Is Basketball Back at MSG? Grading the Knicks Offseason.
Written by Kevin Meng
* These grades are based on the situation at hand, including available players, the current market, the Knick’s cap space at time of signing, and whether or not the player was named Sasha Vujacic or Jose Calderon. It isn’t an evaluation of how awesome the player is*
2015-2016 was supposed to be a rebuilding year where the Knicks added assets, built a winning culture, grew together and attracted a big name to join up with them. There was reason for hope: a young rookie with boatloads of potential, another rookie who had just quarterbacked a solid NCAA squad to a good tournament showing, actual NBA-level talent in Robin Lopez and Aaron Afflalo, and a hungry Carmelo Anthony.
Hopes were relatively high for the Mecca. Could this team make the playoffs? Could they make noise if they got there? Could Kristaps GOATzingis really be this good? The season blasted off into space faster than anyone could have imagined, with the team playing .500 ball 40 games in and playing some top-level squads down to the wire (San Antonio and current ring-bearers, Cleveland come to mind).
Welp, we all know how that ended. The rocket burst in mid-air, with wicked, whipping flames that engulfed any and all things good in the souls of the Tri-State Area. Partly because of lack of talent, partly because of injuries, partly because of Sasha Vujacic, and partly because of coaching.
When the 2016 offseason started, nobody had any clue what was going to happen. PMFJ (Phil M***** F****** Jackson) had a king’s ransom in cap space but precious few assets, an aging star, and raw rookie to build around. Hardly cause for hope.
Yet here we are, not far removed from the mayhem that was 2016 free agency with a….wait….what is this?….an NBA-level basketball team? This must be some cruel joke. Is basketball back at MSG? This team may pose more questions than answers, and it may be a few twisted knees away from mediocrity, but at least the rotation has 7 guys that most people have heard of, and Jose Calderon isn’t playing the point..
* acquisitions like signing our 2nd round pick last season or acquiring some random Euro guy to warm the bench have been excluded for length’s sake. We know our reader’s have short attention spans*
Coaching change: signing Jeff Hornacek
Coaching salaries don’t really matter. Who cares about spending James Dolan’s money? What does matter is their experience, knowledge, ability to motivate, and ability to get respect from the players. When you haven’t proven yourself in the league or in the coaching ranks, then players rarely respect you(David Blatt or Kurt Rambis, anyone?).
Jeff Hornacek’s playing career was gritty, dirty, and fun to watch. He had some near star-level years in PHX and UTAH, so he is definitely someone the players will respect in that regard.
What’s more important is his open, free-flowing offense that emphasizes pushing the ball and getting open 3’s or drives to the basket. Basically the opposite of that cruel, joke of a shape-based system we ran last year. He coached a team of quasi NBA rejects, more reminiscent of the island of misfit mascots than a playoff team, to almost 50 wins in the west, ranking 4th in three point attempts and 9th in free throw attempts. With Lee, KP, Melo, Jennings, and Thomas all being capable 3 ballers, and Rose, KP, and Melo adept at drawing fouls, there should be plenty of space and plenty of reason to expect the offense to hum under him. His real advantage though? His daughter. God damn!
Jeff Hornacek Grade: A; Abby Hornacek Grade: A+++
Trading Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, and Jerian Grant for D. Rose, J. Holliday and a 2nd rounder
Robin Lopez was a solid center on a below-market deal, Jerian Grant was a rookie project, and Jose Calderon was a….ugh (**shivers**), let’s not even talk about him. That’s what the Knicks traded for a one-year rental of Derrick Rose, a player that might not even play a full season. It’s a risk. But since this team is firmly in win-now mode due to Melo’s age and contract, I can easily see why Phil did it.
Here’s why the trade was good:
- Robin Lopez, for all his defensive scrappiness, is probably not a center fit to start on a modern day contender. Immobile, incapable of regularly getting up for alley-oops, a statue in the pick n roll, and someone who resorts to lumbering hook shots rather than finishing strong through contact. His calling card is scrappy defense and good rebounding, something this team can find in a bargain bin somewhere at Wal-Mart.
- Jerian Grant wasn’t given a fair shake in the system last year. Inconsistent minutes, asked to play off the ball when having the ball in his hands and pushing things were his strength, and being unfairly asked to shoot 3’s when the team knew he couldn’t; still, he didn’t show much promise. Who knows what a new system and a few years could bring, but he is an unknown quantity at this point. Chances are he won’t amount to much more than a rotation-level 2-3rd string guard.
- Jose Calderon is gone. Free at last. Free at last. God almighty, we are free at last.
- Rose’s contract expires this season. Meaning the team opens extra cap room by jettisoning Lopez’s deal, fair as it may have been.
When you see that what we traded really amounted to a below average rookie with a solid upside, and an average defensive-minded center with severe limitations, you can see why getting Rose, a PG who averaged 16/5 last season coming off an injury(by the way, those numbers are on par with Mike Conley, a pg who signed the biggest deal in NBA history last year), is a solid gamble for this team.
In a solid system with a more cohesive team, better talent around him, and being further removed from his injury, there’s no reason to think Rose won’t put up better numbers. It’s much harder to find a scoring point guard that can break down the D and finish at the rim than it is a defensive center to play 25 minutes a game. We just need to pray he doesn’t end up wearing a hospital gown. I’d still take Rose playing in a hospital gown over Calderon or Vujacic, by the way. Add in that Justin Holliday will probably be an end of the rotation guy that showed he could hit an open 3 and it tips the deal in our favor. Sad to see Robin go, but we need a point guard more than we need a statue at center, and we could easily find replacements for what we lost.
P.S. Look at Chicago now. What are they doing?
Signed Brandon Jennings to a 1-year, $5 million dollar deal
What do the 2015-2016 season for Brandon Jennings and the Lion King have in common? They both involve a once mighty creature falling off of a cliff. Jennings might never have been king of Pride Rock, but he was a scoring guard who averaged 15 + points and 7.6 dimes just two seasons ago before injuries and unfortunate team circumstances took the fire out from under him. In the modern NBA, guys like him(streaky scoring point guards that don’t really play defense) are best served as 6th men; you know, someone that comes off the bench to spell the starter and spark the second unit?
That’s exactly what Brandon Jennings is being asked to do here in New York. He definitely was less than stellar last season, posting a paltry 7/4 on 18 mins a game, but how much of that was due to injury, apathy, and team chemistry? There are a few reasons why this signing is great for the Knicks and Jennings:
- The Knicks needed a backup pg that could penetrate and score, had very little cap space, and few prospects. Jennings is a grand slam considering the situation.
- It’s a 1 year, $5 million dollar deal, when team mascots are earning 8-figure contracts. It gives the team what it needs this season without biting into next year’s cap space.
- The cap is going to jump again and Jennings will get playing time to showcase his worth. If he gets even an average deal under the new cap it will be worth something like 4/55 million. Think he’s motivated to get that deal? What would you do for $55 million?
Considering the team’s needs, the small amount of cap room, and the remaining players left at the time of signing, this signing is a home run. Jenning’s isn’t anything special at this point, but he’s what we needed and we got him for nothing.
Come back tomorrow for part 2 – Lee, Noah, Thomas, and overall grade.