If 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.
In 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).
The 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.