By John Schmeelk
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Another brutal season is over.
The only bright side is that the Knicks own their own first-round pick, and will select anywhere from first to 10th in this year’s draft. The following is where they stand as they gaze into an uncertain future.
By any standard, the 2016-17 campaign was a failure. Given the Knicks’ moves last summer bringing in veterans Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee, they had every intention of making a playoff run. They used salary cap space to acquire Noah and Lee and traded players (Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant) to acquire Rose.
Yet they still finished 31-51.
Taking the long view, finishing with 31 wins instead of 40 and getting a meaningless low seed only to be throttled by the Cavaliers or Celtics in the first round was a good thing. No matter where the Knicks select from 1-10 they’ll have a chance to get a good player to play alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez. They also have two second-round picks.
Porzingis improved his scoring and efficiency during his second full season, despite nagging injuries that kept him out of 16 games. After playing sparingly as a rookie, Hernangomez showed great promise and will likely land on one of the All-Rookie teams. The jury is out as to how good these two players will get but both appear smart, hard-working and conscientious.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, their list of meaningful young players ends there. Justin Holiday is a useful player that they should try to retain, but he is 28. Lance Thomas is also 28. Mindaugus Kuzminskas is 27. Ron Baker, Maurice Ndour and Chasson Randle are young, but they haven’t proven to be much more than end-of-the-bench contributors. Marshall Plumlee really isn’t an NBA player.
In other words, the Knicks still have a lot of building to do. Their roster is incomplete and not as young as some would have you believe. Despite Phil Jackson’s ill-conceived moves last offseason, the team is still in the early stages of a rebuild. The Knicks would be further along if Jackson hadn’t changed approaches so many times since taking over. Anyone not named Porzingis and Hernangomez should be made available.
Rose is 28, but a free agent and the Knicks would be wise to let him walk. Noah is untradeable and is in the conversation for having the worst contract in the NBA. Courtney Lee is a tradeable asset on a reasonable contract at 31 years of age. Then there’s Carmelo Anthony, who should be moved for young and future assets this offseason if a match can be found.
In other words, despite the fact it might anger some Knicks fans, winning next season should not be the priority this offseason. Every move should be considered for its impact two or three years down the road when there might be enough talent on this team to do something meaningful.
The Knicks will have just over $20 million to spend this offseason and they shouldn’t spend a dime of it on a player around 30 years old. The rule should be only players 27 or younger. You can bend but stay away from anyone 29 or older unless the player is a true star. They also shouldn’t sign any centers. The Knicks have enough size and need guard help.
The focus has to be complimenting Porzingis and Hernangomez with young two-way players that can grow alongside them. The Knicks Achilles’ heel has been defense for the last 15 years and until that changes, the results won’t either. The draft is full of talented guards and the Knicks should be able to find one no matter where they pick. They cannot afford to miss on their pick.
Given Jackson’s past, the draft is the simple part. Free agency will require the type of foresight and creativity with trades and cap management that he has been bereft of since his arrival. The Knicks should be able to turn some of their veterans into useful assets if Jackson is smart enough. He had a chance to do that with Rose and Ricky Rubio this season and failed. Even if Rubio is not the long-term answer at point guard, he would have been another asset for Jackson to play with.
The Knicks’ future could be worse. They own all their first-round picks moving forward and they have Porzingis and Hernangomez. It could be far better if Jackson handled the roster more intelligently. The Knicks need to draft well and spend their money on the right young players. This is just the beginning. It is going to be a multiple-year process for this franchise to make it back to respectability.
The Knicks can continue down the path by drafting the right player, trading Melo for a good package and being responsible in free agency. Jackson can still salvage his tenure, but it has to start this year. Any more steps backwards and the franchise will continue to find itself in dire straights.
- Jackson needs to talk to the fans. They have a right to know what he is thinking, his reaction to a terrible season and what he has in mind for the future. The only way to do that in an honest way is to have a press conference. It needs to happen.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk