Gorton Has Cap Space, But Holes to Fill in Free Agency
When you’re “rebuilding on the fly,” you must exercise caution.
And that is exactly what I expect from Rangers GM Jeff Gorton when the NHL’s Silliness Holiday, otherwise known as free agency, begins Saturday.
Gorton’s now got what the Rangers have rarely had and what a lot of teams are madly maneuvering to gain – salary cap space. With the signing this week of defenseman Brendan Smith (four years at an annual cap hit of $4.35 million), Gorton’s got about $15.65 million to spend (per Capfriendly.com), and that becomes around $18.55 million if Kevin Klein does indeed retire (if he doesn’t, the Rangers may likely deal him).
But you can pretty much bet that Gorton won’t be out spending like a drunken sailor.
The Rangers have needs, and they have holes to fill, and it’s not a stretch to say that right now they are worse off than they were when the playoffs ended in the second round. They have bought out Dan Girardi, lost Oscar Lindberg to an expansion draft, traded Derek Stepan and goalie Antti Raanta and in return got only cap space, a draft pick (Lias Andersson at No. 7 overall) and 21-year-old right-handed puck-moving defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.
During draft weekend, Gorton used the term “rebuilding on the fly.” It can certainly be done. But you cannot lose sight of the “rebuilding” part, and Gorton won’t.
That said, sometimes you can build a bridge to the future with money, or in more recent history, cap space.
Once upon a time, the Rangers had the green light to rebuild on the fly when Wayne Gretzky retired and the team missed the playoffs two years in a row. Then-Rangers GM Neil Smith – without the restraints of a salary cap – attempted to build a bridge so that his team could, theoretically, compete while rebuilding. So he signed six free agents – Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Sylvain Lefebvre, Stephane Quintal, Tim Taylor and Kirk McLean.
It didn’t work out as planned.
The cap, even with the extra money Gorton has in his wallet, won’t allow for that kind of (over)spending spree.
The Rangers need a center after losing two of their four (Stepan and Lindberg), and they’d still love to upgrade their defense with a right-hander, and they need a backup goalie.
There really aren’t top-line centers out there, not centers at a reasonable age or price. Joe Thornton is available, but he turns 38 on Sunday, is coming off ACL and MCL injuries, and a salary of $6.75 million. Thornton is believed to be looking for a three-year deal, which is a non-starter for the Rangers. If his market doesn’t materialize and he’d come for a year, then maybe the Rangers are in it, and the annual hit won’t be a major factor.
His San Jose running mate Patrick Marleau, by the way, reportedly has gained some interest from the Rangers. He turns 38 in September, but unlike Thornton – who still has elite skill – Marleau can skate and could be a fit in Alain Vigneault’s system. Again, though, the Rangers don’t need wingers as much as centers, and Marleau would need to come on a short-term deal.
Speaking of wingers, I don’t anticipate a Benoit Pouliot reunion after his buyout by Edmonton, nor do I expect the Rangers to be involved with Scott Hartnell (bought out by Columbus) and, especially, not Chris Neil.
One of the better names on the market, Alexander Radulov – who did some damage for the Canadiens against the Rangers in the playoffs – is only 30. But he wants a long term deal and loads of money.
The winger market includes some interesting names – Chris Kunitz, Thomas Vanek, Marleau, Patrick Sharp, Justin Williams (who has a short-list now), Radim Vrbata among them.
But I think the Rangers are going to stick with centers – unless they suddenly decide J.T. Miller can go back to the middle after years of preferring him and his game on the wing.
I think the Rangers will be in on Pittsburgh’s third-line center Nick Bonino, 29, but there will be a bidding war on him, too, and he will want four or five years. Martin Hanzal – a better faceoff guy than Bonino – and only 30, is another likely target. Ditto Sam Gagner, just 27.
Whether the Rangers might take a one-year shot on ex-Ranger Matt Cullen, who just won two straight Cups but is 40, is questionable. I doubt that they want to bring back Brian Boyle, who wanted a bigger role from Vigneault last time he was here, and instead went to Tampa Bay, then Toronto.
The Rangers might have to go for a lesser name, stick with Mika Zibanejad (who still needs to be re-signed, but will be) and Kevin Hayes as their top two centers, and cross their fingers. Or perhaps Gorton can swing a trade, though it’s not likely he has the pieces to get a Matt Duchene or an Alex Galchenyuk.
On defense, where the Rangers need a right-hander, the big name out there is a New Rochelle native and lifelong Rangers fan, Kevin Shattenkirk. The Rangers most certainly are interested. But it’s going to probably take seven years at around $7 million per – no less than six years at $6.5 million – to be involved in what promises to be mad-house bidding, despite Shattenkirk’s defensive-zone struggles in the playoffs with Washington.
More likely, I expect the Rangers to try to sign a Michael Stone (age 27), or perhaps Cody Franson (29). There are dozens of older defensemen available, and maybe the Rangers will go in that direction if needed, but if the plan is to rebuild on the fly, younger is the way to go.
I think the Rangers had their eye on ex-Ranger Chad Johnson as a potential backup goalie, but indications are that Johnson will re-up with Buffalo. Likewise, former Islander Anders Nilsson looks headed to Vancouver, and the Devils re-signed Keith Kincaid. So the pickings are getting slim and the Rangers might have to settle for a Jonathan Bernier, a Jhonas Enroth, a Curtis McElhinney, or former Islander J.F. Berube.
They have faith that goalie guru Benoit Allaire will get the most out of whichever goalie the Rangers end up signing.
Meanwhile, it looks as if Girardi will be Tampa-bound, at a bargain price, the Rangers stuck with some dead cap space and paying two-thirds of Girardi’s previous contract. Detroit was also interested.
Indications are that Gorton is close to re-signing Jesper Fast (who will miss the first month of the season after hip surgery), and is flexible on the term for getting Zibanejad re-signed. Zibanejad is arbitration eligible, and that deal could take a while.
Canyon Barry Looking to Follow in Family’s Footsteps
Surprise has been a theme in Canyon Barry’s life.
It’s a theme that began before he was born.
Hall of Famer Rick Barry, and his wife, Lynn, were rafting the Colorado River, which runs through the bottom of the Grand Canyon when Lynn turned to Rick and blurted out, ‘I think I’m pregnant.’
Some seven months later, Canyon Barry was born on Jan. 7, 1994.
Ergo, the name Canyon was hatched. (FYI: Canyon would have been Cheyenne had he been a she).
The surprise that turned out to be Canyon Shane Barry just kept, well, surprising.
He got his dad’s brilliant hoops skills and his mom’s brilliance. Lynn was a two-time Academic All-American basketball player at William & Mary, so she’s got some serious ball skills of her own.
“I’m smart enough to know I’m not as smart as my wife or my son but one thing I do know is that Canyon can be a very, very good NBA player,’’ said Rick.
“I’m not blowing smoke because he’s my son. I know basketball. I know what players can and can’t do. He can play.’’
So why doesn’t the NBA world and many college basketball fans think that Canyon just might be next Barry to make his mark in the league just as half-brothers Jon, Brent, Drew and dad, Rick, did?
Some of it is because of Canyon’s unique journey and beautiful mind.
After playing three years at the College of Charleston, Canyon transferred to Florida, more for its renowned nuclear studies program than its basketball program. Canyon, who has a 4.0 GPA, is working on his Master’s degree in nuclear engineering.
He was a two-time Academic All-American at College of Charleston and the Academic All-American of the Year in his one season at Florida.
That makes Lynn and Canyon the only known mother-son two-time Academic All-Americans in college hoops history.
The surprises just kept coming.
“He finished the Rubik’s Cube in about 30 minutes so he and a buddy built bigger ones,’’ said Rick. “He does card tricks. He plays five musical instruments. He was an All-State tennis player.
“He would get back from road trips and go right to the lab. The janitor and his professors couldn’t understand how he was doing it all. I can’t either. I can’t pronounce the names of some of the courses he took.’’
Surprise. We fell into the same trap so many others have.
We’ve told you about Canyon’s high IQ, but that’s a subplot.
Canyon is an athletic baller.
His agent, Greg Javardian of Elevation Basketball Agency, will be first to tell you he thought Canyon was a high-level European player until he started watching more film of the 6-6, 215-pound shooting guard.
He saw one monster dunk when Canyon came off a curl in traffic, threw it down, and had scouts at the IGM Combine double checking their notes.
“I definitely feel the basketball aspect of me has been overlooked,’’ Canyon told MSGNetworks.com. “Yes, I think I’m a smart player who understands the game and has a high IQ but I’m not a slouch on the court.’’
The numbers support Canyon’s claim. At the IMG Professional Basketball Combine in May, Canyon was second in max vertical (42.25 inches) and the shuttle run (2.5 seconds), third in three-quarter-court sprint (3.18 seconds) and fourth in lane agility (10.64 seconds).
At the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in April, he averaged 14 points and 7.3 rebounds in just 26.7 minutes. When you’ve given up on the Rubik’s Cube, think about that.
Canyon will play for the Knicks in the Orlando Summer League. Their first game is Saturday (3 p.m.; MSG Network) against Dallas.
First-round pick Frank Ntilikina and second-round choices Damyean Dotson and Ognjen Jaramaz also are in Orlando. Rick thinks Canyon and Ntilikina will form an intriguing backcourt but first, there’s making the team.
“I hope when more people see me play in Orlando my game will speak for itself,’’ said Canyon. “I’m going to give 100-percent of myself, on the court, on the bench, in meetings, whatever it takes.’’
The gap in Canyon’s journey to the cusp of the NBA is this: If he is a talented player, why didn’t he start at Florida after averaging 19.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 31.9 minutes at Charleston?
During the recruiting process, Florida coach Mike White’s message was that Canyon was starter material. But when practice began, White felt his team would be more dangerous with Canyon coming off the bench.
He averaged 11.4 points, second on the team, in just 19.7 minutes. He made 113 of 128 free throws (88.3-percent), shooting them like his old man – underhand.
Only guard Kasey Hill attempted more free throws for Florida than Canyon. Hill averaged 28.9 minutes of playing time. Canyon was voted the SEC’s Sixth Man Award as Florida went 27-9, losing to South Carolina in the East Region championship game.
“He’s a very dangerous offensive player,’’ White said at the time. “I think that the under-appreciated value that we all are more familiar with now is his ability to draw fouls and then, of course, he converts at the foul line at a really high rate.’’
The Sixth Man Award is nice but it still begs the question: Why didn’t Canyon start?
“When Coach White asked me if I was willing to come off the bench, I told him I’ll do anything to win,’’ said Canyon. “In that regard, I think I have a very New York attitude. I want to win. I’ll fight to win.
“I think in addition to my game, the best thing about my approach to basketball is that I hate to lose. It leaves me with a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.’’
Hold the Rolaids. Canyon, 23, just might have one more surprise in him. Buddy Hield, 23, stayed all four years at Oklahoma before getting picked sixth in last year’s draft. He made the NBA All-Rookie team along with Knicks center Willy Hernangomez.
Talented one-and-done players will rule the draft but there is a growing thought that there’s a place in the league for players that stay in college and mature physically and emotionally.
The Knicks didn’t sign Canyon because he graduated Summa Cum Laude. They offered Canyon a deal before the draft had ended.
“I understand the interest,’’ Canyon said. “There aren’t a lot of players in professional sports that took electrodynamics and radiation detection.
“Right now, I’m a basketball player. I intend to be a basketball player for many years.’’
MSG Network to Telecast Knicks 2017 Summer League Games
Knicks Summer League games will be available on MSG GO
New York, NY (June 30, 2017) – MSG Network will telecast the New York Knicks 2017 NBA Summer League games starting Saturday, July 1 at 3:00 PM. MSG Network has been covering the Knicks Summer League team since 2005. Presented by Kingsford, MSG Network will telecast every 2017 Knicks Summer League game live from Orlando, Florida, followed by an encore presentation later that night.
All Knicks Summer League games televised on MSG Network will also be live streamed on MSG GO, MSG Networks’ live streaming and video on demand platform for smartphones, tablets and computers. MSG GO enables fans, whether at home or on-the-go, to watch all of MSG Network’s live Knicks Summer League game telecasts. MSG GO is available to subscribers of participating television providers who receive MSG Networks as part of their television subscription.
Knicks telecasts from the Orlando Pro Summer League will feature MSG’s Knicks analyst Brendan Brown, along with play-by-play announcer John Giannone for the first game, and Ed Cohen for the remaining four games.
New York will play five games, all of which are scheduled to be held at the Orlando Magic practice court at the Amway Center.
Below is the Knicks 2017 NBA Summer League television schedule. All times are Eastern.
|Saturday, July 1||vs. Mavericks||3 PM||MSG|
|Sunday, July 2||vs. Pistons||1 PM||MSG|
|Monday, July 3||vs. Thunder||1 PM||MSG|
|Wednesday, July 5||vs. Magic||5 PM||MSG|
|Thursday, July 6||vs. TBD||TBD||TBD|
A Closer Look At What Eberle Brings to Isles
Tavares is a do-everything center, but even that ability has seen the Isles’ captain reach the second round of the playoffs just once in the first eight seasons of his career. He requires help to ease the load, and the Islanders’ acquisition of Jordan Eberle should help him shoulder the offensive burden.
One of the main reasons Eberle was jettisoned by the Oilers was his cap number. With major paydays coming to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and the overpay for Milan Lucic, Eberle was expendable.
The Islanders’ trade for the 27-year-old improves their offense immediately. With Eberle slumping to his worst offensive performance since his rookie season, the Islanders were able to acquire a proven scorer still in his prime for a modest price.
There is no question that Eberle is an above average offensive performer. A look at his shot metrics easily confirms this.
Over the last three seasons, Eberle continually managed to get high-quality shots in the high-danger area with a lot of pre-shot movement (81% clear sight). While he isn’t the type of player who will contribute through his board work, if paired with Tavares and Anders Lee, this weakness can be mitigated.
If there is concern about his declining point totals, a lot of that can be found in his finishing ability regressing last season, not on his shot production.
If we examine the types of shots he was producing over the last three seasons, there is very little variance. He continually produces high-quality shots and, outside of a slight regression in high-danger opportunities, his offensive opportunities are almost a mirror image of the two seasons where he was producing at a 27-goal pace.
Where the regression gods chased him down was in his ability to finish his chances.
If we look at his goal totals vs. his expected goal totals, we see him riding percentages, especially during his pairing with McDavid last season.
This shows up in his shooting data. Eberle not only stopped producing well above replacement level, he struggled to bury high-end opportunities. Where Eberle had enjoyed 40% shooting success on slot-line passes, that number fell to 20% last season. Considering the league average conversion rate is 35%, it is an outlier number that cost him four goals.
When we start to move through each category, we see more and more of these erratic percentages for a player who routinely finished at above-average rates. Eberle may not have the phenomenal release of a Phil Kessel, but he has one of the greatest sets of hands that individually allows him to change shooting angles in an instant. He turns low-quality opportunities into high-quality ones through his wrist shot and stick work alone. This type of regression during the prime of his career seems more like an outlier than a drop in skill.
Eberle’s totals have been influenced by pairing with high-end offensive players like Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid. Another awaits him in Brooklyn.
Tavares has outstanding offensive skills that translate to improving his teammates, and Eberle’s ability to find rebounds and hide in open spaces should give the Islanders a dynamic duo. If the Isles pair them with Lee, a player who creates his own high-end tip and rebound opportunities through relentless net-front presence, then they will have one of the best first lines in the NHL.
This was a low-risk acquisition and should result in improved offensive results. Will it be enough to convince Tavares to stay? That remains to be seen.
A Look Ahead to This Year’s NHL Free Agent Frenzy
The biggest free agent signing in National Hockey League history took place 41 years ago; and when The Maven says “big”, that means LARGE.
You may have heard of him since some folks believe he was — sorry, Sir Sidney — the greatest player of all-time. None other than Bobby Orr.
Talk about “Free Agent Frenzy,” this was the penultimate, super-duper of all time; and not exactly Kosher, at that.
Orr’s agent, Alan Eagleson, neglected to tell Bobby that the Bruins not only offered cash, but a piece of the team so as to keep him in Beantown. Eagleson was nudging him toward the Windy City, but Bobby found out ‘way too late.
As a result on June 24, 1976, Orr moved to the Chicago Blackhawks and — as a free agent — signed a huge deal that made him the highest-paid NHLer, by three country miles.
There won’t be any Orr-type deal to stun the hockey world this time around. But on July 1, you have to figure in a blockbuster deal, or three.
Here’s The Maven’s Free Agent Look-Ahead (helmets are mandatory in case of an earthquake-type signing):
MAVEN’S TOP FORWARDS:
ALEXANDER RADULOV – The 30-year-old right wing from Nizhny Tagil, Russia was a dominant Canadien this past season. Now that the Habs have obtained Jonathan Drouin, The Rad Man would be very appealing to clubs like the Kings or one of our Met Area outfits. This guy can be dominant, and the Rangers just might go for that type of shooter. [Cap hit: $5.75 Million]
MARTIN HANZAL – Starring for the Wild, this large center, age 30, from Pisek, Czech Republic would flourish on just about any team. Personally, I would love to see the Islanders get him ahead of either San Jose or Philly. [Cap hit: $3.10 Million]
MAVEN’S TOP DEFENSEMAN:
KEVIN SHATTENKIRK – We’ll keep hearing his name ’til the cows come home. Because he is from suburban Westchester County, New York — a slap shot from the Rangers’ training base — the Blueshirts are mentioned most as his destination. Wherever Kevin goes, the 28-year-old will get a pot o’ gold and star on the power play. As for his defensive game, the best I can say is “We’ll see”. [Cap hit: $4.25 Million]
RON HAINSEY – Fresh from his Pittsburgh Cup win the Bolton, Connecticut native may be on the downside of his career, but he sure didn’t show it helping Pitt to the Cup. The Hockey News figures the Devils will be very interested. [Cap hit: $2.38 Million]
MAVEN’S TOP GOALIES:
STEVE MASON – He’s unrestricted and was the main man between the pipes for the Flyers since the 2012-13 season. He failed in Philly. Period! To some experts, signing Mason is a gamble. Others agree that his experience on Broad Street was not a good barometer for his future potential. Now 29, Mason figures to have plenty of puck-stopping in his veins. If the Caps lose Philipp Grubauer, Mason might find a nice home in Washington.
RYAN MILLER: He’s unrestricted and if he doesn’t re-sign with Vancouver, he could shine with a contender, given a sensible workload. At age 38, he would be best served as a backup for a contender. The Hockey News, figures him to re-up with the Canucks.
BEST BARGAIN – NIKITA NESTEROV
Skating for the Canadiens and the Bolts, he made only $725,000 and is due for an increase in pay. A middle-of-the-pack defenseman, this guy would be a nice fit anywhere.
BEST DEAL – MICHAEL STONE
Stone is only 27-years-old, but helped the Flames make it into the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He has good offensive ability with a stable presence defensively. Michael has also shown the ability to stay healthy. It seems he can also be inserted anywhere on the back end and find a way to contribute.
BEST AFTERTHOUGHT – DWIGHT KING
King could be a nice fit for a contender. He’s only 27, and at 6-3, would add a big body to an offense that could use size and another scoring threat on the third or fourth line.
BEST OLD-TIMER – SHANE DOAN
At 40, he’s a senior citizen; but look at what Jaromir Jagr has done since passing the four-oh-mark. Doan is a steady, veteran presence who could fortify a young sextet. A character guy like Shane should not be overlooked.
BEST UNDERRATED ADDITION – DAVID DESHARNAIS
Under the radar, maybe. But Desharnais is a speedy, aggressive forward who could bolster a team’s bottom six roster. The 30-year old wouldn’t cost a ton and has produced solid numbers in the past. As a bonus, Dauntless David would also push the younger studs a notch better in their performance.
BOTTOM LINE – There’s no one near a Bobby Orr in the lot!
Rangers Hold On To Valuable D-Man
By: Leo Scaglione Jr., Pinch-Hitting For the Maven
“This was arguably the best team I’ve been on,” Smith, 28, said following the season. “I really enjoyed playing here. It was a lot of fun being a Ranger.”
It comes as no surprise then that the two sides agreed on a new contract just two days before Smith was set to become an unrestricted free agent.
The Rangers acquired Smith, a native of Mimico, Ontario, from the Detroit Red Wings on February 28 in exchange for the Rangers’ own third-round pick in the 2017 NHL draft and the Ottawa Senators’ second-round pick in the 2018 draft. With New York, Smith scored a goal, added three assists, had a plus-2 rating, and accumulated 29 penalty minutes in 18 regular-season contests to close out the campaign.
After using the final month of the season to acclimate to the Big Apple, Smith shined in the postseason, during which he tallied four assists and 20 penalty minutes in a dozen games. He also finished with a plus-8 rating, which was first on the Rangers, tied for fifth among NHL defensemen and tied for 10th in the league overall.
In total in 2016-17, Smith notched 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists), along with a plus-1 rating and 63 penalty minutes in 51 games with the Rangers and Red Wings, and he recorded a career-high 19:14 in average ice time per game. With New York, he averaged 20:09 of ice time per game, hit the 20:00 mark in 11 of his 18 games, and ranked second on the club in average even-strength ice time (18:20).
In 309 career NHL games, Smith, who was selected 27th overall by Detroit in the 2007 draft, has registered 71 points (16 goals, 55 assists), a plus-2 rating and 310 penalty minutes. In 39 career playoff matches, he has totaled 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists), a plus-9 rating and 44 penalty minutes.
With the Rangers, Smith showed snarl and grit nightly in front of the club’s crease, making the area a miserable place to play for opposing forwards. On the flip side, he jelled with 23-year-old rookie blueliner Brady Skjei, and the two became a formidable shutdown pairing for the Rangers.
An added bonus for the Blueshirts is that Smith, who owns a left-handed shot, showed an ability to play exceptionally well defensively on the right side.
Securing Smith was also important for General Manager Jeff Gorton with the opening of free agency on July 1. Gorton now seeks to fill the void at center and at backup goaltender position after he traded pivot Derek Stepan and netminder Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes for 21-year-old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft. The pick then became center Lias Andersson. Another center, Oscar Lindberg, was lost in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Following the Blueshirts’ buy-out of veteran defenseman Dan Girardi earlier this month, the returning Rangers on the back end for next season are captain Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Skjei and, for the moment, Kevin Klein, who according to reports is contemplating retirement.
That list, of course, now includes Smith, who will seek to climb another rung as he enters his first full season on Broadway.
Rangers Agree To Terms With Brendan Smith
Smith, 28, split this past season between the Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, registering three goals and six assists for nine points, along with a plus-one rating and 63 penalty minutes in 51 games. He established a career-high in average ice time in 2016-17 (19:14). Smith played 18 games with the Rangers after he was acquired from Detroit on February 28, 2017, registering one goal and three assists for four points, along with a plus-two rating and 29 penalty minutes. He averaged 20:09 of ice time per game with the Blueshirts during the past season, logging at least 20:00 of ice time in 11 of 18 regular season games with the Rangers, and he ranked second on the team in average even strength ice time in 2016-17 (18:20).
The 6-2, 211-pounder also skated in 12 games with the Rangers during the 2017 Playoffs, registering four assists, along with a plus-eight rating and 20 penalty minutes. Smith established playoff career-highs in assists, plus/minus rating, and average ice time (19:41) in the playoffs this year. In addition, he tied for 10th in the NHL – and tied for fifth among NHL defensemen – in plus/minus rating in the playoffs. Smith led the Rangers in plus/minus rating, ranked second in penalty minutes, tied for third in assists, and ranked fifth in average ice time and blocked shots (14) in the playoffs. He also ranked second among Rangers defensemen in assists and tied for third among Rangers defensemen in points (four) in the playoffs.
Smith has skated in 309 career NHL games over parts of six seasons (2011-12 – 2016-17) with the Rangers and Detroit, registering 16 goals and 55 assists for 71 points, along with a plus-two rating and 310 penalty minutes. He established career-highs in goals (five), assists (14), and points (19) with Detroit during the 2013-14 season. Smith has recorded at least 60 blocked shots in three of the last four seasons, and he established a career-high in hits with 94 during the 2015-16 season with the Red Wings. He has helped his team make the playoffs in each of his five full seasons in the NHL, and he has registered 10 points (two goals, eight assists), along with a plus-nine rating and 44 penalty minutes in 39 career NHL playoff contests.
The Mimico, Ontario, native was originally selected by Detroit in the first round (27th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
What’s Next as Knicks Go In New Direction?
The record speaks for itself.
The 80-166 mark in three full seasons as Knicks President, the three consecutive years without a playoff berth, the three coaches in three seasons, essentially three different variations of rosters and, of course, the one constant: The Triangle.
After all of that, we woke up to the news yesterday that Phil Jackson and the Knicks had mutually parted ways. This basically puts us right back where we started in the spring of 2014, when he was hired to provide credibility and stability.
We’re now still searching for that leader. That one voice that set the tone for the franchise’s best years: Joe Lapchick, Red Holzman, Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy.
Jackson’s championship pedigree overshadows all of these men, but his ability to provide inspiring direction for a franchise could not measure up.
“I had hoped, of course, to bring another championship to the Garden,” Jackson said in a statement. “As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that.
“New York fans deserve nothing less.”
What they deserve is an explanation. Why was the Triangle prioritized over the defense, which is — and forever will be — the sole identity of New York basketball? Why was the demand on implementing the system placed ahead of the collective frustration of the players?
Why weren’t coaches allowed to coach their way?
And, finally, why was the culture around the team allowed to grow so turbulent and troubling?
“The idea of developing a ‘culture’ is an overwrought word in the NBA right now,” Jackson said the day he was introduced as team president. “But that’s the cachet that brought me here.”
He lacked front office experience, but Jackson had a staff to assist him. He struggled to let go of his coaching instincts, but when he hired Derek Fisher, we kind of expected it to be a mentorship. He missed on a few trades (Tyson Chandler) and signings (Joakim Noah), but nailed his first lottery pick (Kristaps Porzingis) and, at the very least, put an end to the years of trading away draft picks.
But the most unexpected issue with Jackson’s tenure was the deterioration of the culture within the franchise, which from the outset looked to him as a Zen Master who would bring inner peace to the Hot Take Factory known as New York City.
This was supposed to be a return to The Garden of Eden days.
Instead, we are back where we started.
Then again, maybe not. Remember, Garden chairman James Dolan said at Jackson’s introductory press conference that he intended to be hands-off. “By no means,” Dolan said, “am I an expert in basketball.” He then added, “I think I’m a little out of my element” when it comes to being involved in the everyday business of the team.
In the statement released about Jackson’s departure, Dolan reiterated that he will “not be involved in the operation of the team” and that responsibility is now in the hands of general manager Steve Mills “over the short term.”
This is a good time to mention that free agency begins on Saturday. Steve, you can sleep in August.
When it comes to running the franchise, Mills will get some guidance and advisement from Tim Lieweke, a widely-respected sports executive who headed the Anschutz Entertainment Group in Los Angeles and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in Toronto.
There will be a lot of speculation as to the direction of the franchise now as the Knicks look to a new leader to carry the weight of a city longing for a return to respectability (and if it wouldn’t trouble anyone too much, a championship). But right now, there’s work to be done with the current roster as we look toward 2017-18. Removing Jackson from the equation only means the Triangle is no longer a foundation for assessing a player’s fit to the team.
But there is still a lot on the priority list this summer:
– Porzingis: He has not talked to team executives since he left after the season and blew off his exit interview with Jackson. Will he agree to meet or talk to Mills? His offseason workouts have looked good, but KP needs to re-engage with the franchise this offseason. He’s going into his third season, which is time for him to focus on becoming an All-Star and a leader.
– Carmelo Anthony: Some view Jackson’s departure as a win for Melo, but there is still a belief within the organization that to fully engage a rebuild, he should go elsewhere. But as everyone knows, he holds the power of the no-trade clause and with two years and $54 million left on his contract, a buyout would be too big a check to write to let him go free to a championship contender. The Knicks gave a lot to get him, they should want to get something in return if he leaves.
– Frank Ntilikina: The Knicks left offensive talents such as Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk on the board to draft Ntilikina, who was a favorite of Jackson. Personally, I like the idea of prioritizing defense and Keena, in his own words, is a “willing defender.” But the onus is now on the franchise to invest heavily into this player’s development. You have to leave no doubt that he was the right pick.
– Jeff Hornacek: It will be interesting to watch the Orlando Summer League and see what type of offense he installs. It could be an indication of what he hopes to run next season. A lot will depend on personnel, but remember, with the Suns, Hornacek featured a two-guard system and encouraged uptempo play. Will he be a different coach going forward?
– Free Agency: The Knicks won’t have a lot of salary cap space unless they make some roster moves. There is a major decision to make about Derrick Rose, who has expressed an interest in returning to New York. Rose had issues with the Triangle, but proved he could still be a very effective scorer. Can he stay healthy enough to be a viable option?
He might be the most affordable, but there are other names at the guard position to at least check in on, such as Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry and Jeff Teague.
We’ll break down free agency and go over the options on the next Knicks Night Live next Wednesday!
State of Knicks After Jackson’s Farewell
Putting that aside, let’s consider the state of the Knicks:
In Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks have a rising superstar.
In first-round draft choice Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks have a young point guard – not a triangle point guard, rather a pass-and-defense-first point guard – who ESPN’s player projection model gives the highest chance to be a star of any lottery pick — roughly twice that of the top picks.
And Jackson’s tenure with the Knicks as President of Basketball Operations hasn’t been the train wreck shock jocks have been making it out to be.
“When you look at some of the young talents, the Knicks have some pieces,’’ said one Eastern Conference coach. “Talent wasn’t the big issue. The culture needed to become more player friendly.’’
Jackson and the Knicks mutually agreed to part ways Wednesday morning, giving the franchise a unique opportunity to get the train oiled, tuned and back on the fast track.
Knicks GM Steve Mills, a highly-regarded executive with a more engaging demeanor than Jackson, has been placed in charge of the franchise on an interim basis, which shouldn’t be viewed as a position of impotency.
Mills, who will be assisted by Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Oak View Group, a remarkably successful development and investment company for the sport, has been given a mandate by owner Jim Dolan to, “help develop a go-forward plan.”
That’s what today’s news means: The Knicks are in go-forward mode.
They begin the process of reversing the subtle, albeit detrimental climate, that led to Jackson’s departure.
Were there some unideal contracts? Absolutely.
Did Jackson err in thinking the style he used to win 11 NBA championships as a coach would work as a GM? Of course.
But that’s in the rearview mirror.
Dolan didn’t get to where he is without understanding the importance of interpersonal relationships. The decision for the Knicks to part ways with Jackson wasn’t about basketball moves as much as it was about relationship snafus.
Jackson, as we know, alienated star Carmelo Anthony. Anthony, one of the most respected players in the NBA, is the leader in the Knicks’ locker room.
The player Anthony has taken under his wing, Porzingis, saw how Anthony was portrayed and rebelled, albeit immaturely. And Porzingis should not have blown off his exit interview.
But having done so, he illuminated the climate that has to change. The Mills/Leiweke tandem is a good start to the reconciliation process.
Anthony, assuming he remains a Knick, will benefit from getting out from under the day-to-day ethos of his relationship with Jackson.
Porzingis, who has been working relentlessly to make his third season a breakthrough one, should return to the fold with renewed enthusiasm. He has the chance to be a star in the city of stars.
All the noise about the triangle offense just went sotto voce. Basketball isn’t nuclear engineering, which free agent guard Canyon Barry knows all about.
It’s about five teammates playing free, playing for each other, playing to win. Spacing and ball movement; defense didn’t start with the Golden State Warriors. The Knicks were pretty good at it in the late 60s and early 70s.
“It’s a tough day for us, but really our focus is to get this team better, continue to build our young players and figure out a way to win,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters in Orlando where the team begins it Summer League schedule Saturday (3 p.m.; MSGNetwork).
“So we have a lot of time before the regular season, and we’ll figure all that out.”
Figuring out how to win just became a little easier.
The climate will become more player friendly. Jackson, we should remember, saw the talent of many of the players on the roster.
“Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA,’’ Dolan said in a statement released by the team. “His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the Knicks as both a player and an executive.’’
Jackson’s shortcoming was not being able to communicate his message as a President of Basketball Operations with the genius he did as a coach.
Michael Jordan was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He couldn’t hit a baseball. None of us are all things.
“I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden,’’ Jackson said in the same statement. “As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that.
“New York fans deserve nothing less. I wish them and the Knicks organization all the best – today and always.”
Knicks fans, who do indeed deserve nothing less than a title, should remember June 28 as Day One of the Go Forward Plan.
Phil Jackson, New York Knicks Agree to Part Company
Courtesy of New York Knicks – MSG Executive Chairman Jim Dolan and Phil Jackson announced today that, after discussing the future of the New York Knicks, they have mutually agreed to part company. Mr. Jackson is leaving his post as President of Basketball Operations, effective immediately.
“After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction,” said Mr. Dolan. “Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the Knicks as both a player and an executive.
“While we are currently evaluating how best to move forward regarding the leadership of the organization, I will not be involved in the operation of the team,” continued Mr. Dolan. “Steve Mills, the team’s General Manager, will run the day-to-day business of the organization over the short term. Tim Leiweke, who brings tremendous expertise and experience in sports franchise management from both Toronto and Los Angeles and is our partner in the Oak View Group, will advise and work with Steve on an interim basis to help develop a go-forward plan.”
“The New York Knicks will always hold a special place in my heart,” Mr. Jackson said. “This team and this town launched my NBA career. I will forever be indebted to them. I am grateful to Mr. Dolan for giving me the opportunity to return here.
“I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that. New York fans deserve nothing less. I wish them and the Knicks organization all the best – today and always.”