Can Phil Jackson turn the Knicks around?

phil-jackson-new-york-turnaroundIf you’ve been making a lot of moneyline bets in favor of the New York Knicks this season, we feel sorry for you because your bankroll has taken quite a beating. Despite basically returning the same lineup from a 54-28 team that easily won the Atlantic Division, New York has struggled to a 27-40 record so far – and that’s WITH a recent 6-game winning streak.

Enter Phil Jackson, who was finally announced as the team’s president in a move that’s been rumored for weeks. Jackson is tasked with helping mold a team that hasn’t won a title in 41 years into a legitimate title contender. This won’t be easy, especially when you consider that New York finally won their first playoff series in 13 years last season.

But if there’s anybody who knows winning, it is Jackson. In lengthy stints with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, the Zen Master won a combined 11 NBA Championships. That’s exactly why Knicks owner James Dolan gave him a five-year contract worth at least $12 million. But can Jackson bring his winning ways to New York, despite not being on the sidelines?

We’ll definitely say that it’s going to be a far, far greater challenge than winning with Michael/Scottie in Chicago or Kobe/Shaq in Los Angeles. Sure, this statement isn’t exactly an earth-shattering revelation. However, it’s worth emphasizing because there are sure to be some Knicks fans who are already placing superhuman expectations on Jackson.

What was somewhat of a winning culture last year has turned to one of losing and confusion this year. Head coach Mike Woodson has dealt with rumors of being fired for much of the season while some of his players have also pointed fingers at Woodson/each other. At least for the immediate future, Woodson got a vote of confidence from the team’s new president. “I’ve had a conversation with Mike Woodson, supporting him and going forward to try to make the playoffs this year,” Jackson said. “The team has had a little run, and we’re anticipating that it’s going to be a good one, and that they’ll get into the playoffs.”

Whether or not this support runs into next season remains to be seen. Woodson could help his case by keeping New York on their hot streak long enough to overtake Atlanta for the eighth playoff seed. But they’ll likely face the Indiana Pacers in the first round, a team that already handled New York in last year’s conference semifinals without home court advantage.

carmelo-anthony-1In any case, it’s going to be up to Jackson and general manager Steve Mills to restore New York to the level of competitiveness that they haven’t had since the 90’s. And they could take a big step towards making this happen right now.

The first priority will deal with the Carmelo Anthony situation. The star power forward has an early termination clause in his contract that could allow him to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this summer. Anthony has indicated that he’d like to test the free agency waters, but also says that he wants to sit down with Jackson and talk about everything first. Odds are that this conversation will include Jackson asking Melo to take a paycut while rehashing all of the rings he’s won. Jackson has already given part of this spiel to the public by stating:

There’s no doubt about Carmelo being one of the top scorers in the league and maybe the best individual isolation player in the game – I have no problems with committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans. I think there are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward, and I said – I think I was on record a year ago – that I think Carmelo, as great a player as he is, still has another level he can go to. Together, with the team we create, he can get there.

Besides convincing Melo to stay, Jackson will have his work cut out in trying to add talent for the 2014-15 season. Currently, New York is on the hook for $92 million in salary, giving them little room to work the free agent market. Furthermore, they have no first-round draft pick in 2015 or ’16 (due to the Anthony deal), and they won’t have a second-round pick until 2018 (due to the Andrea Bargnani trade).

phil-jackson-new-york-turnaround-1The summer of 2015 looks to be when Jackson and Mills will truly have some room to work as the eight-figure deals of Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler all end. This will be a sweet time to have cap space and an iconic city like New York behind you since Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert will all be free agents. Miami will also have a trio of stars whose contracts are ending, with Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and, the man everybody will be trying to wine and dine, LeBron James all up for grabs.

It’s no secret that Jackson will be working all of this into his upcoming pitch to Anthony about surviving the next season-plus of mediocrity in New York before big things come. “(In 2015) I think we know that we need another solid contributor, someone that can score to help Carmelo go along, and contribute to this team and their winning experience,” Jackson said. “We’re looking forward to it, but we’re not losing sight of the fact that we’re in a game-to-game basis in this business, that we want to provide a team that’s talented, that people want to come and watch, and a team that’s truly competitive.”

Given everything that COULD happen in New York in a couple of seasons, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility that Jackson could turn this team into a serious contender. But there are a lot of pieces that need to be put in place before the Knicks can replicate the incredible success that Jackson has experienced at other stops in his career.

NBA Power Rankings for February 17th, 2013

lebron-jamesThe San Antonio Spurs continue to roll, despite being in the midst of a 9-game road trip. They’ve won 14 out of the last 15 games and are firmly entrenched atop the NBA standings. However, the defending champion Miami Heat have also played well as of late and are starting to take control of the Eastern Conference. So which team is number one in this week’s power rankings? Here’s the answer…

1. San Antonio Spurs (42-11) – The Spurs have truly broken away from the pack over the past five weeks. Once sitting behind the Clippers and Thunder in the West, San Antonio has now bolted out to a 2.5-game lead over Oklahoma City for the league’s best record. Second year player Kawhi Leonard (10.5 PPG) is really doing well during this stretch and he’s scoring 16.6 PPG over the past five games. This has supplemented the already-high and expected production from Tony Parker (20.8 PPG), Tim Duncan (17.2 PPG) and Manu Ginobili (12.3 PPG).

2. Miami Heat (36-14) – Miami cemented their second place spot after winning their past seven games. In fact, we were really debating about whether to put the Heat above San Antonio – especially after a 10-point victory at Oklahoma City. That makes Miami winners of seven straight games and places them four games ahead of second place New York in the East. LeBron James has really taken the team on his back lately and is averaging 31.5 PPG in February.

russell-westbrook3. Oklahoma City Thunder (39-14) – The Thunder have had a rough week after losing to the Heat by 10 and the Utah Jazz by 15. However, they’re still in second place in the West and are getting excellent play out of stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Kevin Martin is also in line for a Sixth Man of the Year award since he’s scoring 15.0 PPG and shooting 43.6% from 3-point territory.

4. L.A. Clippers (39-17) – Up until a couple of weeks ago, L.A. had lost 8 out of their past 11 games. However, they’ve since won four straight games and move up a spot from our last power rankings. Three of these victories have come on the road – with one being a 14-point win against the Knicks. The Clippers have a very well-rounded team since six players are averaging in double figures with Blake Griffin (18.5 PPG) and Jamal Crawford (16.8 PPG) leading the way.

5. Indiana Pacers (33-21) – After winning 6 out of their last 8 games and beating Miami, Chicago and Atlanta during this stretch, Indiana moves up a couple of spots. Now this team gets a week to rest up before taking on New York in a big Eastern Conference showdown. Based on how they’ve been playing over the past two months, we really like the Pacers chances of moving up to the East’s number two seed soon.

amare-stoudemire6. New York Knicks (32-18) – New York opened this year with the league’s best record and held the top spot for weeks. However, they’ve stumbled somewhat as the season has dragged on and have lost three out of the past four games. What’s particularly disheartening about these losses is that two of them came to Eastern Conference bottom-feeders Toronto and Washington. Perhaps the Knicks will get back on the winning track as their team chemistry gets more used to having Amar’e Stoudemire (13.6 PPG) in the lineup.

7. Denver Nuggets (33-18) – Denver had been a fast-climbing team in our rankings after winning nine straight games in late January/early February. However, they hit a big roadblock by losing their last three contests. If there’s any silver lining with the losses to Boston, Toronto and Brooklyn, all of the contests have come on the road. Plus Ty Lawson (15.8 PPG) has really stepped up his game by averaging 22.0 PPG throughout February.

8. Memphis Grizzlies (33-18) – After the Grizzlies traded away Rudy Gay, the common reaction was that Memphis would fade away and have trouble earning a playoff spot in the West. However, they’re hanging onto the West’s fourth seed and have grabbed three straight victories. It’ll be interesting to see how the Grizzlies replace Gay’s 17.2 PPG as the season rolls along.

brook-lopez9. Brooklyn Nets (31-22) – Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where Brooklyn fits among the league’s top teams. One week they’re beating Indiana and Denver, the next week they’re losing to Washington and the L.A. Lakers. In any case, it’s all combined to leave the Nets sitting at fourth place in the East. Brook Lopez continues to lead this team with 19.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 2.17 BPG.

10. Chicago Bulls (30-22) – Chicago drops two spots in our rankings after losing five out of their past seven games. Now all of these losses have come to good teams, but they’re still losses nonetheless. For this reason, we thought of putting Golden State (30-22) at the number 10 spot. However, we like how complete of a team the Bulls are with Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Nate Robinson, Joakim Noah and Richard Hamilton all in this lineup.

NBA Power Rankings for Feb. 7th, 2013

tony-parkerOver the past couple of years, NBA analysts and fans have questioned if the San Antonio Spurs are too old to compete with the league’s best teams any longer. And the Spurs have responded to this questioning by winning 11 straight games and grabbing the NBA’s best record. This being said, it was a no-brainer to rank San Antonio number one in our latest power rankings. As for how everybody else fared, take a look below.

1. San Antonio Spurs (39-11) – While the Spurs haven’t played any truly elite teams over the last two weeks, they did grab quality victories over Golden State, Atlanta (road) and Memphis during their 11-game win streak. A primary catalyst behind San Antonio’s recent surge is improved play by C Tiago Splitter (10.8 PPG, 5.8 PG) and SG Danny Green (10.0 PPG, 41.9% 3P). Overall, seven Spurs are averaging at least 9.7 PPG.

2. Miami Heat (32-14) – LeBron James and company have had a fair amount of success since mid-January. They’ve won 8 out of the last 10 games, including road victories over the Lakers, Nets and Warriors. James (26.8 PPG) has stepped up his scoring production in February and is averaging 30.3 PPG this month. Unfortunately, Ray Allen (10.7 PPG) has seen his scoring dip down to 3.3 PPG during the same span.

kevin-durant3. Oklahoma City (37-11) – The Thunder have stumbled from first to number three since our last power rankings. They’ve won 5 out of the last 9 games, which is pretty mediocre for this team. Furthermore, Oklahoma City lost to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers just three games ago. One big culprit for the average play of late involves the Thunder playing 12 out of their last 17 contests on the road.

4. New York Knicks (31-16) – After going through some rough patches in December and January, the Knicks appear to be back on track. They’ve won five out of the past six games and are chasing Miami for the East’s best record. Amar’e Stoudemire seems to be working his way back into the New York lineup nicely following a long injury recovery. He’s averaging 14.2 PPG and 4.2 RPG, which is far better than what he was doing a couple weeks ago.

5. Los Angeles Clippers (35-16) – Once the story of the season after winning 17 straight games, Los Angeles has struggled worse than any other NBA team lately. They’ve lost 7 out of the last 10 contests, which includes dropping games to bad teams like Phoenix, Toronto and Washington. Much like Oklahoma City, the Clippers appear to be victims of a rough road schedule, which includes playing 11 out of the last 14 games away. Things won’t get any easier since four out of the next five contests will be played on the road.

danilo-gallineri6. Denver Nuggets (31-18) – The Nuggets are definitely the league’s hottest team right now. They have been victorious in the last 13 out of 15 games and are quickly climbing the Western Conference ladder. This has truly been a team effort since nine Denver players are scoring 8.0 PPG or more. Danilo Gallinari (17.1 PPG) has really been doing well as of late since he’s averaged 21.8 PPG over the past five games. Rumor has it that Denver may be trying to further bolster their lineup by adding Kevin Garnett.

7. Indiana Pacers (31-19) – Indiana went through a three-game losing streak towards the end of January. But they’ve since rebounded by winning five straight contests, including wins over Chicago, Atlanta and Miami. Paul George (17.6 PPG) is really backing up his first All-Star selection by averaging 20.6 PPG during his team’s five-game undefeated run. David West is also pitching in 17.2 PPG and some crucial late-game baskets.

joakim-noah8. Chicago Bulls (29-19) – The Bulls have done a decent job of battling through some tough road games recently and are still looking good in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Derrick Rose still isn’t back from injury, so SF Luol Deng (17.2 PPG) continues to lead this club. C Joakim Noah has also been a force since he’s averaging 12.3 PPG, 11.3 RPG and 2.1 BPG. Assuming Rose can come back soon and get in shape for the playoffs, he’ll definitely have a nice supporting cast.

9. Brooklyn Nets (29-20) – While the Nets are certainly a strong playoff-bound club this year, they’ve yet to truly crack that elite team barrier. Don’t tell this to PF Reggie Evans though, who downplayed how good King James was and questioned the Heat’s lockout-shortened season title. LeBron responded scoring 24 points, grabbing 9 boards and dishing out 7 assists. Looks like Brooklyn still has a ways to go before they can back up Evans’ boasting.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (30-18) – We don’t expect Memphis to be ranked this high throughout the remainder of the season. After all, they just traded away their leading score, Rudy Gay, in a move that many people called ‘panicky.’ They did get Tayshaun Prince (10.3 PPG) in the deal; however, he’s unlikely to match the production that Gay put out. It certainly doesn’t help matters that Zach Randolph’s scoring has dropped by over a point in the last month.

NBA Power Rankings for December 19th, 2012

Throughout the year, we’ve ranked the Oklahoma City Thunder lower than most power rankings put out by other sites. The reason why is because they hadn’t really beaten any top-notch competition on the way to the NBA’s best record. However, they recently grabbed a big win over a great team and have shot up our rankings. If you’re interested in seeing how far they’ve moved up, keep on reading…

1. Miami Heat (16-6) – The Heat may not have the league’s top record, but they are the defending champion and perhaps the most talented team too. This being said, we’ve had the Heat at number one or two from the very beginning of the season. Don’t be surprised if Miami is hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy again in June.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-4) – After winning their last 11 games – including a comfortable victory over the Spurs – Oklahoma has moved up two spots from last week. Could the NBA Finals be a rematch of Miami and the Thunder? Maybe with the way that Serge Ibaka has stepped up his scoring production this year (from 9.1 to 14.6 PPG).

3. New York Knicks (18-6) – It may seem illogical to drop the Knicks two spots in the power rankings since they went 2-1 last week and are playing without Amare Stoudemire. But the Thunder are on fire lately and we can’t get off our original pick for the Heat to win the title yet. Knicks PG Raymond Felton has been steadily improving over the year and he’s now averaging 16.2 PPG and 6.7 APG.

4. L.A. Clippers (18-6) – Besides Oklahoma City, another team that’s streaking lately is the Clippers. They’ve rebounded nicely from a four-game losing streak in November to win 10 straight games now. The scoring has been pretty balanced on this team since seven players are averaging 9.6 PPG or more.

5. Memphis Grizzlies (16-6) – Memphis checks in at number five for the second straight week following two wins last week. The jury is out on whether Memphis is a true threat to dethrone Oklahoma City as the Western Conference champion, but they are definitely playing well so far.

6. Atlanta Hawks (15-7) – The Hawks recently lost to the Golden State Warriors, but they still move up a spot based on another team’s demise. Al Horford continues to provide solid, all-around play for this club since he’s averaging 15.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG.

7. San Antonio Spurs (19-8) – San Antonio represents the biggest drop in our rankings after falling from number three to number seven. They’ve lost four out of the past five games and have vacated the West’s top spot. If there’s anything good to come out of the downturn, all of the losses came against quality teams on the road.

8. Golden State Warriors (17-8) – Few people predicted the Warriors to be among the league’s best teams. But here we are a quarter of the way through the season and Golden State is keeping pace with the elite ballclubs. Two of their past three victories have come on the road against Miami and Atlanta, which is definitely a good sign.

9. Chicago Bulls (14-10) – Chicago could definitely be higher if Derrick Rose weren’t out for most of the season. But he is and the Bulls are dealing with it the best they can. Joakim Noah came up big against the Celtics last night after putting up a triple-double (11PTS, 13REB, 10AST).

10. Milwaukee Bucks (13-10) – The Bucks have bounced in and out of the top 10 this year, and at the moment, they’re back in. Winning four out of the past five games has propelled the Bucks into the thick of things. C Larry Sanders is providing some outstanding defensive play (3.1 BPG) for Milwaukee this season.

NBA Power Rankings for December 12th, 2012

Entering this NBA season, we had trouble deciding if it would be the Lakers or Oklahoma City Thunder coming out of the Western Conference. Thus far, the Thunder have held up their end of the deal by rising near the top of the West standings. The Lakers, on the other hand, are a dismal 9-13 and have dropped out of our top 10 for the first time this year. Will they be back? Who knows, but the following teams are looking like strong playoff clubs right now.

1. New York Knicks (16-5) – Little has changed from our rankings last week since New York is still on a roll. Sure the Knicks recently lost a road game to the Bulls, but they also defeated the Heat on the road just before that. And once again, this is happening with Amare Stoudemire still injured!

2. Miami Heat (14-5) – The Heat remain a fixture in our top two spots – despite losing to the league’s worst team (Washington Wizards) on December 4th. At this point, the Eastern Conference Finals are shaping up to be one heck of a battle! Of course, calling the Knicks and Heat in the Conference Finals now is a little premature.

3. San Antonio Spurs (18-4) – San Antonio checks in at number three in our rankings despite having a league-best 18-4 record. The Spurs have won 10 out of their last 11 games, but we’re going to need to see something out of them in the playoffs. Second-year PG Gary Neal is adding a nice shooting touch (36.8 3P%) for the club.

4. Oklahoma City (17-4) – We keep saying that the Thunder haven’t beat a top contender yet, but they certainly have beaten some solid teams during an eight-game win streak. For this reason, they move up one spot in our rankings this week.

5. Memphis Grizzlies (14-6) – The Grizzlies flip-flop with Oklahoma City following a loss to the Hawks at home. We don’t expect Memphis to remain stagnant here though since the top of the West should be pretty back and forth. Zach Randolph is providing some really nice all-around play with 17.6 PPG and 12.9 RPG.

6. L.A. Clippers (15-6) – Los Angeles has rebounded in a big way from a four-game losing streak at the end of November. They’ve now won eight straight games with victories over Utah, Dallas and Chicago during this span. Chris Paul is doing a good job of leading this squad with 16.2 PPG, 9.0 SPG, and 2.67 SPG.

7. Atlanta Hawks (13-6) – As mentioned before, Atlanta recently won a big game on the road against the Grizzlies. And they’ve won four out of the past five contests – with the lone blemish being a road game against the Heat. Josh Smith has stepped up his game and shooting with the loss of Joe Johnson during the offseason; Smith is averaging 17.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG and shooting 46.2% from three-point range.

8. Golden State (14-7) – It’s truly time to start taking the Warriors seriously with recent wins against the Heat and Nets. With Andrew Bogut sidelined most of the year because of an injury, PF David Lee has carried the load inside with 18.8 PPG and 11.2 RPG.

9. Chicago (11-9) – The Bulls continue to stay above water even though they won’t have Derrick Rose for most of the season. Joakim Noah (10.8 RPG) and Carlos Boozer (9.9 RPG) are controlling the boards for Chicago while Luol Deng (17.8 PPG) is leading the club in scoring.

10. Brooklyn Nets (12-9) – In recent weeks, the Nets have hovered around the 5th to 7th range in our power rankings. But that was before a five-game losing streak happened! The least we can say about this bad run is that all five losses came to good, playoff-type teams. However, if the streak continues, don’t expect the Nets to be here next week.

NBA Power Rankings for Dec. 6th, 2012

With grueling road trips and tough injuries, the top NBA teams are constantly flip-flopping in the standings. Lately, the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks have taken control of their conferences after a good run. But that could all change next week due to the fickle nature of the NBA. This being said, our following power rankings take talent and potential into play just as much as the actual team records.

1. New York Knicks (14-4) – After dropping three out of four games towards the end of November, the Knicks are back on top following five straight wins. The latest victory was a 20-point blowout of the Heat in Miami. And remember that all of this is still happening without Amare Stoudemire.

2. Miami Heat (12-5) – As we just mentioned, Miami lost by 20 points to the Knicks. Plus they lost to league bottom-feeders Washington just a couple of nights earlier. Still, the Heat are the defending champions and we don’t see many scenarios where this could change by the end of the year.

3. San Antonio Spurs (15-4) – With a recent win over the Western Conference-leading Grizzlies, we like the Spurs a lot right now. Tim Duncan continues to pace San Antonio with his usual 18.8 PPG and 10.1 RPG.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (13-3) – It really looks like the Grizzlies are evolving into a title contender this year. Mike Conley Jr. continues to raise his game throughout the year since he’s now averaging 15.0 PPG and dishing out 6.3 APG. Zach Randolph is also playing excellent so far with 17.7 PPG and 13.3 RPG.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4) – One could argue that the Thunder should be higher; however, almost 20 games into the season, we have yet to see Oklahoma City beat a top-tier team. We’ll wait until future big-time matchups to see where the Thunder stand without James Harden.

6. L.A. Clippers (12-6) – Offseason additions like Lamar Odom and Grant Hill haven’t really panned out. However, every starter is averaging double digits and Chris Paul is doing an excellent job of distributing the ball (9.5 APG).

7. Brooklyn Nets (11-6) – The Nets had a five-game win streak snapped by the Heat and Thunder. And while we don’t think Brooklyn is quite ready to contend with these league superpowers, they are looking like a strong playoff team. Brook Lopez (18.5 PPG) is having another strong offensive campaign thanks to the passing contributions of Deron Williams (8.8 APG).

8. Atlanta Hawks (10-5) – Atlanta has replaced Joe Johnson’s scoring with a balanced effort that includes more contributions from Louis Williams (14.1 PPG), Jeff Teague (13.3 PPG) and Kyle Korver (10.8 PPG).

9. L.A. Lakers (9-10) – Based on talent alone, we’re still keeping the Lakers in our top 10. However, it may not be long before they drop out if this keeps up! Both Kobe Bryant (28.0 PPG) and Dwight Howard (18.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.84 BPG) have played as advertised. However, Pau Gasol (12.6 PPG) continues to struggle to find a place in this offense and has been involved in trade rumors.

10. Golden State Warriors (11-7) – For the first time this year, Golden State cracks our top 10 after getting off to a hot start. SG Klay Thompson (16.0 PPG) is looking much better in his second season while both Stephen Curry (19.1 PPG, 6.6 APG) and David Lee (17.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG) lead this team.