Eventually, the math has to change.
Phil Jackson has been using addition by subtraction formulas over the first year of his tenure, right up to Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline. And while some hopeful fans were left disappointed when the Knicks weren’t involved in anything substantial before the deadline — where over a dozen players dealt in a frenzy during the final minutes — one thing we can assure is this: the Knicks won’t be wallflowers from this point on.
Fact is, they can’t be. In 29 games, this season will be over. Come July 1, only four players will remain under contract. Jackson has no choice but to begin the rebuild after spending the second half of his first season dismantling the roster.
First things first: the final stages of demolition.
Jackson granted a request from Amar’e Stoudemire for a buyout of the remainder of his expiring contract so he could sign with a playoff team. Stoudemire reunited with his friends Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton in Dallas, where he will bolster their bench. Jackson said Amar’e “wanted to play for a contender, we felt it was the right thing to do.”
Amar’e knew, with an expiring contract and a game that didn’t fit the style of play now employed by Jackson and Derek Fisher, he wasn’t part of the future here. Amar’e said last week that “Father Time is ticking” and he wanted to take advantage of good health when he could to make a run at a championship. In an ultra-competitive Western Conference, does he help put the Mavericks over the top?
Some quick useless stats: Amar’e and Carmelo Anthony were teammates for 311 regular season games. They appeared together just 56.9% of those games (177) and were on the court together for 20.2 minutes per game over their time as teammates. The helped the team produce 41.9 points per game when on the court together and were a grand total of -89 in 177 games while on the court together.
By comparison, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were teammates for 312 regular season games in Miami and appeared together in 76.6% of the games (239) and were on the court together for 26.9 minutes per game. They helped the team produce 61.5 points per game while on the court together and were +1,633 in those 239 games on the court together.
TRADE WITH ROCKETS
Jackson traded veteran Pablo Prigioni to the Rockets for combo guard Alexey Shved and a pair of future second round picks. Shved, an enigmatic player who came into the league with a little bit of hype, will get a chance to play some minutes in the Triangle Offense, which could showcase his skill set. He will be a restricted free agent at season’s end.
Prigioni, a class act in every sense of the word, has one more partially guaranteed year left on his deal. Kevin McHale can only hope that Patrick Beverley takes the time to watch Prigioni’s crafty defense and gain some knowledge from the veteran Argentine. If he does, it may become impossible to simply inbound the basketball against the Rockets.
Most importantly, in this trade the Knicks added a few picks to their coffers. One is in the 2017 draft, in which they now own a first and a second, and the other is in the 2019 draft, which gives them a first round pick plus two seconds that year.
Carmelo Anthony will be out for the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery. We knew this was coming, but the surprise came when Jackson revealed that the recovery time would be 4 to 6 months. All along, Melo was telling us he was told it was an 8-week recovery period. Regardless, he is expected to be back on the court well before training camp opens, but, of course, that’s barring any setbacks or complications.
Worst-case scenario takes him to late August, which leaves a good six weeks before training camp opens the first week of October. That’s not a great deal of time to get himself into game shape, but he does have camp/preseason to get there in time for the start of the season. Barring any fitness setbacks, of course (hamstrings, for instance).
Best-case would be late June, which gives him more time to ramp himself up to training camp speed. Obviously the big question is the variable that comes with all knee surgery: finding another issue (mainly: cartilage damage). The team did not report any other issues with the surgery, which the team announced was successfully performed on Thursday.
So unless complications outside of the patellar tendon are revealed, this is NOT the same situation as Dwyane Wade, Danny Granger or Amar’e Stoudemire, who each recently had debridement procedures that also involved cartilage damage. To this point, as Melo said, it has been strictly a tendon issue.
The fact that Melo waited until after he played in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game last weekend was a major bone of contention among the media and fans. Jackson said he met with Melo back in January when the team was in London and they discussed the plan. Melo made the case that being in the All-Star Game was important to him and Jackson said he granted Melo’s request to delay surgery until then.
What no one has asked Melo is if he would have done this if the game was anywhere other than Madison Square Garden.
What was asked was if the Knicks were in contention for a playoff spot, would he have played through it until the end of the season? Jackson quickly said no.
“I think probably not,” he said, “because the limitation of playing and inability to play and limited time and practices he’s had to sit out, would really hamper the team going forward.”
Here is something else to consider: Whether he had the surgery in December or February, Melo would still have to endure a slow return to speed come training camp because of the time off. It’s not as if you would see him shaking off the rust in summer league (too risky), so like any player returning from surgery and an extended period off the court, the first few weeks of camp would be a re-acclimation process.
Jackson said Melo is expected to have a pretty standard recovery process, which means he will be ready for training camp. Still, when pressed about whether he could have insisted Melo skip the All-Star Game and have the surgery sooner, Jackson dismissed the thought.
“No, we did not,” he said. “This is his choice. He has to make the choice. He has to feel comfortable with it.”
We’ll know in September.
OK, now to what’s next…
NBA DRAFT LOTTERY
The first most important date in Knicks future is May 19, 2015. That’s when the NBA Draft Lottery will be held. That day could be a tone-setter for the rest of the offseason. The Knicks (10-43) would right now hold the first position in the lottery, which yields a 25% chance of winning.
From that result comes the NBA Draft on June 25, right here in New York. It will be the first addition of many for this offseason and could be the most critical. All eyes are on the top prospects in college basketball, from Duke center Jahlil Okafor, to Kentucky big man Karl Anthony-Towns and Ohio State guard DeAngelo Russell. There’s also Emmanuel Mudiay, a 19-year-old guard who is playing in China after he was declared ineligible to play at SMU.
Jackson said he will personally be in attendance to watch certain players and mentioned an interest in taking audience at conference tournaments rather than early NCAA rounds, because in conference play there is a greater familiarity in scouting and preparing for opponents, and there is a greater intensity in the atmosphere. He suggested that you get a better sense of a player’s character in that environment.
REMAINDER OF THE SEASON
OK, but before we even get to talking about college prospects or the lottery drawing, there are still 29 games to be played and it’s a job Derek Fisher says he is taking seriously, though with an understanding that the objectives have changed, somewhat. Still, Fisher says there is a culture change in progress.
“As we still strive to be competitive this season, we’re obviously going to be in a position where we should have a pretty good pick and we’ll have an opportunity to draft a really good player,” Fisher said. “But that player needs to be brought into an increasingly stabilized environment. So my job is to steer that ship in the right direction so whatever player we’re fortunate enough to have join us, he’s coming into a situation that’s moving in the right direction.”
With that in mind, Fisher told me he doesn’t plan to just turn the minutes over to the young players, such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cleanthony Early. He will still dole out minutes based on merit, preparation and effort.
As for the intriguing Thanasis Antetokounmpo, it’s still not certain when — or even if — we will see him in an NBA uniform this season. The Knicks do have a roster spot open after Stoudemire’s departure, but Jackson said he and his staff are “contemplating” what to do with the raw, but athletically gifted player.
One issue Jackson mentioned was that Antetokounmpo has been playing mostly wing in the D-League, while, at 6’5”, he will be playing exclusively in the backcourt at the NBA level and, therefore, needs more development in that area.
Free Agency, of course, is the main event this summer. The Knicks will have potentially as much as $30 million to spend on players to build up the roster. One possible target, however, may be lost in Goran Dragic, who was traded to the Miami Heat before the deadline.
Dragic has a player option for next season that he is expected to decline to become a free agent. The Heat now have the upper hand to sign him because, by trading for him — at the steep price of two first round picks — they own his Bird Rights and therefore can offer him the most years and money.
The Knicks were reportedly in on conversations with the Suns to acquire Dragic, but were not prepared to surrender any more draft picks, especially not for a player who could walk at the end of the year.
One last thought on Dragic: the day before the trade deadline, he reportedly listed the Heat, Lakers and Knicks as his preferred destinations. That’s curious to me because hadn’t we heard all weekend that New York was not a destination of choice for free agents and no one wanted to play here?
Jackson heard that noise as well.
“Wow. I guess that question was asked a lot this weekend, because I seem to see that question running back and forth. Why wouldn’t it be? …,” he said. “As far as arenas and fans to play in front of, I can’t imagine not wanting to play in New York because of the fans, the arena, the participation the fans have in basketball and their desire for a team. It’s just a fact of the way this game is structured in this city that people know the game, like the game and pay attention to it.”
In a few short months, he — and all of us — will find out just who wants to be part of it.