With Phil Jackson officially on board as the President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks, there is a different aura around both Knicks fans and the Garden. With a nightmare season almost over, the Knicks gave its fans the second best news they could possibly hope for. No, James Dolan didn’t step down as owner of the franchise. But, rather Phil Jackson is bringing credibility and respect back to the Mecca of basketball. Jackson’s resume needs no explanation and his thirteen championships speak for themselves.
The return of Phil Jackson to New York City is without a doubt a great source of optimism for the Knicks faithful, but even Knicks fans know to temper their expectations with all the misery they’ve experienced under James Dolan. Jackson, some feel, is taking up a monumental task of trying to end the 41 year championship drought in New York. This challenge definitely rivals coaching the Chicago and Los Angeles dynasties. He has no Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, or Kobe Bryant in New York to rely on. Phil is expected to bring his triangle offense way of life and tutelage to the Knicks only star player, Carmelo Anthony.
In the midst of a dismal season, Anthony’s future with the Knicks has been in constant speculation. Carmelo has the option of either taking more money to help the Knicks vie for a title or abandoning ship and joining a contender. As a Knicks fan, I personally wouldn’t blame Anthony one bit for leaving, but I also realize the Knicks and Phil Jackson will win under any scenario. It will be very interesting to see what the great Phil Jackson feels would be best for the future of the team.
Case A: Resign Melo and Build Around him for the Future
Carmelo Anthony has told the media that he is willing to take a pay cut with the Knicks if he likes their plan for future free agents. If Carmelo resigns with the Knicks, most people expect him to take every single penny of the five year, $129 million maximum contract he is eligible to receive. There will be many that say Anthony prioritizes money over winning if he comes back to New York. The market for Anthony, however, is looking slimmer day by the day. The Knicks along with the Bulls, Lakers, and Rockets have been recently mentioned as potential landing spots for Anthony. But if Phil Jackson believes he can build around Anthony for a championship roster, chances are Melo will be back home in New York.
Let’s assume Carmelo is serious about winning a championship in New York: I then fully expect Anthony to give the Knicks a discount in 2015, when the team will have plenty of money to throw at free agents. The Knicks would have enough cap space to sign possibly two other max free agents granted Melo earns around $15-16 million in 2015. With Amar’e Stoudemire’s, Tyson Chandler’s, and Andrea Bargnani’s contracts coming off the books; expect New York to chase Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, Tony Parker, and possibly even LeBron James – if the King decides to opt-in with the Miami Heat for next season. Phil Jackson’s return to New York greatly increases the Knicks’ chances to land a big fish in the summer of 2015.
Jackson has the gravitas and ring power to lure stars come play in the Garden. Phil will have to use his basketball acumen to choose which stars would be best fitted to play next to Anthony in his triangle offense. Again, Phil will be able to sign two stars only if Anthony takes a bit of a pay cut as he himself brought up during the NBA All Star Break. As the Miami Heat have showed, a big three is certainly not the same as having a duo of superstars. Phil will be able to build something special if Melo resigns with the Knicks for a deal slightly less than the max.
Case B: Gasp! Melo leaves New York!
Don’t cry just yet, Knicks fans! Even if Carmelo Anthony decides to bolt the Knicks for greener pastures, the franchise won’t be left to suffer for long. It is certainly plausible Melo gets so demoralized by this 2014 Knicks squad and missing the playoffs for the first time in his career, that he decides to look for any reason to leave New York. He may get phone calls from Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to team up in Chicago or even may be tempted to play with old pal, Kobe Bryant, in Los Angeles. Heck, even the New York Post recently reported the Houston Rockets plan to chase Anthony in order to create a big three of Harden, Melo, and Howard.
If Carmelo doesn’t like waiting one more year for a rebuild of New York’s roster, he would not be blamed one bit for saying goodbye to the Knicks. So assuming Melo is a goner, the Knicks would head into next year with a starting lineup of Felton-Shumpert-JR Smith-Bargnani-Chandler. They wouldn’t be able to sign a free agent replacement either this summer because of a lack of cap space. If this year’s Knicks team can’t even compete in the Eastern Conference with an elite player like Anthony, imagine how many wins the Knicks would have next season without him. With JR Smith chucking shots like there is no tomorrow, you can safely put New York in one of the bottom five teams in the league. They would certainly have less talent than the Sixers, Lakers, Celtics (who are a few of the teams tanking this year for the #1 pick in the draft.) Luckily, since the Knicks miraculously have a first round pick in 2015, Phil Jackson would be safely in the lead for a top five pick in next year’s draft.
Though the 2015 NBA Draft isn’t as explosive as this year’s Jabari Parker/Andrew Wiggins draft class, next year’s crop still has some great talent available. Players such as future Duke center, Jahlil Okafor (who has drawn comparisons to Tim Duncan), will declare for the draft as a freshman next season. There are now whispers of Parker staying at Duke for his sophomore year to team up with Okafor in a quest for redemption next year. Even Joel Embiid of Kansas (who has drawn comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon), has recently talked about staying in college one more year to refine his game. Knicks fans can certainly handle one more year of losing if it meant having the opportunity to select a marquee talent in this draft. The Knicks would then head into the summer of ’15 with a top pick and cap flexibility for three stars. Of course, it would be tougher to sell free agents to play in New York without Melo and only a top prospect, but Knicks fans can trust Phil Jackson to make the best of any situation. New York would have star power back with free agents and a young homegrown player to build with for the future.
Both cases have potential benefits and upside for the future of the New York Knicks franchise. By no means am I guaranteeing that the great Phil Jackson will bring a championship back to Gotham City, but they definitely have a better chance with him. The Knicks are arguably in a much better position now with Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations than they were just last month with Steve Mills and James Dolan running the show. Knicks fans can finally have a reason to feel excited for their future with the return of their prodigal son, the Zen Master.