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

IN OUT
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

  • Matteemo

    Sorry for the hockey analogy because I know this is a basketball blog and some commenters get upset about this sort of thing, but the Knicks are the Maple Leafs of the NBA, or vice versa…

  • WhiteVegas

    I don’t think the Chandler trade was a home run like you imply. What you’re neglecting to mention in the Felton for Calderon swap is that Felton only had one year left at half the salary Calderon makes. Calderon’s deal goes all the way to 2017, and he’ll be 33 before the season starts. Calderon also had his worst assist numbers of his career last year, so the decline has already begun. I think they would have been better off letting Felton play out his contract since they’re so unlikely to make the playoffs this year, and they actually have their draft pick so being worse this year is a plus for them.

    • Sam

      Solid perspective; I can’t say I disagree, but you might be overvaluing Felton’s $3.7m expiring vs Calderon’s age.

      • WhiteVegas

        We all agree the Knicks likely aren’t making the playoffs this year, and we all agree Calderon makes them better than Felton would. So all Calderon being there accomplishes is worsening their draft position. Trying to contend in 2015 makes more sense, and instead of paying a 34 year old Calderon $7.4M, they could have used that cap space to go after someone like Dragic, Bledsoe, any other young PG. I can almost guarantee Calderon will be an albatross contract for the Knicks, and sooner rather than later. I liked getting picks for Chandler because it makes them a bit worse and builds for the future. Getting Calderon was more of a win now move, for a team that is not even close to winning now.

        • SR

          I agree. If I were a Knicks fan, knowing this season is a write off either way, I’d much rather have Chandler and Felton coming off the books.

    • DDayLewis

      I think Calderon’s assist numbers went down because he didn’t have the ball nearly as much. Dallas’ ball-handling in their starting lineup was an even split between Monta and Calderon.

      • WhiteVegas

        I think that’s part of it. But he’s also at the age where guards start precipitous declines, so I don’t think we can chalk it up 100% to playing with Monta. No doubt he’s better than Felton, but I think the money would have been better spent on a young guard in 2015 that can grow with the Knicks, especially since this current season is pretty much a miss the playoffs and use your draft pick season for the Knicks. Instead they’re tied up with Calderon through 2017. It’s like Phil couldn’t decide whether to do a win now or build for the future move, so he did both in one trade. They look like a shoe in for the worst lotto pick, which is not a good place to be the one year you have your draft pick.

        • gabe

          I don’t agree. Calderon was part of a bigger trade: get rid of Chandler and Felton and get other pieces. They got 3 players and 2 draft picks out of it, not only a more expensive point guard. Calderon’s decline won’t be as pronounced as other guards because he’s never been particularly athletic. He has great value in the triangle offense as he doesn’t commit many turnovers and is an excellent shooter. And I don’t think this trade does much to affect their win total next year. It does provide them with more flexibility as far as I’m concerned. My last thought is that 7 million $ aren’t that hard to package in a larger trade, especially with the cap rising.

          • WhiteVegas

            Let’s not exaggerate the draft picks they got. Some 2nd rounders and Shane Larkin. Nothing that is likely to move the needle for them in the future. Felton and Chandler were expiring, and NY could have used their cap space in 2015 to sign a young guard that can play with Melo far into the future and grow with the team, since the idea seems to be build a contender around Melo. Calderon is already too expensive, and will be getting worse year by year, not better. Calderon is a win now player, and he made sense in Dallas since Dirk is also at the win now age.

            NYK could have had only Melo and rookie contracts on the books for 2015 and beyond. That seems very appealing to the top notch free agents. Instead they won’t have enough money for max offers, and will be slightly better this year hurting their draft pick. I don’t think NYK had a say in taking Calderon or not though, I’m sure Dallas made it a mandatory part of the trade since Calderon’s deal is so long and expensive.

            • Balance

              Let’s also not exaggerate what a draft pick next year is going to do for them, particularly during what’s left of 30 yr old Melo’s prime. Let’s face it, Phil inherited a mess, and one that ownership insisted had to include Melo (the only attraction at MSG these days). What you’re suggesting is that they should have essentially tanked for a higher draft pick, that likely won’t begin to find his way in the league until Melo is near done.

              Soooo, what Phil needed to do was to do his best under the circumstances, which is to do whatever was available (not much right now) to find some balance between re-building and maintaining some semblance of competitiveness. I think we all agree that hopes for the coming year or two shouldn’t be too high, but if Phil & Fisher intend on building around the triangle offense, there is likely not a better PG in the league to help implement it than Jose. He’s a perfect “feed the alpha dog, and park outside the line for open shots” PG.

              In an ideal world, they wouldn’t have his contract on the books, but when doing what’s possible to balance long term with short term (Melo’s window), I’m not sure there was a better move available.

              • WhiteVegas

                Bottom line, I’m very happy the Knicks are stuck with Jose until 2017 because it keeps them firmly behind the Raptors. I do think being worse this year and having max cap space next year would have been best for NY, but now they can’t offer a max deal next offseason. I’m honestly more worried about Boston and Philly in the future (2 years from now) than either NY team.

        • DDayLewis

          I’m not saying it’s just a change in role. I’m saying it’s mostly a change in role. For what it’s worth, I don’t mind the trade all that much. Calderon projects to be a really good triangle point guard. He’s a little overpaid, but he’s still productive and his skillset (solid ball-handling, good decision making, not turning it over, spot-up shooting) are relatively more age impervious.

    • hyperdouche

      If anyone in the league is going to follow the Steve Nash ‘hit their stride in their mid-thirties’ career path, I think it’s Calderon.

  • jakdripr

    Damn, the knicks might actually be the worst defensive team in NBA history next season if Phil doesn’t pick up some other pieces.

  • webfeatmm

    Sorry to be that guy:

    “In the first instalment of this series”

  • Alex Vostrikov

    I wont be surprised if NY actually improve… and actually ending up in the playoffs.
    raps didn’t improve by trading Gay for star/s. all they implemented is team play. from 25 win team, they end up close to 50, in half a season. which is hard to do in todays nba. no one wants to play as a team… players look at individual number.
    NY coach can change some things. Jackson’s name alone can bring a lot.
    triangle offence, if works, don’t need athletic superstars. ny has some good shooters…
    who knows.

  • Ian

    I read this article, not because I expected it to be good (so few of these summer ‘time killing’ article are), but out of force of habit – the basketball season doesn’t end for me. Which is both awesome, and a little sad. Anyways, I just wanted to say that I thought your questions and his answers were of great quality and I enjoyed the perspectives shared and analysis given. Though, why no questions about the rookies? I need my prospect porn.

  • Stef

    Phil Jackson had some of the best players ever on the two NBA teams he coached, each to multiple championships, but it’d be a mistake I believe (a big mistake) to assume he might deserve less credit for his astonishing record as a head coach, because of it. (He coached twenty seasons; he won eleven championships.) Since reading his last book, I’ve become a fan. The guy thinks so far outside the box as we might imagine it, few others (if anyone) would even think about the kinds of things he considers important and relevant to the game of basketball.

    I have no idea how it’s all going to work out for the Knicks this season and the following seasons, but I sure will be interested enough to watch closely. And I won’t be surprised if they make the playoffs, even this upcoming season. Really.

  • ahoang

    I think they can muster up an over 36.5 wins. Chalk up +10 wins with the addition of numero ocho alone!

  • Slap Dog Hoops

    The Knicks are coming back strong this upcoming season. Before, I would have said that the Atlantic Division was the Raptors to lose, but coming into the preseason, I can surely say that the Knicks definitely have a chance oftaking first place away from the Raptors. Here was a team that had no draft picks and caps space and still was able to improve the team immensely. Adding Jose Calderon and Sammy Dalembert does not look like much, but once the season starts and New York initiates the Triangle Offense, they will be major impact players that will help lead the Knicks to the Atlantic Division title. Mark my words.

    • Gyaaldemsindahoodmelikey

      You have to got to be a troll or hater. Give me some of what you are smoking

      • Slap Dog Hoops

        I am nohater. I am just open to the fact that the Raptors may not have such an easy time as they had last season.

      • RyGuy Awesome III

        he’s not wrong. It’s not like the Raps waltzed into the 3rd seed last year. The end of the season was full of them falling behind in the first 3 quarters and making miraculous comebacks. Can they do that for another season? The raps need to play for 4 quarters.