Twenty Questions For The 2014-15 Knicks

That sound you hear isn’t New York City collectively yawning as the Yankees and Derek Jeter limp to the end of their season. It isn’t the Mets claiming they’ll add the bat they need and next year will be different. It isn’t Geno Smith hanging his head after a poor decision. It isn’t Eli Manning figuring out Ben McAdoo’s offense. No, it’s the Knicks’ carbon footprint ripping a hole in the atmosphere as they descend on the greater New York metropolitan area. That’s right: Knicks training camp starts next week.

It’s been a longer offseason than we’re used to having lately as the Knicks didn’t finish off the 2013-14 season with a disappointing week or two in the playoffs. With the long layoff in mind, let’s start shaking out the cobwebs with twenty questions that this year’s iteration of the Knicks will answer for better or for worse.

  1. What position will the finally slim Carmelo Anthony play? Does his dramatic weight loss suggest the Knicks plan on using him at small forward? 
  2. How good can Melo be in The Triangle? Will he buy into the team’s new gameplan? Will he move the ball like he’s going to be asked to? 
  3. What is The Triangle offense? How structured is it? 
  4. What is it like to have a point guard who can shoot it like Jose Calderon? How does he keep his shadow that five o’clock?
  5. Will anyone in the rotation other than Iman Shumpert be able to pressure the ball on defense?
  6. How much did Mike Woodson’s coaching (or lack thereof) have to do with the stagnation of Shumpert’s development? Can he take his game to another level? Will trade rumors dog him again this season?
  7. Does the new regime view JR Smith as a player who should come off the bench like Mike Woodson did? If not, will he start at small forward?
  8. How much of “Bad JR” will we see? Will The Triangle get him the spot-up jumpers that he’s so adept at making (as opposed to the off the dribble ones that he’s better off passing up)?
  9. Can Tim Hardaway remember that there are things to do with a basketball other than shoot? Can he show some semblance of an understanding of team defense?
  10. What does Amar’e Stoudemire have left? Can his mid-range jump shot make him useful in the new offense to offset his defense?
  11. Will Andrea Bargnani play at all?
  12. Will the Knicks let Stoudemire and Bargnani’s contracts expire when the season ends and turn them into cap space? Or will they do something dumb?
  13. Can Samuel Dalembert, who has been on five teams in the last five seasons, provide the Knicks with rim protection? Will he piss Derek Fisher off the same way he has Eddie Jordan, Paul Westphal, Kevin McHale, Scott Skiles and Rick Carlisle?
  14. Who is Jason Smith? How many times will he be compared to Wennington/Perdue/Longley? Does that question count as one time? Three times?
  15. Were the flashes Cole Aldrich showed at the end of last season indicative of anything or is he still Cole Aldrich? 
  16. Was Cleanthony Early the steal of the draft?
  17. How much will we all love Quincy Acy and his amazing beard?
  18. How hands on will Phil Jackson be? How present will he be (both literally and metaphysically)?
  19. How much of an adjustment period will there be for Derek Fisher? What do the fans expect? How much pressure will there be on him?
  20. Can the Knicks make the playoffs?

By mid-April we’ll know the answers to pretty much all these questions. For now though, it’s all just guesswork. I’ll make my guesses next week. Good or bad, it’s sure to be an interesting season. Can’t wait.

What’s Next? Not Much Else

Now that the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony back in the fold for what’s reportedly a five-year, $124 million deal, the next logical step is for them to start making moves around the margins of their roster. Don’t expect the usual out-of-nowhere Knicks signing of a foreign veteran, D-League lifer or American exile balling in China, however, because they appear to be finished building their roster (or close to it.)

There’s not a whole lot for them to do because they have a roster that’s more or less full and are now officially without anything other than the minimum salary to sign free agents. Yesterday, Phil Jackson talked about how the Knicks needed to add size and today they spent their $3.3 million cap exception on Jason Smith, a center who averaged 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in 31 games for the Pelicans last season. Smith’s a legit seven-footer with decent range who has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Smith’s deal follows last week’s signing of lanky, lumbering center Cole Aldrich to a guaranteed contract, likely for the minimum. 

Aldrich is more of a rangy rim protector than Smith but they do share a certain similarity (and not just that most people don’t know who the hell they are.) I’m not going to make a Luc Longley/Bill Wennington/Will Perdue joke but after signing two middling white centers in a single week it does feel like Phil Jackson is trolling us a bit. But there’s more to it than that.

Jackson’s teams have always had traditional size (and then some). The big white guys of the Bulls (and Bison Dele) and the Shaq/Medvedenko (I don’t know, Shaq was big enough for two guys) and Bynum/Gasol Lakers showed how much easier the game can be when the opposition has to deal with real big men in the middle (and not power forwards dressed up as centers.) Looks like Phil’s trying to recreate that on the cheap for next season. It’s counter to what a lot of the league has done in recent years, but that can have its advantages. It’ll be interesting to watch next season. 

The Smith and Aldrich signings, which took place as more glamorous (but not great) role players like Kris Humphries signed elsewhere, pretty much tap the Knicks out for next season. Humphries is exactly the kind of power forward the Knicks have been trying to use as a backup center for the last few seasons; the days of trying to guard Joakim Noah with a one-legged Kenyon Martin appear to be over (I know the Knicks had Tyson Chandler on the team last season but between injuries, declining ability and lack of effort, he wasn’t much of a presence.)

NBA teams can carry fifteen players on their roster during the season, with twelve or thirteen dressing. After signing Smith and Aldrich the Knicks are right up against that limit. So let’s take an early look at our 2014-15 Knickerbockers:

Bigs

Aldrich, Bargnani, Dalembert, Stoudemire, Smith and Jeremy Tyler

  • All these guys are going to be on the Knicks next season. Tyler’s still young and has a great deal of potential (his jumper and passing from the high post have looked quite nice in the summer league and he made some plays last season.) Aldrich and Smith just signed guaranteed contracts. Bargnani and Stoudemire, well, you know. Jackson said yesterday he sees Bargnani and Stoudemire as centers. That’s six big men right there, with Stoudemire, Bargnani and Tyler capable of playing either the four or the five (some more embarassingly than others.)

Threes/Fours

Carmelo Anthony, Cleanthony Early

  • The Knicks have one Carmelo Anthony. He’s mowed down everyone in his path at power forward the last few years and he’ll probably continue to do so this season. He’s kind of a wing, kind of a post player. He’s going to be fantastic in the triangle next season.
  • Early very well may prove to be the steal of the draft, a first round talent taken in the second round. He reminds me a little bit of Melo - he’s got some inside out game and can bully wings and out-quick bigs. He also did this earlier in the week.

Wings

Tim Hardaway, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Wayne Ellington

  • This is where things get crowded. The word is Antetokounmpo, a rabid defender and big bro to the biggest smoothie lover in the league, is going to get stashed over in Greece this season, which leaves the Knicks with five wing players, four if you assume Ellington, brought over as filler in the Chandler/Felton diaspora isn’t going to make the team (which he probably won’t.) The most interesting question going into camp for the Knicks is which of these guys is going to start. Shump seems like a lock to start at shooting guard but there hasn’t been any word on whether the new administration considers JR a sixth man or whether they’re willing to let him be the team’s starting small forward. If it isn’t Smith it could be Hardaway, who very well might have been the worst defender on the Knicks last season. I’m very much looking forward to a Knick roster that starts Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway and Carmelo Anthony with Shump trying to hold the league’s best perimeter players at bay and the ghost of Samuel Dalembert attempting to protect the rim behind them. 

Point Guards

Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni, Shane Larkin

  • You don’t need to be Daryl Morey to figure out that Raymond Felton was just awful last season. Calderon, a fantastic three-point shooter, ballhandler and offense-runner, is everything Felton is not (other than defensively, where he’s pretty similar although since he isn’t fat he isn’t quite so easy to screen.) The transition from Felton to Calderon is a huge upgrade for the Knicks. Prigioni’s still Prigioni (a capable backup/backcourt mate for fifteen minutes a game). And Larkin, a first round pick two years ago who almost literally got off on the wrong foot in Dallas last season (he broke his ankle before the summer league) may grow into a useful player over the course of the season. Larkin played in the pick-and-roll in college and had a lot of success with it but he’ll have some adjusting to do in the triangle. His shooting and ballhandling ability should give him a chance to do so. 

That’s fourteen players who seem sure to make the roster, plus Antetokounmpo and Ellington and the rest of the guys on the summer league roster that haven’t come up yet (Shannon Brown, who has a long history with Fisher and Jackson, is one player that might find his way to the last seat on the bench.) 

Unless Big Chief Triangle has some kind of two-for-one swap planned, these are likely to be your 2014-2015 New York Knicks. Here we go.

Another Summer Spent Scavenging: A Look At Free Agent Point Guard Options For The Knicks

If the Knicks re-sign Carmelo Anthony, you can expect them to do their usual cap-necessitated dumpster diving and stone unturning to find the players they need to round out their roster. If they don’t, you can expect that they’ll sign whoever’s around and tank (OK don’t expect that but it’s what they should do). 

Assuming Melo stays, they’ll have the mini-midlevel exception to sign a free agent to a deal worth about three million a year. They can also, as usual, fill out their roster with players who sign for the veteran’s minimum.

Even without the trauma of a Carmelo departure, the Knicks are a team in flux as they transition to the triangle offense under coach Derek Fisher and godcoach Phil Jackson. Lucky for them, Melo’s perfect to play the Kobe/late-model MJ role in the offense and their biggest weakness - a point guard capable of running a coherent offense - isn’t quite essential to the Tex Winter system, which puts an emphasis on allowing anyone to initiate the offense. Almost none of Jackson’s point guards with the Bulls and Lakers were traditional point guards. Rather, with guys like Paxson (shooting), Kerr (shooting, being able to take an MJ punch), Harper (defense), Fisher (shooting, being friends with Kobe), Farmar (shooting, surprising people by being Jewish) and Smush Parker (OK, just kidding), Jackson’s teams have typically employed point guards who excelled in some area other than quarterbacking the offense. Thinking back to Jackson’s Bulls and Lakers, it isn’t hard to envision the Knicks playing stretches with all three of Hardaway, JR and Shumpert on the court and no traditional point guard at all.

(For an excellent explanation of some of what goes on in the triangle, check this out).

The Knicks have point guards Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni under contract for next season and are likely to bring back the unproven Toure Murry. 

I think that because Prigioni is a strong three point shooter and Felton doesn’t do anything particularly well, the Knicks are likely to play Prigioni as the backup and Felton as the third, “emergency” PG, both behind whoever they sign with their mini-midlevel. Because the triangle doesn’t require a traditional point guard and the Knicks have capable ballhandlers in JR, Melo and, perhaps, Lamar Odom, the fifteen minutes a game Prigioni is capable of giving them off the bench should be sufficient to ensure that Raymond Felton doesn’t see much of the court this season.

So what’s out there for the Knicks? Here’s a look at some point guard options that might be attainable for either the mini mid-level or the minimum.

Shaun Livingston (previous deal: one year for the minimum) - Slim Shaun had a very good 2013-14 season, outplaying his contract and surprising everyone by kinda taking the starting job from Deron Williams over in Brooklyn. His 6-6 size makes him a versatile defender and he’s a solid playmaker with a good handle. On the other hand, he shot just six three pointers last season and made all of one, a shocking statistic considering the league’s current obsession with the triple. Livingston is a little reminiscent of late-model Ron Harper, who wasn’t a great three point shooter himself (he shot 16-84 for 19% from three in the 1997-98 season). Still, the number of attempts Harper found himself taking that year speaks to the importance of the three in the triangle. Livingston might not be the best fit and, because the Nets can offer him the same salary as the Knicks, may be out of their price range anyway. 

Ramon Sessions (previous deal: two years, $5 million per year) - it’s summer, so the Knicks must be rumored to be interested in Ramon Sessions again. Part of the reason they get linked with Sessions so often is because he’s always cheap, the Knicks are always capped out and Session moves around the league like a hermit crab. Sessions - who somehow managed to play 83 games while suiting up for the Bobcats (RIP) and Bucks last season - is adequate. He’s adequate at everything and great at nothing (he averaged about twelve points and four assists last season, in line with his career averages). He’s had one season where he shot over 40% from three but outside of that he’s been a below average shooter (31% last year). Because the Knicks should be looking for a player who can handle the ball well enough and has some plus level attribute, Sessions isn’t the guy. And so, for the first time since starting this blog, I am advocating against signing or trading for Ramon Sessions although he wouldn’t be the worst idea for the minimum, especially because unlike the two guys above and below him on this list, he’s proven himself capable of playing starters minutes for an entire season.

Patty Mills (previous deal: two years, approximately $1.1 million per year) - when you read that the Knicks are interested in Patty Mills less than 48 hours after his team wins the championship, you’ve got to be wary that they’re setting themselves up to pay a premium for a role player on a championship team. Still, the Aussie is a 40%-plus shooter from three for his career, can handle and pass the ball, is an energetic defender and a passionate teammate. On the other hand, he’s never played more than nineteen minutes a game and he’s just six feet tall. Despite the downside, because they have Prigioni to play some minutes and a system that isn’t overly reliant on its point guard, Mills makes a lot of sense if he’s willing to take what the Knicks can offer.

Kirk Hinrich, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake, Luke Ridnour - here we have the guys the Knicks will have to look at if they can’t find anyone to take their exception money. All four can shoot it from three and Hinrich and Blake are solid defenders. Because of that they make the most sense as two way players capable of playing “point guard” while really just defending, shooting threes and finishing games on the bench while the Knicks play without a traditional PG. Farmar and Ridnour would just serve to add some depth if they strike out everyplace else. Neither of them are starting point guards.

And then there’s the draft, although the Knicks have no picks and even if they are able to acquire one - and they certainly plan to since they’ve worked out 29 players according to Posting & Toasting’s pre-draft workout tracker - they are unlikely to get a player capable of giving them starter’s minutes at the point this season.

If the Knicks are dead-set on using their exception on a point guard, Mills would be a nice piece for the Knicks to add and Livingston wouldn’t be a bad fit. Hinrich and Blake would be decent additions for the minimum.

The Knicks are lucky they won’t be asking too much of their point guards next season.

Kerr on the Knicks

I’m intrigued by the prospect of Steve Kerr becoming the next coach of the Knicks and the Knicks seem to be as well as it’s rumored that they are hoping to get him to agree to take the job as soon as the first round of the playoffs is over (perhaps in an attempt to keep him from having the opportunity to consider other jobs that, you know, may be better, as the great Zach Lowe pointed out yesterday on Grantland).

I think Kerr’s going to take the job and, because of that, I’m already curious about what he thinks of the team and how it’s performed over the past few seasons (not to mention where he stands on Carmelo Anthony and what he thinks about the City of New York). Kerr isn’t saying much about the Knicks now, of course. But I figured he’s discussed them during his regular appearances on Bill Simmons’ podcast over the last few years and I was right. What he’s said isn’t particularly controversial or exciting but it’s as close to an opinion on the Knicks as you’re going to get from Kerr at the moment.

Kerr’s been appearing on the BS Report for years but I stopped in November 2012 because well, I have a job and you (hopefully) have a job (if not, assuming you want one, I’m sure you’ll find one soon) and really, four-plus hours of old Bill Simmons podcasts is a lot for anyone to handle. Oh, and they stopped working properly in my browser when I went farther back. Someone should tell the ol’ Sports Guy about that. 

Here we go:

November 19, 2013

  • Discussing teams struggling to start the season (the Knicks were 3-6 at the time and had lost Tyson Chandler to a broken leg that would keep him out six-plus weeks; the Knicks wouldn’t really ever recover): “I’m kind of willing to give the Knicks a pass because unless they have Tyson Chandler they can’t guard anybody and it’s hard, you can’t evaluate the Knicks without Chandler. When he’s there, they’re actually pretty good. And they had JR Smith suspended the first five games which threw off their whole rotation. I think we should give the Knicks a little bit of a pass but yeah, they’re a mess right now, they can’t figure out who they are and what they want to do”
  • In response to Simmons describing Jabari Parker as a cross between Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay and calling Parker “Carmelo Anthony if Carmelo Anthony was fun to play with”: “yeah, I think that’s a great call” (it didn’t seem like Kerr was concurring that Anthony’s no fun to play with, only that Parker’s game is similar to Melo’s, but maybe he was)

April 5, 2013

  • Discussing a ten-game Knicks winning streak and in response to Simmons’ statement that “Carmelo is really rounding into form”: “He’s got ninety points in the last two games (Melo had just hung 50 on a Heat team that was resting LBJ and Wade and 40 on the Hawks as part of a stretch where he scored 30+ seven straight games). That’s ridiculous.” Simmons: “And in a series, he could be the best guy in a series, which is the reason you trade for him in the first place” Kerr: “Right. Well when they were great early in the year he was at the four, they had the floor spaced and they were shooting the lights out from three and they took a dip when they had the injuries on the front line and they have so many old guys who went down. Kidd wore down. And when I watched them like a month ago when they were really in a funk the ball just stopped all the time and I watched some of the game last night and it seemed like the ball was moving again, they’ve got good spacing, good three point shooting. Defensively I just don’t know, I thought Rasheed was actually kind of a key to that team early in the season, he’s so good even at whatever age he is now so I think they are going to miss him but they’re an intriguing team and they’ve got a shot to absolutely make a run in the East. I don’t think they can beat Miami but I think they could get to the Conference Finals…I think [the Knicks] could give Miami a hard time but not beat them” 

January 15, 2013

  • Discussing who he likes in the East other than the Heat: and in response to Simmons calling the Knicks “the rabbit” and “having a gimmick” (they were 24-13 at the time, those were the fucking days): “I like the Knicks, I like Indiana…[the Knicks] are a team that’s dependent on the three as you talked about, but what they really start with, what their offense begins with, is Felton’s penetration, it’s the court spread, it’s the Phoenix offense from five, six years ago with Nash running it and instead of Amar’e Stoudemire rolling to the rim you’ve got Tyson Chandler and you’ve got shooters all over the place. If you don’t have the penetration then nothing, you don’t get the chain reaction of all the defensive rotations that come with guarding that penetration. And so Felton’s missed eight or nine games in a row, they’ve lost like five or six of them, they’re not right right now. And not that I’m saying Ray Felton is the savior by any means (I swear he chuckles here) but I do think that he’s sort of the key to what begins their offensive sequence in the halfcourt. I think when he gets back we’ll have a better picture of where they really are.”
  • Simmons says “I do think that was a big moment for Carmelo, that six for 26 game and that thing with KG (that’s the infamous honey nut cheerios incident), you know he was having this unassailable MVP campaign of a season…he was playing great, he was competing hard on both ends…I think everybody agreed that he was having a career year in a lot of different ways and then the old Carmelo kind of showed up in that game.” Kerr’s response: “It’s such a long season and that’s the thing that I’ve learned over the years is that it’s always dangerous to make any kind of proclamations in January…the key is you have to be healthy down the stretch and for the Knicks, will they have Rasheed and Camby healthy, who knows, but those guys are important and Kurt Thomas, certain matchups, they’re going to need a guy like Thomas. But if they’re healthy, I like the way they play and I love Tyson Chandler, I think he’s fantastic and I think he keeps them at that elite level.”

November 13, 2012

  • On whether he bought that Phil Jackson wanted to coach the Lakers prior to Mike D’Antoni getting the job: “oh yeah, I think he did. He didn’t want to coach the Sacramento Kings or the Detroit Pistons but when this became available, I think there’s no doubt he wanted to coach the Lakers.”
  • Simmons: “Because I had always heard, and I even said this, that he was really intrigued by the Knicks last summer but Dolan just shut that down because Dolan doesn’t want, he’s one of those guys that doesn’t want someone who’s going to get more of the attention than he is.” Kerr: “[laughs] right…I think the thing with Phil is that he’s retired a couple of times and come back twice…and as much as Phil likes to talk about the other things that he’s interested in in life, and he is, he’s got a lot of interests…but when it comes down to it the guy is a basketball junkie…he loves the NBA and I think it’s never going to leave his system entirely…I think he wanted to do it”
  • On the Bulls’ defense when he was playing for Jackson: “What he loved was having a big defensive center, we never had a dominant offensive center but we always had big guys, you think about Bill Cartwright or Luc Longley, we always had guys who could anchor the lane.”
  • On how fast the Lakers could have learned the triangle if Jackson had taken the job and the triangle generally: “very quickly….you can tweak the triangle and run pick-and-roll very easily out of the triangle if that’s what you choose”
  • Discussing how Mike D’Antoni will handle coaching the Lakers: “the other helpful thing for Mike is that he’s just been in the pressure cooker in New York for the last three-and-a-half years and it can’t be any worse than that in terms of the daily scrutiny.”

So there you have it. Steve Kerr: lover of Tyson Chandler, fan of ball movement, unclear on Carmelo Anthony, close with Phil Jackson, thinks the triangle can be easily learned and knows New York is an incredibly difficult place to play. 

What shines through when you listen to Kerr speak, whether it’s on the BS Report or on TNT or anywhere else is that he’s smart and level-headed and has spent a lot of time around great basketball players, great basketball teams and great basketball coaches. He might not have any coaching experience but he’s won five rings, played for the two best coaches of the modern era, ran the Suns for three years and has been watching from the sideline as a broadcaster for the last four-plus. All that, plus he’s got a close relationship with the Knicks’ president, setting up the kind of simpatico relationship between the coach and front office decisionmaker that the best organizations have. 

I hope he’s the next head coach of the Knicks.