And I’d take the under.

Finish this sentence: “This season will be a success for the Knicks if they …”

This may seem like cop-out or sappy answer, but to me, after last season’s egregious display… I just want the team to play like they give a shit for 82 games. For a team that had championship aspirations last season, they showed so little fight, so little will and disgusting amounts of complacency even when in the hunt for the eighth seed. That 51-point quarter the Lakers dropped on New York? Happened in the final stretch of the season, when the Knicks should have, what’s it called… competed for a Playoffs spot? So that’s it for me. Win 40 games, 30, 20, whatever, just give it your all for 82 nights. Make me feel proud of the team I’m cheering on, even if they’re a pile of dung. That’s a success in the shadow of last year.

I couldn’t break the kid…

Next up: Brooklyn Nets

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