At last, the New York Knicks’ third consecutive dismal season is over.
How do we account for New York’s lack of success, despite having a probable future Hall of Famer (Carmelo Anthony), a one-time MVP (Derrick Rose), and a unicorn (Kristaps Porzingis)?
Not forgetting Joakim Noah, who has been the NBA’s most outstanding defender and also a past member of an All-NBA team (both in 2014).
Plus Courtney Lee, one of the league’s most highly regarded complementary players. And Brandon Jennings, who was touted as being a contender for Sixth Man of the Year.
Here are the whys and wherefores.
— Let’s start with Carmelo Anthony.
It’s no secret that he’s always been a sticky-handed, shoot-first player who plays minimal defense.
Why then did Phil Jackson sign him to a lengthy, expensive and, most importantly, no-trade clause contract?
Because the triangle requires a go-to scorer who can create his own makeable shots when the offense is stymied and the shot clock is about to expire. While Anthony is not at the level of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, he certainly fills the bill here.
It was also expected that Melo’s scoring could take the pressure off some of the young players whom Jackson had hoped to obtain and develop.
And granting Anthony that no-trade clause was the only way to get him to return to his home town.
But there’s another reason why Jackson was forced to lure Melo back to New York: Knicks fans in the Big Apple are averse to any suggestion that their beloved team might be undertaking a rebuilding process. However, their reluctance to accept such a program can be entirely mitigated if a superstar player can be the focus of whatever enthusiasm they can muster.
In whatever the arena — political, entertainment, and athletic — New York absolutely loves stars!
However, primarily because of his reluctance to triangularize his game, Melo simply became a ball-stopping, motion-freezing individual whose selfishness severely curtailed the development of the Knicks’ younger players.
Even so, the star-crazed Knick fans still cheered his every move.
— Trading for Derrick Rose on an expiring contract was a modest gamble. Perhaps he could stay healthy, return to his MVP form, and be the dynamic point guard who could invigorate the offense — any offense. And also add to the star-quality of the roster.
On the plus side, Rose was still able to attack the basket with speed, quickness, and a remarkable ability to score a variety of tricky layups.
Unfortunately, his jumper remained inadequate, he passed only under duress, and he routinely made costly mistakes on defense. His turbulent season ended with another knee surgery.
Expect Anthony and Rose to be playing elsewhere next season.
— Kristaps Porzingis was poised to have an All-Star season until he injured his Achilles on Christmas Day. For the rest of the season, KP was noticeably inconsistent and generally lacked the game-changing brilliance he had previously exhibited.
It should also be noted that from January 2016 to February 2017, Porzingis also suffered injuries to his groin, a shoulder, a foot, a leg, and an ankle.
Similarly super-sized NBA players have established a tradition of periodic injuries that have severely curtailed their effectiveness and often ended their careers. Think of Yao Ming, Ralph Sampson, Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Jonathan Bender, etc.
— Even though it was widely known that Joakim Noah’s body was breaking down and that he had lost a step laterally, he was still highly regarded as being a plus-plus presence in the locker room, and a hustling and still effective low-post- and team-defender.
Also, Noah could serve as a tutor to Porzingis and rookie Willy Hernangomez.
Moreover, Noah’s excellent passing ability made him the perfect center in the triangle. And if Noah was not a real threat to score in the pivot, neither was Luc Longley.
So, while Noah’s long-term contract was somewhat risky, the possible rewards were great.
Yet a variety of illnesses and injuries prevented Noah from getting into tip-top game shape and made some of his playing time downright embarrassing. He underwent a knee surgery that effectively ended his season, then was busted for violating the NBA’s drug policy, and now it appears he needs shoulder surgery.
— Courtney Lee lived up to his billing, but Brandon Jennings certainly did not. Jennings’ defense was always questionable, as was his jump shot, but his biggest failure was his insistence on engaging in screen/rolls situations to the detriment of any other possible offensive scheme. Jennings was released and wound up in the nation’s capital.
— Head coach Jeff Hornacek must also assume some responsibility for this disastrous season. He came to the Knicks with only two and a half seasons as an NBA coach — and with a record of 101-112. While it’s true that his Phoenix Suns roster was decimated by several foolish trades engineered by the franchise’s know-nothing management, Hornacek’s leftover players always competed and tried to play the right way.
Also, coming from Phoenix — certainly not one of the bright-light, headline cities in the NBA — to New York was something of a shock to Hornacek.
He certainly wasn’t used to the constant attention focused on him by the habitually skeptical New York media. And perhaps Hornacek reacted by trying to be even more agreeable and friendly than he naturally is.
This reaction had to have spilled over into his relationship with his players.
Also, Hornacek was torn between employing a high-speed, quick-shooting offense that he favored but his team was unqualified to run — and the triangle. His decision to run “elements” of the triangle was doomed to failure.
— Of course, Phil Jackson must assume the lion’s share of the blame. While his decisions were made for worthy reasons, too many of them either simply backfired or were decimated by a perpetual series of injuries to key components of his squad.
However, the Knicks’ fortunes could definitely improve next season. That’s because with Lee, Hernangomez, a stronger Porzingis, a healthier Lance Thomas, a valuable backup center in Kyle O’Quinn, and the continued development of Ron Baker, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and Maurice Ndour, plus plenty of salary cap money available and a high first-round pick, the potential grounds for the first real steps on the team’s return to glory are already in place.
But this improvement and the Knicks’ long-term outlook relies on what Phil Jackson accomplishes in the offseason.