By John Schmeelk
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With the trade for Derrick Rose, who is only on a one-year contract, Phil Jackson has appeared to enter “win now” mode with the New York Knicks. Based on the acquisition of Rose for two players with three years left on their deals, along with Jackson’s own words Friday night, there isn’t much room for interpretation.
“We want to win now,” Jackson said. “That’s part of what we’re doing.”
He continued later: “It’s about the season ahead of us. Derrick’s got a drive in him. I know he’s going to do well. We’ll cross that as we go along for next year.”
One of the reasons Jackson decided to change paths from what seemed like a steady build around Kristaps Porzingis was also made fairly obvious.
“Are we moving fast enough to accomplish goals you have for yourself and your career?” Jackson said of a conversation he had with Carmelo Anthony. “Carmelo and I talked about that, whether we’re on the same time frame with him? This is a positive move. If he sees it as a positive move, that’s reinvigorating for him.”
One reason is never made much sense for Anthony to re-sign with the Knicks was that the odds the Knicks were going to compete for a title over the course of that five-year contract were slim to none. They still are. To no one’s shock, Anthony was unhappy with all the losing and told the media he spoke to Jackson about it at his exit interview. Apparently, Jackson was listening, and despite the minuscule chance of the Knicks being able to compete with the Cavaliers or other top teams in the league in the next couple seasons, he has changed paths.
There’s no evidence Anthony demanded any sort of trade or action with a potential threat of asking for a trade to make the team more competitive. There is also no evidence that owner James Dolan threw the gauntlet down for Jackson to make significant improvement quickly. Determining Jackson’s thought process is usually a fool’s errand, but for whatever reason, he has changed course to try to win with Anthony, even if it means dealing future assets.
How far Jackson is willing to go to win now remains to be seen. He would be wise to proceed with caution. Entertaining thoughts of trading future draft picks would be foolish. It would also be foolish to enter free agency without an eye on both the present and the future. Porzingis is still the long-term future of the franchise, and that must be considered in every single move the Knicks make this offseason.
If recent media reports are to be believed, the Knicks have some level of interest in two players well past their primess: Joakim Noah and Jamal Crawford. Given the prior’s injury history (shoulder surgery early in 2016 and knee surgery in the summer of 2014) and the latter’s age (36), there should be real prudence exercised in the length and size of any contract given to either player.
This offseason, with the limited number of talented players and unprecedented cap space available, is an extremely risky environment where teams can get themselves into trouble with very bad contracts. If the Knicks lock themselves into bad long-term deals with either injury-prone or declining players, it will severely hinder their ability to have a good team around Porzingis when he enters his prime in a few years.
With Rose on board this season, the Knicks will focus on finding a shooting guard and center with their $32 million or so of cap space. There are a number of high-risk players available at those positions: the aforementioned Noah and Crawford, oft-injured Bradley Beal, oft-injured Eric Gordon, oft-injured Chandler Parsons (who is more of a (shooting forward), and declining and moody Dwight Howard. Giving big contracts to those types of players could be team crippling if their production drops severely due to age or injury.
It’s clear Jackson is trying to put a winner around Anthony, but he cannot sabotage the future in a very unlikely venture to be successful and win now. One eye must be kept on the future, even if the focus has become the present.
Jackson basically erased all his work last offseason in his one move this offseason. The only player left from last year’s free agent class is Kyle O’Quinn. The player Jackson traded for on draft night, Jerian Grant, is gone as well. He is going about trying to build the team again, and his decisions are going to have lasting effects on the Knicks’ long-term chance of winning a championship anytime soon.
For all things Knicks please follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk