The New York Knicks have made a habit of overpaying for past-their-prime stars while sacrificing future flexibility in the process. That mentality has resulted in years of disappointment and just one playoff series win since they reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000.
On the surface, what Phil Jackson pulled off this offseason feels Knicks-y. Some thought Jackson should stick with a long-term rebuilding plan as phenom Kristaps Porzingis develops, but after a discussion with 32-year-old Carmelo Anthony, Jackson decided he wanted to accelerate that timetable with win-now moves that carry a good amount of risk.
While Jackson's strategy could blow up in his face in 2016-17, the difference here from past Knicks disasters is that the team maintained flexibility and didn't ship out draft picks in a desperate attempt to reach the playoffs and perhaps win a series or two. Furthermore, the presence of a basketball unicorn in Porzingis mitigates any potential disappointment this upcoming season, as long as nothing disastrous happens to him.
The first significant domino to fall for the Knicks this offseason was the blockbuster trade for Derrick Rose. Now, an argument can be made that Jackson overpaid in this deal by giving up both a quality center in Robin Lopez and 2015 first-round pick Jerian Grant for a player in Rose whose value wasn't high given his significant injury history and inconsistent play over the past two seasons.
Rose graded out as one of the worst point guards in the NBA last season according to ESPN's Real Plus-Minus, and the Chicago Bulls were far better when he was on the bench. A fluky facial fracture set him back at the beginning of the season, but his poor defense was a major cause for concern even after his offense began to slowly round back into form.
Despite the apparent downsides to this deal, there's reason for cautious optimism. The 2011 MVP did have a promising stretch offensively in the middle of the season during which he showed flashes of his prior form as a relentless attacker of the basket:
Rose finished eighth in the league in points per game scored on drives last season, per SportVU, and that kind of driving capability is something the Knicks were sorely lacking from their backcourt last season. This aspect of Rose's game should come in handy given new coach Jeff Hornacek's desire to push pace and attack with his guards.
There's also the fact that Rose is an expiring contract, and if he bombs out New York can simply let him walk and open up more cap space for a big free-agency class in 2017. A bounce-back season from the point guard could lead to a difficult decision in terms of giving him a big long-term deal, but a scenario in which that happens likely means the Knicks have enjoyed a successful campaign.
New York native Joakim Noah followed Rose to the Knicks after nine seasons in Chicago. Noah too brings plenty of injury risk, and the four-year, $72 million deal he signed is a bit excessive given those health concerns plus his age (31) and decline from his 2013-14 season in which he finished in the top five in MVP voting.
Still, Noah seems healthy and motivated to revitalize his career after things ended so poorly in Chicago:
Noah's finishing ability around the basket has dipped in a big way in recent years, but he's still one of the best passing big men in the league, and he provides value as both a hard-nosed defender and rebounder. The Knicks' defense has been a dumpster fire for years, but even this lesser version of Noah can help turn that around.
Noah will also bring much-needed intangibles to New York, including leadership, constant energy and a competitive spark. He was the heart and soul of the Bulls who often raised the level of his teammates' play, and that should endear himself to the Knicks faithful immediately.
While Rose and Noah were the big-splash acquisitions, Jackson has rounded out his rotation nicely. Courtney Lee is a solid 3-and-D player who slots into the starting 2-guard spot perfectly as a player who doesn't need the ball and can spot up for open threes when the defense is focused on the more dangerous offensive weapons.
Brandon Jennings may be yet another injury risk after tearing his Achilles in early 2015, but the Knicks got him on a one-year "prove-it" deal worth only $5 million. At worst, Jennings gets hurt again or can't find his form and the two parties part ways after a relatively cheap flier. At best, the guard is a dynamic sixth man who can also effectively slide into the starting lineup when Rose inevitably misses games.
New York also did well to bring back the underrated Lance Thomas, while Justin Holiday could serve as key bench depth in the backcourt rather than just a measly throw-in to the Rose deal. Kyle O'Quinn and rookie Willy Hernangomez stand to get reserve minutes in the frontcourt, and Jackson may not be done adding to the roster after bringing back veteran guard and triangle savant Sasha Vujacic.
The Knicks aren't championship material, but they have the potential to make some noise after winning only 49 games in Jackson's first two years at the helm. Jackson wanted to take a significant step forward in order to take advantage of the end of Anthony's prime, and while you can argue placating Melo is the wrong choice, you can't argue that Phil hasn't significantly improved the talent base.
That talent may not come together as hoped, but the future remains intact for the time being, which is a breath of fresh air after years of mismanagement.
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