By John Schmeelk
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It says all you need to know about the current state of the Knicks that the All-Star break might be the most important part of their season.
No, fans don’t need to be locked in to the Rising Stars game to see Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez. They also don’t need to see Porzingis in the Skills Challenge.
What Knicks fans do need to do is keep their ears to the pavement, and see if Phil Jackson can make any moves to help this team in future years. The key word here is future. There can’t be any concern for the present because this season is lost.
The Knicks are four games out of the eighth playoff spot with three teams sitting between them and the Detroit Pistons. They are only 2 1/2 games away from having the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference. Only seven teams in the NBA have a worse winning percentage.
The Knicks are not going to make the playoffs. They are a bad basketball team with flaws that minor moves around the margin are not going to fix. They don’t have the assets to land any sort of big fish star player that can help the team for years to come (like Jimmy Butler).
Jackson needs to blow this thing up. If fans have lost count of the number of times Jackson has overturned the Knicks roster, it’s understandable (the answer is three, for those of you keeping score at home). He has bobbed and weaved from one plan to another trying to figure out a way to win in Carmelo Anthony’s window. It is time to abandon that plan, and it appears Phil understands that given his openness to finding a landing spot that Anthony will approve.
Of course, none of that means that Jackson will be able to find a good landing spot for Anthony while getting good value back. Anthony holds the hammer to refuse any trade, which limits potential partners. His salary is very high and will be difficult to match in a trade. Finally, the team getting Anthony has to be able to survive his flaws on the defensive end.
Luckily for Jackson, there is no requirement that Anthony be traded before Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. He can hold on to him and find a better deal in the offseason when teams have more flexibility with their cap to make an Anthony trade more palatable.
So rather than forcing a bad trade for Anthony, Jackson should be shopping two Knicks working on one-year contracts: Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings.
Neither player should be retained for next season. Rose is too one-dimensional and injury prone, plus he expects a monster contract. Jennings is inconsistent and often bogs down the offense with too much dribbling and poor shot selection. Both will be free agents and the Knicks would be better off getting something for them now rather than waiting until the offseason and letting them walk away for nothing.
Given Rose’s contract and style of play, the Knicks might not be able to find a match, but even getting a couple of second-round picks and expiring contracts for him would be good enough value. At the very least, it would likely prevent the mistake of bringing him back next season. Jennings’ smaller contract would be easier to find a home for, but a similarly small return would be expected.
Dealing away both would also mean the Knicks lose a few more games this season, giving them a far better draft position to find their point guard of the future to pair with Porzingis. It would also allow them to see exactly what they have in Ron Baker at point guard. Taking back any bad long-term deals should be a non-starter.
Other players should be made available, too. The team can keep Courtney Lee, but he is someone they can move if they can get a young piece or draft pick in return. Kyle O’Quinn would have value as a backup big given his reasonable contract. Plus, with Porzingis, Hernangomez and Joakim Noah on the roster, O’Quinn is expendable.
They can try to trade Noah, but no one is going to want him and his bloated contract.
The 2016-17 Knicks have been a failed experiment and Jackson needs to recognize that. There’s no hope of making the playoffs. The future is all that matters and that’s how he needs to approach the All-Star break. If the Knicks are playing next Thursday against the Cavaliers with the same roster, Jackson isn’t doing his job especially well.
For all things Knicks and Giants, please follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk