The Knicks Fix: Knicks Open Training Camp With Healthy Optimism

Phil Jackson had just been asked about the goals and expectations of his third season at the helm of the Knicks franchise. This offseason yielded his most ambitious effort in rebuilding, which included a blockbuster trade for a former MVP (Derrick Rose) and a $150 million spending spree in free agency, and the Knicks have the makeup of a team that, as he put it “has the potential of really being a good basketball club.”

How good? Jackson was asked what would constitute a successful season.

The author of the book, Eleven Rings, didn’t hesitate.

“Championship,” Jackson replied.

There was then a long pause.

The word echoed off the white concrete walls and polished hardwood of the cavernous two-court practice gymnasium nestled in a leafy corporate park in the Westchester town of Greenburgh. Jackson sat on a stool, with a backdrop behind him featuring a large logo commemorating the 70th season in franchise history, facing the media at Friday’s annual pre-training camp press junket. The word floated overhead and billowed through the two lonely banners from 1970 and 1973 — the only two titles in those previous 69 seasons — that hang adjacent to him at the far end of the building.

It doesn’t matter how far they were from his location when he spoke that word. Those banners loom very large for Jackson, a member of both title teams, in a multitude of ways.

Steve Mills, his general manager, who has been present at enough of these functions over the last decade to know what usually happens next, stared at the ground and didn’t change his expression. Jeff Hornacek, the new coach who is still very new to the ways of New York, couldn’t suppress a grin and let out a chuckle.

And then Phil nodded.

“That’s not our expectation,” he eventually clarified. “We’re not saying we’re going to do that. But that would be a successful season.”

It was a bold choice of words, but not a bad way to re-set a standard. It’s something Carmelo Anthony has been asking – no, begging – for over the last few years.

Jackson explained that winning a championship is what every team wants to do and that’s how you measure the success of a season. If you don’t win a championship, you then work backward from there with self-checks: Did we improve? How can we improve more?

On paper, Jackson and Mills have already improved the talent. Let’s go out on a limb here and call this the most talented starting five the Knicks have had since Jackson’s tenure began. You start with Rose, who finished last season strong, and Melo, coming off a solid Olympic performance, and Kristaps Porzingis with a year of NBA experience and some added muscle. Add the experience and 3&D ability of Courtney Lee and the anchorman, himself, Joakim Noah, and that’s as good as a five-man unit as you’ll find in the East outside of Cleveland.

I defy you to give me a better starting five aside from the defending champs. My Twitter (@alanhahn) awaits your response.

But there is, of course, a major cause for concern, which put a governor on the revving engine of excitement in this new season.

“The only thing that’s going to compete with them being successful or not successful,” Jackson said, “is the injury factor.”

It’s undeniable. It’s why ESPN’s analytics forecasts a 34-win season for this group. It’s why Las Vegas Sports bookmakers put the over/under at 38.5 wins, but it’s also why Vegas has taken more bets on the Knicks to win the NBA title than any other team, despite the 80-1 odds.

The Knicks have the makings of a high-risk/high-reward team.

Rose, after dealing with major knee injuries over the last few years, just had his first offseason in which he was not focused on rehabilitation. The Knicks signed Brandon Jennings as insurance, but his injury history includes a ruptured Achilles in Jan. 2015.

Noah was a Defensive Player of the Year winner and MVP candidate just two years ago, but since then has dealt with knee and shoulder injuries that had the Chicago Bulls believing his days as an effective starter were over.

Melo has been hampered by knee and ankle injuries over the last three seasons and Porzingis broke down physically late last season after taking a pounding playing in the mosh pit that is the NBA’s painted area.

So the question isn’t whether or not the Knicks can be a good team. They have enough talent, especially their starting five, to be good. The question is, can they be on the court together for at least 70 games?

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And if they’re not, with so much invested in the starting five, Hornacek will have to be a master mixologist with his reserves. After Jennings, he’ll be relying on late-bloomer Lance Thomas, who had a terrific first half last season with a shot at Most Improved Player before a knee injury severely limited his effectiveness. There’s also Justin Holiday, a piece in the Rose trade that many in Chicago say the Knicks got a steal. And also Kyle O’Quinn, a player who arrived in free agency with great anticipation last season, but didn’t seem to find a role or a fit in the rotation.

Remaining questions involve unknown international commodities such as center Willy Hernangomez, a 2015 second round pick known mostly as Porzingis’ buddy, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, a versatile guard/forward who showed intriguing potential in the Olympics for Lithuania.

Will they be up to the task when called upon? In games against the NBA’s elite, it’s the second quarters and late third quarters — when the bench comes in — that can be the difference between a win and a loss. And with health such a concern for this team, bench production and reliability will be vital.

“We hope we have a strong enough bench behind us,” Jackson said. “We hope we have enough strength to cover injury if we have injuries in the process.”

Jackson’s concerns are hardly trivial. In fact, they’re enough to limit the potential of this team from not competing for that word, championship, but limit them from even qualifying for the chance to play for it.

But the possibilities are endless for this team, which makes recalls a similar feeling to the 2012-13 squad of greybeards who built a 54-win season and hung a banner for the Atlantic Division.

That year stands as an isolated success in an era of constant rebuilding. For Jackson, this year is intended to be part of the progression under his command.

And as it sets to begin Tuesday at West Point, even he admits, “There’s an excitement about it.”

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Knicks Re-Sign Lou Amundson

**COURTESY NEW YORK KNICKS**

NEW YORK, September 19, 2016 New York Knickerbockers President Phil Jackson announced today that the team has re-signed forward Lou Amundson. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Amundson, 6-9, 220-pounds, appeared in 70 games over the last two seasons with New York – including 29 games in 2016-17, averaging 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds over 15.2 minutes. He holds career averages of 3.7 points and 3.6 rebounds over 12.9 minutes in 428 games over 10 seasons with Utah, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Golden State, Indiana, Minnesota, Chicago, New Orleans, Cleveland and New York.

He was originally acquired from Cleveland as part of a three-team deal on Jan. 5, 2015.

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2016 Giants Season Schedule

Date Opponent Game Time / Result Network
Sunday, Sept. 11 at Cowboys W, 20-19 FOX
Sunday, Sept. 18 vs. Saints W, 16-13 FOX
Sunday, Sept. 25 vs. Redskins L, 29-27 FOX
Monday, Oct. 3 at Vikings L, 24-10 ESPN
Sunday, Oct. 9 at Packers L, 23-16 NBC
Sunday, Oct. 16 vs. Ravens 1:00 PM CBS
Sunday, Oct. 23 vs. Rams (London) 9:30 AM NFL Network
Sunday, Oct. 30 BYE WEEK
Sunday, Nov. 6 vs. Eagles 1:00 PM FOX
Monday, Nov. 14 vs. Bengals 8:30 PM ESPN
Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Bears 1:00 PM FOX
Sunday, Nov. 27 at Browns 1:00 PM FOX
Sunday, Dec. 4 at Steelers 4:25 PM FOX
Sunday, Dec. 11 vs. Cowboys 8:30 PM NBC
Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. Lions 1:00 PM FOX
Thursday, Dec. 22 at Eagles 8:25 PM NBC
Sunday, Jan. 1 at Redskins 1:00 PM FOX
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Strong National Showings Mean Future Call-Ups for Sacha Kljestan

When a player has 48 international appearances, a solid performance can’t be considered a breakout. But given Sacha Kljestan’s two strong shifts for the United States national team over the past week, it certainly was a breakthrough and one that will likely lead to him being a big part of the national team over the next two years.

Kljestan’s two goals and two assists in two matches of World Cup qualifying came after well over two years away from the national team. His exclusion by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was puzzling, to say the least, especially since Kljestan has been among the best central midfielders in MLS for two seasons. He brings calmness on the ball, vision and a touch of creativity, all things that the Americans are lacking in their midfield.

He was kept off the squad for this summer’s Copa America, a tournament where the United States could have used him in losses to Argentina and Colombia (twice). This, despite the fact that he is leading MLS in assists and was an All-Star. There was no logic at all to his exclusion.

Now back with the New York Red Bulls for Sunday’s home match at D.C. United, it would seem that Kljestan has done enough to warrant call-ups for the two friendly matches in October, as well as the hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying in November. He just might have broken through back into the national team picture.

As for feedback from Klinsmann, Kljestan didn’t divulge much of what he received following two superb appearances.

“He just said ‘welcome back.’ He said I did well to take my chance and congratulated me,” Kljestan said on Friday.

The Red Bulls anticipate losing him for the national team matches in October against Cuba and New Zealand. Then there are the crucial qualifiers in November against Mexico. Kljestan would need to keep his form high in MLS, but the two matches over the past few days show a player who can make an impact.

“I would expect him to be involved in those matches. From there on in, it’s just about every game I think proving himself,” head coach Jesse Marsch said following Friday’s training.

“But if he can continue to establish himself in October, then November would be a real possibility as well.”

His head coach wasn’t surprised – “we all expected him to look like that” – by Kljestan’s two strong performances for the national team. Marsch was an assistant coach with the national team for two years when Kljestan was an integral part of the group.

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Giants 2016 Road Map

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Rangers Name Chris Drury Assistant GM

** COURTESY NEW YORK RANGERS**

NEW YORK, September 2, 2016 – New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton announced today that the team has promoted Chris Drury to Assistant General Manager.

In his expanded role, Drury, 40, will assist Gorton on all player transactions and contract negotiations, and he will continue to assist in overseeing and evaluating all players at the collegiate level. Drury, who rejoined the Rangers organization as Director of Player Development on September 4, 2015, will continue to assist in the development of Rangers prospects, both on and off the ice, and serve as a liaison between the hockey operations department and prospects in the organization.

During his 12-year NHL career, the Trumbull, Connecticut, native skated in 892 games with the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres, and the Rangers, registering 255 goals and 360 assists for 615 points, along with 468 penalty minutes. Drury captured the Stanley Cup as a member of the Avalanche in 2000-01, ranking second in the NHL with 11 goals in 23 games during the team’s playoff run. In 1998-99, Drury received the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year after registering 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points with Colorado. Drury recorded at least 20 goals in nine different seasons in his career, and he registered at least 50 points in eight different seasons.

In addition, Drury’s team reached the playoffs in nine of his 12 seasons in the NHL, and his team advanced to the Conference Finals on six occasions. In 135 career NHL playoff games, Drury registered 47 goals and 42 assists for 89 points, along with a plus-24 rating and 46 penalty minutes. Over the 12 seasons in which he played in the NHL (1998-99 – 2010-11), Drury led the league in playoff game-winning goals (17), ranked second in playoff overtime goals (four), ranked fourth in playoff goals, and ranked ninth in playoff games played.

Drury played four seasons with the Rangers (2007-08 – 2010-11) after signing with the team as a free agent on July 1, 2007. In addition, Drury served as the Rangers captain for three seasons (2008-09 – 2010-11) after being named the 25th captain in franchise history – as well as the second American-born captain in franchise history – on October 3, 2008. In 264 regular season games with the Blueshirts, Drury recorded 62 goals and 89 assists for 151 points, along with 116 penalty minutes. Over his first three seasons with the Rangers, Drury led the team in goals (61) and points (146), ranked second in assists (85), and tied for second in game-winning goals (10). In addition, the Rangers made the playoffs three times during Drury’s four seasons with the team.

Prior to joining the NHL, Drury completed one of the most impressive collegiate hockey careers in NCAA history. Over four seasons at Boston University (1994-95 – 1997-98), Drury tallied 113 goals and 101 assists for 214 points in 155 games. During his collegiate career, the Terriers captured the National Championship in 1994-95, appeared in the National Championship Game twice (1994-95, 1996-97), and appeared in the Frozen Four three times (1994-95, 1995-96, 1996-97). Drury was selected as a First Team All-American on two occasions (1996-97, 1997-98), a Hobey Baker Finalist as the Top Player in College Hockey on three occasions (1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98), and he became the first Terrier to receive the Hobey Baker Award in 1997-98. Drury is Boston University’s all-time leader in goals and ranks third on the school’s all-time points list.

Internationally, Drury represented the United States in numerous tournaments and earned several medals. He participated in three consecutive Winter Olympics (2002, 2006, 2010), capturing a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Drury was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.

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