Major Questions as the Knicks Retool

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 10: Ersan Ilyasova #7 of the Milwaukee Bucks in action against Lance Thomas #42 New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on April 10, 2015 in New York, New York. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Basketball is the greatest sport ever invented. This is not up for debate. No matter what sport you may try to counter with, basketball reigns. The NBA is the epitome of the basketball universe. The NBA is a living breathing organism with thirty separate limbs and organs. Today the limb in focus is the New York Knicks.

Major Questions as the Knicks Retool

In the tri-state area all the natives are excited. Why? Because all of the basketball fans in the area feel the Knicks have a chance this year. Prestige may be back in the Mecca. President of Basketball Operations and former Knick himself Phil Jackson tried to be aggressive in the off-season and got players via free agency. Superstar Carmelo Anthony’s patience was wearing thin. With Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks had that young stud, the rookie sensation that everyone craved. So change was necessary and imminent.

Bad, But Not Terrible

So to put a bow on it, the Knicks brought in much needed help for Carmelo Anthony. Kristaps Porzingis was the runner-up to Karl-Anthony Towns in the Rookie of the Year ballot last season. The heralded rookie is projected to make great strides in his sophomore season possibly placing him in the conversation for All-Star consideration. So the core looks promising.

Shuffle the Deck

Out went no names like Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez (decent season), Jerian Grant (solid rookie), Arron Afflalo (good veteran), and Derrick Williams. In came Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Jennings.

In came Rose, the savior via trade. Rose is a former league MVP who is still only 27 years old. After all, any point guard not named Calderon was seen as a massive upgrade. Another headliner to hit Broadway was Joakim Noah. A former Defensive Player of the Year and a native New Yorker, Noah would never shy from the bright lights. He will provide the locker room stability and leadership that Carmelo Anthony evidently failed at. Noah’s excitement and enthusiasm is contagious and much needed. Also added was Lee, who is a consistent player with a reputation of being a solid shooter and tough defender. Lee is expected to help sure up a most porous perimeter defense.

The Cheap Risk

Lastly the Knicks brought in Brandon Jennings, a former first team All-Rookie awardee. Jennings showed immense promise during his tenure but has been inconsistent. Jennings also suffered a ruptured achilles tendon injury in early 2015 forcing him to miss the remainder of that season almost half of last season. The good news is he’s only 26 years old.

But Wait, There’s More

The Knicks also made a huge addition in the coaching ranks. Jeff Hornacek is now in charge. Hornacek was curiously fired by the Phoenix Suns after two and a half improving seasons. Hornacek has shown an ability to improve a team’s offensive efficiency, which would be a blessing of the highest order to the Knicks, whose offense looked constipated at times last season and anemic at other times.

This is Where Things Get Interesting

Phil Jackson, the Zen Master, is the supreme authority on the triple post offense, popularly called the “Triangle Offense” or simply “The Triangle.” The Triangle is widely accepted as invented by Fredrick “Tex” Winter, who helped mentor Jackson during his early years as a coach with the Chicago Bulls.

Is the Triangle Offense Obsolete?

Many of the modern day pundits call it antediluvian, antiquated, outdated, and obsolete. However that’s not the case for Phil Jackson, for who the triangle means more than just basketball. To Jackson it’s a philosophy of and for life. Never mind that it took the legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago to make the triangle look potent in the 90’s, or Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers in 2000’s. In defense of the triangle’s lack of success in today’s game, Phil Jackson said “Today’s players simply lack the skills to play the triangle.” In a recently published interview with Charley Rosen, Jackson continued “They have no sense of timing or organization. They don’t really know how to play five-on-five basketball. It’s strictly generational.” So in Jackson’s mind, the system is not the problem; the players are.

Six Degrees of Separation

Now it’s a popular misconception that Hornacek is not a familiar with or has never been a participant of the triangle, as he was not a ‘Jackson disciple’. He has neither played nor for Jackson or any of Jackson’s former assistants. However, Hornacek played for the great Cotton Fitzsimmons as a member of the Phoenix Suns from 1988 to 1992. Fitzsimmons was himself a disciple of Tex Winter, who he was an assistant coach for at Kansas State University in the 1960’s. Fitzsimmons’ offense at Phoenix was in principle triangle based, though much more up-tempo.

Hornacek Wants to Run

Hornacek’s style of coaching is self-described as up-tempo as he likens his attributes to Fitzsimmons and Jerry Sloan (who he played for as a member of the Jazz). His Suns team was a running one, scoring mostly points in transition and three-point shots. He has openly stated that the triangle, however, would not be discarded but instead be a part of his coaching strategy and philosophy.

Not so Fast Though

Here’s the rub though; Jackson hand-picked Derek Fisher (a genuine Jackson disciple) who also echoed similar sentiments. When Fisher was dismissed, it because there was difference in philosophy between he and Jackson. There was reported friction between the assistants installed by Phil Jackson and the assistants that Fisher chose. In the ideological battle, the triangle won.

Now About This Roster

So, now that the Knicks made their vaunted splash in the free agent market, it’s time to examine this roster. From a layman’s point of view this roster seems nice on paper. Lots of recognizable names but if one takes a closer look the flaws are as glaring as the red spot on the Japanese National Flag.

Led by perennial All-Star and All-NBA player Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks roster includes the aforementioned Porzingis, Lee, Rose, Jennings, and Noah to go along with Marshall Plumlee, Kyle O’Quinn, Sasha Vujacic, Justin Holiday, Maurice Ndour, Lance Thomas, Cleanthony Early, and Guillermo Hernangomez. Not exactly a world beating team. Though it must be said the team is cosmopolitan in its make-up.

Polarizing Porzingis

When Porzingis was drafted, the Knicks fan base, led by ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, was irate and not silent about their dissatisfaction with the pick. Smith said “New York Knick fans were at the Barclays Center booing because we recognize that we have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amuck, and flat out deceived by Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks.” He continued, “Let me be very, very clear … the kid [Porzingis] is talented .. and in three to five years, he may very well be big-time … but … this is about now. Because when you look at the fact that Phil Jackson picked this individual, you’re talking about a project.” It was also rumored that Carmelo Anthony expressed reservations with the pick as well.

Now just a year later, everyone loves him.

Observations That May Prove to be Issues

Most notably, President Jackson has invested heavily in players who seemed to be injury prone. Secondly, there’s a noticeable lack of three point shooting ability on the roster. Thirdly, this roster appears devoid of the speed and agility necessary to play at the pace Coach Hornacek may envision. Fourth and most importantly defense appears to be an after-thought. One may be quick to point out to me that Noah was defensive player of the year in 2014, but a lot has changed since then including Noah having surgical procedures done on both his left knee and left shoulder. Finally, the Eastern Conference has gotten better as teams have re-tooled in an effort to dethrone the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

It should also be asked how much autonomy Jeff Hornacek has. To implement and work his system a level of freedom must be afforded to him. One could make a case that’s a level his predecessor was not allowed to have. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst for one is skeptical stating on a recent podcast that Hornacek is entering the Knicks job in a position of weakness and not strength. He is saying that the Knicks settled for Hornacek rather than recruited him. He clarified his point by contrasting the hiring of two other coaches by other teams, the Lakers with Luke Walton, and the Timberwolves with Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks were rumored to be interested in hiring both during the search.

The Fans Feel it the Most

It’s difficult not to feel badly for Knicks fans as they’ve become energized by the moves made. It is also evident that the Knicks brass is clearly concerned about pacifying its sure-fire Hall of Fame star and not looking towards developing the young stud Porzingis. That said Knicks fans can be arrogant and crass at times. The word on the street is with the addition of Rose and Noah particularly, the Knicks would win at least fifty games this season. To put it delicately, New York Knicks fans hold lofty expectations.

 

 

Main Photo

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 10:  Ersan Ilyasova #7 of the  Milwaukee Bucks  in action against Lance Thomas #42 New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on April 10, 2015 in New York, New York. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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