By John Schmeelk
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While it has been a big summer of change for the Knicks’ front office, the team will return many of the same players it had last season.
Derrick Rose has moved on, and Tim Hardaway Jr. and others have joined the roster.
The elephant in the room is still Carmelo Anthony. If reports are correct, the Knicks would trade him if they can get back some kind of asset and not take back an odious contract. Anthony would like to be traded, but he apparently only wants to go to the Houston Rockets.
That leaves everyone where they were a month ago when the Rockets could not find a trade that worked for both them and the Knicks. There are too many moving pieces in terms of bad contracts, and not enough assets to satisfy the teams that would take on those bad deals. Someone has to eventually wind up with Ryan Anderson, and nobody wants him unless a team can unload a similarly terrible contract.
In other words, it looks like Anthony is going to be on the Knicks when the season starts in November. It might be weird and awkward, but weird and awkward have been this franchise’s MO for the last 10 years.
With Anthony on the roster, the Knicks actually have a pretty well-rounded offensive lineup featuring a bunch of shooters to spread the floor. Here’s what the starting lineup will probably look like given the way team president Steve Mills put the roster together. That is, assuming Frank Ntilikina wins the point guard competition, which is not a gimme:
Point guard: Ntilikina
Shooting guard: Hardaway
Small forward: Anthony
Power forward: Kristaps Porzingis
Center: Willy Hernangomez
Point guard: Ramon Sessions
Shooting guard: Courtney Lee
Small forward: Lance Thomas
Power forward: Luke Kornet
Center: Joakim Noah
Point guard: Ron Baker, Chasson Randle
Shooting guard: Damyean Dotson
Small forward: Mindaugus Kuzminskas, Michael Beasley
Power forward/Center: Kyle O’Quinn
There are a few problems with this configuration. The first is that the starting lineup above will likely struggle mightily defensively. Porzingis protects the rim and Ntilikina should be able to guard relatively well as a rookie, but the other three starters are all minus defenders. Lee and Thomas would have to play a lot off the bench to help make up for some of the other defensive shortcomings.
If the Knicks wanted to maximize their win output, the best lineup would be: Ntilikina, Lee, Thomas, Anthony, and Porzingis. That would allow Anthony and Porzingis to play at their best positions offensively, while surrounding them with good defenders and shooters at the other spots.
The franchise would have to swallow a bitter pill and bring their $70 million man Hardaway Jr. off the bench, as well as Hernangomez. The other subs would be decided by health and training camp competition. The offensive and defensive players would have to be rotated to keep a balanced lineup on the floor at all times.
If the Knicks are relatively health, have a coherent defensive philosophy,and Ntilikina is competent, they could compete for a playoff spot in the weakened Eastern Conference. Anthony and the other veterans on the roster would enjoy that type of run, but it would be very detrimental to the team’s long-term growth.
The Knicks are building for the future. They need more high-upside young players to go with Porzingis, Hernangomez, Hardaway Jr. and Ntilikina. Their best chance of getting those types of players is having a lot of ping pong balls in the lottery. As long as Anthony (and even other veterans like Lee and Thomas) is on the roster, the Knicks might not be bad enough to land the type of player they need to compete two or three years down the road.
That is the Knicks’ dilemma this season. With Anthony, they could actually be a playoff team. Fans might enjoy that momentarily until they are wiped out early, but would regret it when the draft comes at the end of June. It’s the primary reason trading Anthony and the other veterans is so important. It will help the Knicks lose games, something they need to do for one more year before they can start building toward something meaningful.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk