When Phil Jackson took over as president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks, most thought that he would wait until the 2015 offseason to reshape the roster.
However, he’s technically already started; simply, by re-signing superstar Carmelo Anthony.
Able to convince Anthony to stay in New York – on a massive contract, mind you – Jackson has started accordingly. But while it’s great having someone like “Melo” on your team, one player does not turn an organization into a championship contender – as we know.
So, how can Jackson move forward? Surprisingly, he has been able to get the wheels in motion one year ahead of schedule.
The very first significant deal of Jackson’s tenure occurred on the day before the NBA draft as he dealt point guard Raymond Felton and center Tyson Chandler to the Dallas Mavericks. In exchange, New York received center Samuel Dalembert, point guards Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin, guard Wayne Ellington and two 2014 second-round picks.
Coming off a subpar 2013-14 season and with a contract that runs through 2016, being able to unload Felton was a boon for Jackson. With Chandler, the Knicks lose a dependable defender and rebounder, but one has to wonder how much of Chandler’s public criticism of former coach Mike Woodson played a part in this?
After all, Jackson is trying to change a culture, and having someone so vocal might not be what the team needs right now. Also, with Chandler’s contract expiring in 2015, the chances of him staying in New York were slim anyways.
Replacing Felton as the starting point guard will be Calderon. Though not exactly known for his defense, Calderon knows how to orchestrate an offense, and his three-point shooting will help lessen Anthony’s load. Larkin was a first-round pick in 2013 whose rookie season was injury-filled, and Dalembert is a veteran that the Knicks are hoping can help to fill the void of Chandler’s absence.
On paper, it is highly questionable whether or not the trade will make the Knicks better in ’15, but Jackson is laying the groundwork for a better-run organization. Anthony got his close-to-the-max contract, but trades like the one with the Mavericks will allow the Knicks to have roster flexibility moving forward.
Two names to keep an eye on for the upcoming season are Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani.
Both players are entering the last year of their deals, and one wonders if Jackson will look to trade them during the season, or ride it out and just let their salaries come off the books for next summer, which will allow Jackson to pursue another big name.
Word is that Stoudemire is the healthiest he’s been since his first year at Madison Square Garden – though, I’ll believe it when I see it – and if he can play like he did towards the end of ’14, they may opt to retain him. And although Bargnani is a flawed player, he can shoot well for a big man and just might fit into the triangle offense with Anthony and Calderon.
One key compenent that has not yet been mentioned is new head coach Derek Fisher.
Yes, he has no head coaching experience, but if anyone can pull off such a transition, you have to believe it would be Fisher. More importantly though, Fisher and Jackson will be a cohesive unit that will give the organization a common foundation and vision – something that has been lacking under the ownership of James Dolan.
Can Dolan keep his nose out of things? That is an entirely different story. But if he cannot help himself with Jackson there, then there really is no hope for the Knicks as long as he’s the owner.
Alas, if he can, there’s promise.
Carmelo Anthony recently declared that the Knicks will make the playoffs in ’15; a comical notion, given the fact that over half the teams in the league make the postseason, and that the Eastern Conference is extremely pathetic.
Yet, since New York was left out of postseason play last year, this is an acceptable goal – for now.
Projects like the one Jackson has signed up for need to be taken with baby steps, but with what we’ve seen from him so far, the Knicks just may climb those steps more quickly than expected.