NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Phil Jackson made two big signings since becoming Knicks president, and Carmelo Anthony seems thrilled with both.
First, Jackson picked Derek Fisher, who played for him in Los Angeles, to be the coach even though he had just retired as a player. Then Jackson gave Anthony a five-year, $124 million contract to keep the former NBA scoring champion in New York.
Once Anthony decided to stay, he could sense how much things had already improved after a miserable 2013-14 season.
“I think any time you have a new coach, a new energy comes along with that. You can just walk around the building and feel that energy,” Anthony said.
“You can just see everybody is rejuvenated again. Everybody wants to win, everybody wants to do what’s right to help this team be successful,” he said. “So at the end of the day, I believe that we’ll be there at the end.”
The Knicks finished 37-45 under Mike Woodson, the first time Anthony missed the playoffs in his 11 seasons. Jackson believes the Knicks can get there this season, though he also predicted it might take at least 45 wins in what should be an improved Eastern Conference.
“There’s going to be a real healthy challenge in our conference,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve got a really good chance at settling in and finding a way to play and winning in this conference and being effective.”
That could depend on how quickly the Knicks pick up the triangle offense, which Jackson used to win an NBA-record 11 championships as a coach and Fisher intends to run. Anthony insists they will, despite the struggles they had scoring in the preseason.
He even talked to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who flourished in the system, to prepare for this season, when he knows skeptics will be watching to see if he can have some of the success they did.
“I don’t have a choice but to make it work,” Anthony said. “We don’t have a choice but to make it work. Whether it takes now or takes later, we don’t have a choice but to make this work.”
Jackson’s calmness and Fisher’s optimism are a welcome change at Madison Square Garden, where the locker room was a fractured place last season. The team might not be much better yet, but the atmosphere already is.
“The pain, what I endured last year and we felt as a team, we don’t want to go back down that lane no more,” Anthony said. “We don’t want to feel that pain.”
Here are some things to watch with the Knicks:
SMITH’S START: J.R. Smith underwent knee surgery last summer and said recently he didn’t feel fully healthy until about the final 30 games of the season. The Knicks can’t wait that long again for production from the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year.
MIND OVER MATTER: Jackson, who used to give books to his players and was nicknamed the Zen Master, has brought in someone to help the Knicks with “mindful training,” which Fisher says is “just basically respecting the fact that excellence is often mental and not physical. And so I think by spending some time focusing on some of the mental aspects of performing at an elite level is time well spent.”
BRUTAL BEGINNING: The Knicks open at home against Chicago and then travel to Cleveland the next night for LeBron James’ first game with the Cavaliers, beginning the season against the teams that are expected to be the two best in the East.
ANDREA AND AMARE: Andrea Bargnani and Amare Stoudemire are two candidates for the power forward spot if Fisher thinks either can remain healthy enough to keep it. Bargnani had an injury-shortened first season in New York, while the Knicks are always trying to figure out how to maximize Stoudemire’s usage after he had two knee surgeries two seasons ago.
JOSE IS OK: The Knicks landed a widely respected veteran when they acquired point guard Jose Calderon from Dallas. The trade cost New York starters Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, but Calderon’s relationship with Bargnani from their years together in Toronto, and his likelihood of running the triangle well because of his intelligence should make it a good deal for the Knicks.
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