By John Schmeelk
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As the Knicks play out the string with very little hope of making the playoffs, fans will look towards the offseason to see if the front office can rebuild the roster with better and younger pieces.
Phil Jackson’s major moves from the offseason have fallen about as flat as possible and that’s hidden some of the small moves that have worked out well.
The Knicks actually have pretty good role players. Courtney Lee, even with his eight-figure contract and age, is good team player that plays defense and can shoot the 3-pointer. Justin Holiday was a good piece to get back in the Derrick Rose trade. He can shoot and plays hard on both ends. He’s a good bench player and could replace Lee if the Knicks decide to trade him this offseason for a draft pick or a younger player.
Lance Thomas is a true difference-maker when he is on the floor. He is a good perimeter defender that plays extremely hard and hits the open 3. His entrance into the starting lineup (and subsequent Carmelo Anrthony move to power forward) has made the first group far more competent defensively, even with Rose on the floor.
Mindaugus Kuzminskas is a useful player than can do a little bit of everything, a good value for the small contract he received. Ron Baker looks like he might be able to be a bit player off the bench if he can improve his shooting.
At center, aside from the Joakim Noah debacle, the Knicks have found value with a couple of people. Kyle O’Quinn was a good signing last offseason as a bench player that can provide 10-15 minutes a game. Willy Hernangomez has proven to be an excellent find in the second round and could develop into a starting center down the road.
The Knicks even made correct decisions last year on players like Langston Galloway, who they wanted to keep but signed elsewhere in free agency, and Derrick Williams, who they wisely let walk away. The Robin Lopez signing was good two seasons ago, as was the team’s decision to trade Tim Hardaway, Jr. away for a first-round pick.
The team has made some real mistakes on the margins as well. Chasson Randle was a good add late in the season with a partial guarantee for next season, but the Knicks’ decision to give Marshall Plumlee a guaranteed deal before the season didn’t make any sense. The team already had four centers on the roster (Noah, Hernangomez, O’Quinn and Porzingis), but it was short on guards. Maurice Ndour has not developed into the defensive stopper the Knicks hoped to see.
Of course, all those good moves have been rendered meaningless because the Knicks signed Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract. You forget about them because Jackson decided to trade Lopez and Jerian Grant for Rose. They don’t mean a whole lot because Anthony played most of the season out of position at small forward.
If the Knicks can find a way to acquire or develop a couple two-way, upper echelon players over the next few years to pair with Porzingis, they have the complimentary players for the team to be pretty good.
The question remains as to whether Jackson is capable of making the big moves with veteran players necessary to make the Knicks relevant again. He has been far more effective acquiring and developing young talent, which should be the idea moving forward. The franchise cannot afford a poor trade of Anthony or any other signings or trades that resemble the Rose or Noah moves from last summer.
If those mistakes happen again, any of the small moves that have been successful under Jackson’s regime will continue to be meaningless. It’s time for the big splash to work. It could come with an Anthony trade, how the Knicks spend their cap space, or who they draft. Those are the big fish that will determine this franchise’s future.
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