An Ode to Amar’e

“It’s great fun to have you in town. And all of the sudden we can’t make jokes about the Knicks anymore” – David Letterman to Amar’e Stoudemire, Jan 13, 2011.

Amar’e Stoudemire’s tenure as a Knick will probably be remembered by most as a failure. That it started off so promisingly will only add to the bitter disappointment Knicks fans will feel about it not working out. While I obviously wish things had turned out differently, I’m appreciative that the promise even existed at all.

Going into the summer of 2010, the Knicks had to get a marquee free agent or all hell would’ve broken loose. The city and fan base had just dealt with a decade of embarrassment, and two seasons of breaking the team down to clear cap space. The Knicks gambled on Stoudemire’s knees. At the time, it was widely accepted that they were taking a major risk handing him an uninsured five-year contract. The back end of that contract was more than likely going to be a disaster, but if they got a few good years out of Stoudemire then it would be worth it. They had to take that risk. I believed that to be true then and I believe it to be true now.

“It’s urgent that they sign somebody,” [Clyde] Frazier said of the Knicks. “They made sacrifices for a couple years waiting for this moment. I’m sure pretty confident they are going to sign somebody.” from the NY Daily News, June 30, 2010.

From a production standpoint, the first season of Stoudemire’s almost five-year stint as a Knick was the only one in which he lived up to his contract. His body broke down in the playoffs versus Boston and he was never the same. But to discount the impact that his 2010 season had on the franchise and the city over the following years is an incomplete analysis. If he doesn’t come to New York, what is the alternate history? Do they get nobody? Do they hand a huge contract to Carlos Boozer? Do Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni get fired much sooner? Without Stoudemire, things might have spun completely out of control.

It’s true that Stoudemire’s $100 million Knicks contract was a good deal more than he would have gotten anywhere else. Coming to New York was clearly the best financial decision for him, but I don’t get why some fans choose to hold that against him. In today’s NBA — a league that is thriving financially — fans seemingly never criticize a player for taking the most money he can get under the league’s restrictive Collective Bargaining Agreement. Yes: the financial climate of the league is different now than it was when Stoudemire was a free agent in 2010. Still, he shouldn’t be penalized for taking the best contract that a team was willing to give him.

And it’s not like Stoudemire took the money and then became a recluse. He badly wanted to be the star the Knicks needed. His introductory press conference would be the stuff of legend if he had somehow led the team to a championship (Ed Note: This is a Maciej Lampe-sized “If”, but I’ll allow it -KM). During the first half of that first season, STAT played at an MVP level and made rounds on all the talk shows. Sure, he might’ve said silly things from time-to-time but, then, don’t most athletes? Stoudemire didn’t back down from the pressure and the responsibility; he embraced the city and the spotlight that accompanied his endeavor to carry the city on his back.

To say that Stoudemire single-handedly brought basketball back to New York City is hyperbolic, but he will go down as arguably the most important contributor to the Knicks’ early 2010’s revival, as fruitless and fleeting as skeptics would might now see it. He was a superstar that first half season and it’s entirely possible that Carmelo Anthony, the current franchise cornerstone, never would have become a Knick at all without Stoudemire in place first. After missing the playoffs from 2004 through 2009, the Knicks were postseason participants in each of Stoudemire’s first three seasons. He wasn’t solely responsible for this, but it his coming to New York was a major domino in the series of events that led to it happening. Drawn to the appeal of playing with two stars, Tyson Chandler became a Knick. Stoudemire was absent for much of New York’s 54-win campaign in 2012, but the ripple effect of his signing was visible every night.  And, as big as Stoudemire’s ego can at times seem, I don’t think he gets enough credit for how well he handled his own demise. When the Anthony trade knocked STAT off of his post as the face of the franchise and the team’s number one offensive option, Stoudemire ceded those positions without making it an issue.

In 2012, Amar’e’s body broke down again and it became clear in his absence that the Knicks were best served playing Carmelo Anthony at power-forward. During the 54-win season, Stoudemire came back from injury and was correctly used as a bench player. This would be the role he’d occupy for most of his final three seasons as a Knick. For a max-contract player who had been the toast of the town and face of the franchise just two years earlier, a demotion of this caliber couldn’t have been easy for Stoudemire. He handled it mostly with class and didn’t make a huge deal in the media about it. Stoudemire’s always come across as a genuinely prideful individual and accepting that he was best helping the team by not starting couldn’t have been easy. I remember then thinking how admirable his behavior was. I doubt many stars would’ve handled the situation as well as he did.

When news broke Sunday night that Stoudemire and the Knicks had reached a buyout agreement, I saw a lot of fans online celebrating. Over the past few years, he became a lightening rod for criticism, and a lot of the critiques were fair. Stoudemire wasn’t perfect. He made hilarious mistakes on the court, said a few silly things off it, and his contract became an unmovable albatross that hampered the Knicks chances of winning. Even knowing for a while now that his days as a Knick were numbered, I still had a visceral reaction to seeing the news. But it wasn’t jubilation I felt. It was melancholy.

Thinking back to Stoudemire’s tenure as a Knick will always evoke a longing in me to somehow get back to that 2010 season. Not because that was the best team – the 2012 Knicks were much better and more consistent – but because there was an optimism surrounding the franchise that hasn’t been there since. For the first half of the season the team was fun to watch, they were pretty good, and Carmelo Anthony was seemingly on his way. I’m a twenty-something who had never seen a good Knicks team before in my life. A potent nostalgia overwhelms me when I think back to that half season. It made me fall back in love with basketball.

After the Melo trade, I felt like the sky was the limit. Is it always tough to put together a team around two max-contract guys?  Absolutely.  But it felt like we had two of the best twenty players in the league at the time, a still-promising young wing in Landry Fields, and the still-highly-regarded Mike D’Antoni at the helm. I always thought the 2012 team had a ceiling that they ultimately didn’t even end up hitting, but after 2010 I felt like the Knicks had a chance to do something special.

Amar’e made me feel that way, and I hope I have a chance to feel that way again soon.

Timberwolves 115 Knicks 99

New York Knicks 99 FinalRecap | Box Score 115 Minnesota Timberwolves
Carmelo Anthony, SF 27 MIN | 7-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | -13Carmelo’s gotten his groove back on offense. That’s nice. There will be many things in this ‘cap that aren’t nice. Melo=Buckets tonight is one of them. He still hasn’t totally figured things out, as he shot just two free throws, but he continues to look more comfortable in the offense. Three more…er…threes too boot. His knee soreness, which apparently comes and goes as it pleases, didn’t seem to bother him–no grimacing or limping or joints creaking. Due to the lopsided score, Melo only had to play 27 minutes, which I would assume helps with that sort of thing.

Personally, I think the Knicks should just shut him down for the rest of the season and embrace tanking. Put him in one of those cryogenic sleep chambers, like in Interstellar, and wake him up at the start of next training camp. He’ll be fresh and ready to go and won’t have wasted a season of his prime playing for this garbage fire of a professional sports team. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are going to do this.

Quincy Acy, SF 32 MIN | 4-8 FG | 1-1 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | -4Acy played 32 minutes tonight, which is 22 minutes more than he should ever play in a game that his team is trying to win. He’s fine in spurts as an energy guy, but he’s just too limited offensively for this much PT.

Samuel Dalembert, C 8 MIN | 1-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -13I wrote “Dalembert is terrible” three separate times in my game notes. He played eight minutes.

Shane Larkin, PG 29 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -15At one point, Larkin caught the ball with the court well spaced and the paint unclogged. Really, it happened! I don’t have photographic evidence or nothing, but take my word for it. He put the ball on the floor, drove right past his defender (Mo Williams, if memory serves), and gently deposited the biscuit in the appropriate basket. I felt bad for him after watching this. You saw the potential he has to make plays and then you realized that he’s exactly wrong for this offense.We know the triangle minimizes the role of a point guard anyways, but Larkin really doesn’t have the skills to fit. He’s not a great three point shooter and he’s not a savvy passer. Rather, he’s a guy who can use his speed in space to create going towards the rim and in the pick and roll. Unfortunately, neither of those things are really asked of him, and so he disappears for long stretches of games. He’s also not good enough on defense because guys just shoot over him. That happened a few times, and also made me sad.

Iman Shumpert, SG 28 MIN | 1-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 3 PTS | -21We knew there was a regression game coming. Shump’s shooting had been awesome, but also unsustainable. That doesn’t mean he’s not improving, but the odds of him shooting over 50% from three for an entire season is less likely than me getting hitched to Alison Brie.

It’ll be interesting to see how he plays over the next few games. As Clyde has brought up on more than one occasion, one of Phil’s critiques of Shumpert was that he never shoots the same shot twice. You hope that this game doesn’t carry over into future games and drive him into a funk. Shumpert has also yet to diversify his offensive game. He can’t score in post ups – although he tried, unsuccessfully, to do it once tonight – and he almost never gets to the free throw line. Without his jump shot, he was pretty much useless offensively. I have no idea if that carried over to his defense at all, but he was pretty bad on that end as well. He wasn’t running Kevin Martin off the three point line at all and would sag way too far off of him in help defense. Lots of this can also be attributed to the scheme – more on this later.

Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 20 MIN | 7-9 FG | 5-6 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | -8Offensively, Amar’e dominated a depleted Wolves front court. Against Gorgui Dieng, STAT was able to face up and use his quickness to get around him or draw fouls. Poor Robbie Hummel got forced into backup center minutes and had no chance. Stoudemire got good low post position whenever he wanted and was physically overwhelming. That is, until he committed back-to-back offensive fouls in the third quarter and then got T’d up, effectively ending his night. Defensively, Amar’e was Amar’e. Basically, tonight was best case scenario for Amar’e this season. He came off the bench and scored well. On the right team, with a good defensive infrastructure, you can see how he could contribute, albeit in a limited role. Unfortunately, that’s not this year’s Knicks. He’s a liability, but he should play as long as he’s healthy. He’s probably the best big on the roster right now (not including Carmelo), which is horrifying.

Travis Wear, SF 22 MIN | 2-6 FG | 4-5 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +8Wear seems to have a good grasp of the triangle and should probably have taken some of Acy’s early game minutes tonight. During the game, there were times when he was giving pointers and advice to guys like Acy and Jason Smith. I don’t want to do the whole “YEAH LEADERSHIP!” thing, but Wear seems to know what he’s doing, which is more than can be said for some other dudes.

Jason Smith, C 11 MIN | 4-5 FG | 6-8 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -10I don’t think Jason Smith is going to play anymore when Bargs gets back. That’s a horrifying sentence on so many levels.

Cole Aldrich, C 8 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +7Cole got forced into taking a contest jumper tonight as the shot clock expired. It was not pretty. All of his minutes came in garbage time, so there isn’t a whole lot to say about him. It’s too bad his offensive game is so raw. He’s not a great defender, especially against guys with a lot of speed and quickness, but he’s solid. I like Cole. If you don’t like Cole, you’re history’s greatest monster.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 19 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -1Pablo can do no wrong.

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 6 PTS | 0Tim is young and needs minutes, but holy cow is he struggling right now. When he’s not making it rain from three or scoring in transition, he’s useless. The T’Wolves had him running through screens and it looked like he’d never been screened before. He fouled the screener on one possession and got completely turned around on another that led to a wide-open Martin three.There were other plays that were just as silly and/or groan-inducing, but I think you get the point.

J.R. Smith, SG 13 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -10JR came in and committed three quick fouls in nine minutes, and he never really got into the rhythm of the game.

Cleanthony Early, SF DNP RIGHT KNEE INJURY MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Miss you, Cle.

Derek Fisher
Fisher doesn’t have a whole lot to work with here, but is adjusting the defensive scheme too much to ask? The Knicks are abhorrent at guarding threes, and what’s so galling is that it’s essentially by design. They have to protect the rim at all costs!!!!! Well tonight, the cost was having Kevin Martin go off for 37 points on 14-20 shooting and 7-11 from three. A lot of those points came from wide open looks because the Knicks were sagging off of him so far. As a team, the Timberwolves hit 11-22 shots from three. In a related story, the Wolves came into the game dead last in three point attempts, but someone must have shown them some game film or perhaps some kind of magic incantantation. Either that, or being left so laughably wide open. It doesn’t so much matter for this season: the Knicks are going to be terrible regardless, but moving forward it might be. We’re only 13 games into the Phish-era. He’ll learn things and he’ll (hopefully) get better. The fact that he experiments with lineups suggests he’s not nearly as bullish as his predecessor. But teams aren’t going to magically stop shooting threes. If anything, teams are going to be shooting MORE threes in the years to come. Sooner or later, he’ll realize this. Maybe? Lawdy, I hope so.

Five Things We Saw

  1. One selling point of the triangle is that (supposedly, or at least, when run properly) it prevents opponents from bringing double-teams. The rationale is that because the spacing is how it is, and everyone has a role to play, a double-team should leave the defense vulnerable to giving up an easy shot. That may still be true, but the Knicks haven’t quite figured out how to counter double-teams. In particular, Carmelo looks wildly uncomfortable every time teams bring another man. It happened a few times tonight. He just panics and shoots, or holds the ball too long and either turns it over or calls a timeout. The Knicks don’t have that offensive synergy yet to where a double can come and Melo, or whoever, can make a quick decision and get the ball out to the right man. Until they figure it out, teams will start sending more and more doubles at Melo because he has no idea what to do when that happens.
  2. Has anyone else noticed that Pablo is less hesitant to shoot this year? Maybe it’s because of the offense, he doesn’t feel like he has to be the distributor. Either way, I want him doing more of it. In fact, Pablo should just start chucking Kobe-style every game. It’d make these games at least semi-entertaining. Pablo is the best. More Pablo. Pablo.
  3. So Tina Cervasio was reporting that Calderon was going to “huddle” with Knicks doctors sometime this week and decide if he’s ready to come back and play. That seems good.
  4. So it’s also been reported that Bargs will be back soon, possibly Saturday. That’s not as good. However, with him and Calderon coming back, it’ll be interesting to see if Fisher nails down a set rotation. It feels like he’s just been treading water until those guys get back. It’s pretty clear that Fisher plans to start both of them, so it does kind of make some sense that he experimented with all these different lineups and player combinations until they returned. It’ll be interesting to see who plays and who doesn’t. My guess is that Cole, Jason Smith, Acy, and either Larkin or Pablo, will fall out of the rotation completely. Oh god, it probably will be Pablo. I am angry now.
  5. There is no fifth observation. This game was terrible. Is that an observation. Sure it is. Actually, scratch that. Here’s one thing. Please, please, stop blaming losses on “lack of effort.” I know the players say this is the issue themselves, but frankly, it’s an easy answer. It’s easy to say to one’s self, “Oh, I could do this difficult thing if only I tried harder. Sometimes, you’re just not good at things. You know, like the Knicks and defense. They can’t just make themselves good defenders by bootstrap-pulling and good ol’ American hard workin’. It’s an easy thing to say, if only because you can’t tell the press, “Amar’e and Timmy and J.R. and a lot of other dudes are shitty defenders and as long as they’re on the roster, the Knicks are going to struggle on that end of the court.” Don’t believe me? Well, here’s Chris Herring saying pretty much the same thing. Anyhoo, next up is a matchup against the winless Sixers. FAAAAAASCINATING.

 

Should The Knicks Target Rajon Rondo In 2015?

In 2010, Brian Kamenetzky wrote a hypothetical for ESPN LA exploring what Phil Jackson’s triangle offense would look like if Steve Nash was the point guard. To do this, he interviewed then LA assistant Brian Shaw about how a “true” point guard like Nash would fit in the offense.

Q: Some people will say there’s such a thing as too much point guard in the offense. Would you agree? 

Shaw: “In respect that we don’t even use the term. We call it a lead guard, because when you think of point guard, it’s at the point. This offense is run with a two guard front. It gives you the luxury of not having to draft or go after that kind of guard, that’s going to dominate the ball. Because in this offense, 80 percent of the time you’re playing without the ball. So some players, it may frustrate them. I don’t know how Chris Paul would work, for instance, because he likes to have the ball and direct all the time, and that’s not something that this offense really [allows].”

Q: But Nash dominates the ball in that offense, as well.

Shaw: “For sure. It could work. But you don’t have to feel like you have to get a player like that in order to get the offense to move.”

Q: “In the end, a more prototypical point guard would have to adjust his game? 

Shaw: “Yes.”

Historically, Phil Jackson’s triangle offenses – largely the same offense the Knicks will be running from here on out – haven’t relied on high usage point guards. It has been run through elite wing players at the elbows and dominant big-men down low. The role of the point guards in the system have been to make smart decisions initiating the offense early in the shot clock, before running to a spot on the floor predicated on how the defense aligns itself. They’ve been used as managers of the offense, rather than the focal point of it.

That isn’t to say the offense can’t mold itself around higher usage point guard play – one of the selling points of the triangle is that it’s flexible to incorporate all different types of skill sets – but there isn’t a historical precedent of Jackson’s teams ever doing so. Other teams, like the Spurs, use triangle elements in their offenses which work just fine with a point guard who primarily handles the ball. But one of the positives of installing the triangle as Jackson has run it in the past is that the offense can operate at a high level without needing a point guard who can create shots for others.

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With the Knicks having just given Carmelo Anthony a big juicy contract, they’ll be looking to add pieces in the summer of 2015, when they could have more than $13 million in cap room. One of the names that’s been floated as a potential addition is Rajon Rondo, whose contract expires after the season. The Knicks have been linked to Rondo in the past, but he made a lot more sense for them when they weren’t running the triangle. Under D’Antoni or Woodson, Rondo would’ve been a more natural fit as a high usage guard who would run an abundance of pick and rolls in smaller lineups with Carmelo Anthony spreading the floor at power forward. But with the Knicks already paying Jose Calderon more than $7 million for each of the next three seasons, investing heavily in a high usage point guard is an unwise allocation of New York’s financial resources.

With Anthony likely to exclusively play small forward, the Knicks have major holes at both power forward and center. This is not ideal when installing an offense that’s also been referred to as “the triple-post offense.” Teams are always in the market for big-men and they don’t come cheaply.

As of right now, Quincy Acy and Cole Aldrich are the only bigs on the roster with any sort of potential moving forward. Amar’e Stoudemire is just playing out his contract, as is Andrea Bargnani. Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith may provide useful minutes as role players, but they’re far from long term solutions in the frontcourt. The Knicks will likely go into the 2015 offseason in need of quality starters at both power-forward and center, and potentially depth at both positions as well. With Iman Shumpert being the only above-average perimeter defender currently on the roster, acquiring new bigs will be essential to re-shaping one of the league’s worst defenses.

And if the Knicks decide that point guard is a position they want to improve, Rondo will hardly be the only available option. The current NBA climate is bountiful with talent at the point guard position. Given what the Knicks are likely to ask of their point guards, mainly to throw entry passes, shoot spot-up jump shots, and play defense, they should be more than able to find guys capable of fitting the bill. They already have two that can in Calderon and Pablo Prigioni. Shane Larkin is a young, and more importantly cheap, talent they can mold. Maybe the Knicks go looking elsewhere beyond this group, but with the Chandler trade they’ve already shown how easy it is to find guys who can play in the system.

Fixing the front court should be first and foremost on Jackson’s to-do list. Adding Rondo would make a lot more sense if the Knicks were further along in the re-building process. Phoenix could afford to add Isaiah Thomas to their already strong backcourt combination of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic not only because they had the cap room to do so, but also because they were strong on young talent throughout the roster. Building on a strength is a strategy that has merit, but only if the rest of your roster makes that viable. The Knicks aren’t even close to being there yet, and they don’t have the assets moving forward to expedite the process.

Chasing Rondo feels like something the old regime (*cough* Isiah *cough*) would do. For years, the Knicks modus operandi has been to add big names first and figure out how to make it work later. Of course, they were never able to do that second part. With the Chandler trade, which added long-term money in Calderon, it seems likely that Jackson and co. aren’t about to go about star chasing in free agency. Calderon is a good fit in the triangle as a smart, pass-first point guard, who also happens to be a deadly three point shooter. Jackson is working to build a team and Jose fits in nicely into that strategy.

When it comes to free agency 2015, the big names like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are off the market, but there are useful players still potentially available. Were big-men like Brook Lopez, Amir Johnson, Robin Lopez, Paul Millsap, Thaddeus Young, David West, Omer Asik and Roy Hibbert to hit the open market, any one of them would make more sense for the Knicks than Rondo. Brendan Wright and Kosta Koufos are current backups that would come cheaper than the first group, but would still be improvements on what the Knicks currently have. Point is, there will be available options that make more sense than Rondo, or any other high volume point guard.

This isn’t similar to 2011 where the Knicks, post-free agency, were able to turn a package of picks and young players into a star player via trade. Here, they’d be exhausting essentially every remaining asset they do have were they to acquire Rondo in a deal this season. And regardless whether they sign him in 2015 free agency or re-sign him after a trade, he’s likely to get more than $10 million annually in his new contract. Were they to do this, they’d have to have some sort of plan in place to either acquire or develop impact bigs who could help them win sooner, rather than later.

Jackson would have to work wonders to acquire both Rondo and a stable of big men good enough to mold an above-average defense around. In simpler words, it’d be much easier and more logical to bypass getting Rondo altogether and invest in other positions. But we know that under James Dolan, the Knicks don’t always exercise logic in their decision making. I trust Jackson and I doubt he’s got Rondo high on his list of potential targets. But I don’t trust Dolan. Rondo is a much flashier and more marketable name than someone like Robin Lopez or David West. Is it unlikely that the latter would overrule his exponentially more qualified employee and make a dumb move? Probably, but it’s happened before so you can’t totally rule it out. That would be the nightmare scenario, or for Knicks fans, business as usual.

Jason Smith: A Knicksplainer

Photo by Chase Thomas
Photo by Chase Thomas

Yesterday, the Knicks signed former New Orleans Pelicans big man Jason Smith to a one-year, $3.3 million contract using their taxpayer mid-level exception. Smith has long been a useful player, but has battled injuries throughout his career. A knee injury wiped out his 2008-2009 season entirely and he’s played just 122 games over the past three seasons.

Having said that, given the wages some folks are netting, he’s worth taking a flyer on for a year at that price. At the very least, Smith is going to play decent defense and help to protect the rim. The Knicks fatal flaw last season was their inability to stop opposing teams, and he should help there. Offensively, his good mid-range jumper should make him a workable fit in the Triangle Offense.

If I was coaching–and I’m not, obviously–Smith would be the guy I play next to Stoudemire. Unlike Bargnani, Stoudemire does serve a purpose in the Triangle. He’s the only Knick besides Carmelo who can consistently get you a basket in the low-post. But he’s so bad defensively that he needs to play alongside a center who can compensate for at least some of his deficiencies.

Enter Smith. He isn’t amazing on defense, but he’s solid enough. And he’s an okay enough defensive rebounder to where teams wouldn’t consistently be getting put-backs on account of Stoudemire’s lapses. Offensively, I really like the fit with them playing together. One of the hallmarks of the Triangle is how it creates high percentage looks off double-teams. For all his faults, Stoudemire is a strong post player who will probably draw an extra defender in certain situations.

Assuming he’s willing to pass out of it —and after last season, that might be a big assumption–Smith fits in nicely as his front court mate who can hit mid-range jumpers off the catch at a relatively high percentage. Of course, it’d be more useful to have a big who would be able to space out at the three point line, but that isn’t the kind of offense the Knicks are going to be running.

Smith should compete for a rotation spot right away. Because the Knicks will be using an offense that historically has featured two big men, there may be minutes for Smith at power forward. His aforementioned mid-range prowess will allow him to play with guys like Cole Aldrich or Sam Dalembert and still maintain workable spacing on offense. His versatility to play both spots probably alleviates any need for Andrea Bargnani to step on the court.

Phil Jackson’s offseason has been a good one, I’d say. His hands have been tied in terms of what he can do, but he’s still found ways to add pieces that fit the scheme he wants Derek Fisher to implement. Smith definitely works in that regard and having him on a one-year deal protects the Knicks in the event that he gets injured again.

There has been speculation about the Knicks maybe pursuing Shawn Marion, but with Cleanthony Early playing well in summer league and poised to grab a rotation spot, it probably makes more sense to shore up the front court. They could’ve done a lot worse with the taxpayer mid-level than Smith. He’s a useful two-way player, which is exactly what the Knicks need right now.

Competency. This is weird. Going to take a while to get used to it, amirite?

The Casual Draftnik’s Guide to Some Possible Knicks Prospects

Up until 4:15 EST yesterday, we had very little motivation to jump on the internet and scout possible Knicks draft prospects. Mainly because the Knicks had no picks. We figured that if Phil somehow grabbed one, WeI’d just scout whoever they took after the fact. But then boom! The Knicks traded with Dallas and acquired not one, but TWO DRAFT PICKS. TWO PICKS. IT’S LIKE CHRISTMAS IN JUNE AND MY BIRTHDAY AND FINDING A TWENTY DOLLAR BILL IN AN OLD PAIR OF JEANS.

I was/am excited, but then realized that I had no idea who might be available at nos. 34 and 51 beyond a few names – Patric Young, Walter Tavares, Nick Johnson, Cleanthony Early (they should take this guy solely for his ironic name). But as a casual, at best, observer of college basketball, I didn’t really even know anything about the guys I sort of knew something about. I imagine that some of you reading this are in the same situation. Don’t worry, I’ve gone through and identified a handful of prospects that I think the Knicks might or might not target. Additionally, I watched some YouTube clips, read some scouting reports and compiled my own scorching #HotTakes about each of these prospects. So now I’m kind of not totally in the dark with these guys. Come out of the shadows, Knickerbloggeristas, and join me…

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Two guys the “Bockers will have to move into the first round to have a chance at:

PJ Hairston, SG North Carolina

It’s pretty much a guarantee that Hairston won’t be there when the Knicks pick at 34. Chad Ford has him as the 18th best prospect in the draft, while Draft Express ranks him 20th and Jay Bilas ranks him 23rd. A 6’5 shooting guard that dominated the D-League this past season after being dismissed from North Carolina for eligibility violations, Hairston is strong enough to guard threes and is a good outside shooter. Right now, I’d say he’s more complete of a player than Tim Hardaway Jr. The Knicks level of interest in Hairston has reportedly been “very, very high.”

My take on this is that Phil likes Hairston as a prospect, but also wants to make changes to the current crop of two guards at the Knicks disposal. JR Smith isn’t a bad basketball player, but I don’t think Phil wants to put up with his, let’s say, “abrasive” behavioral patterns. I don’t particularly like Hardaway in the triangle, or in general (I realize I may not be in the majority in this regard), and could see him used as trade bait for a team to also take on Smith, as was the case yesterday, when Chandler was the carrot to bear the punishment of receiving Felton, the stick. Shumpert can play in the triangle, but he’s a restricted free agent after this season and there have been rumors he’s out of here for more than a year So from that perspective, it makes sense that the Knicks might be targeting a shooting guard in the draft.

Hairston obviously comes with some off-court baggage, and Draft Express also cites inconsistent effort as one of his major weaknesses. But the talent is there. He’s strong defensively and has upside there. He can’t create much off the dribble, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue as a role player in the triangle. Hairston is a strong outside shooter both in spot-up situations and coming off screens. He can definitely be a useful player shooting threes and playing defense.

Kyle Anderson SF/PF, UCLA 

Anderson is another guy that won’t be there at 34, but who’d be a good fit on the Knicks. I’m an unabashed Arizona Wildcat fan, so admittedly I loathe UCLA. Anderson played his best game of the season against the ‘Cats in the Pac-12 Championship, scoring 21 points, grabbing 15 boards and dishing out five assists. He was the best player on the floor in a game that featured a likely top-10 pick in Aaron Gordon and Pac-12 player of the year Nick Johnson. I was incredibly impressed, though I’d been a fan of Anderson’s long before that. He’s a throwback, an outlier in this era of smaller, quicker point guards. He won’t play point guard in the NBA, but playing it in college will help him in a league moving to a more European style of play.

You can see a scenario where he’ll end up being the next Boris Diaw: a versatile point forward that can run an offense or play a key role as secondary facilitator. The triangle offense always has use for tall dudes who can pass. The Knicks are going to be a heavy user of post-ups and Anderson would slide right in as a high-post operator. His question marks are mostly centered around his athletic ability, namely his quickness. He shot 48% from three last season, but there are also concerns about just how good of a shooter he really is. Regardless, his point forward ability would make him really useful to the Knicks. If they somehow work their way into the first round and grabbed Anderson, I’d be elated. I’m willing to overlook the fact that he went to UCLA, because I’m that good a guy.

***

Given that the Knicks had no picks until yesterday, there hasn’t been much out there about who they might be targeting. I’m going to write about some guys that, given their projected value by Draft Express, ESPN, etc, should be taken in that 30-51 range.

Patric Young, PF/C Florida 

I don’t like Patric Young for the Knicks. He’s 6’9 and a bull defensively, but he doesn’t do much on offense other than set good screens. He can’t shoot and doesn’t have much of a post-game. He’s a strong defender, but not a great rebounder. A team like the Spurs can maybe turn him into a useful player. They can use his strong screen setting skills to open up space for Ginobili or whoever to operate in the pick and roll. The triangle historically creates most pick and roll opportunities from pinch post action, but you wouldn’t really want Young operating at the elbow on the weak-side because he can’t shoot. I don’t see where he fits in offensively. Having said that, good defenders typically stick around for a few years in the league. The Knicks will be lousy next year anyways. Maybe they take a flyer on him. I like other guys more though.

Cleanthony Early, SF Wichita State

Early is intriguing to me. I don’t love him for the Knicks because I question his effectiveness playing in a half-court offense. At 6’7, he’s a tweener, which wouldn’t bother me as much on a team that played smaller lineups and ran a bunch. However, he does have some experience as a low post scorer. While he’s not advanced at it, he’s done it and has a decent face up game as well. Assuming he’s playing small forward in some healthily sized Knicks lineups, he could be a decent scorer out of the low-post against other NBA threes. He also has some playmaking abilities on defense because of his athleticism. He’s 23, which is seen as a limit on his upside. I like him as a prospect that can come in and be a contributor right away, but I’d feel better about him on the Knicks if there was a strong veteran core in place. He seems like a good Spurs pick to me (although I guess everybody is. Seriously, if the Spurs drafted you or me, everyone would still say something to the effect of, “Oh that crafty Pop/RC! Always thinking outside the box!” etc.).

Glenn Robinson III, SF Michigan

I defer to the always-informative and -pretty Bryan Gibberman when it comes to evaluating Michigan players. I asked him about Robinson III last night.

Me: Do you like Glenn Robinson?

Bryan: NEGATIVE Me: What’s wrong with him?

Bryan: Dribbling, defense, rebounding, passing.

Me: New York probably shouldn’t draft this guy.

Walter Tavares, C Cape Verde

Don’t worry, I googled Cape Verde for you because I didn’t know what or where it was either. It’s not something they stuff enchiladas with, rather it’s an island country in the Atlantic Ocean. From Wikipedia:

Cape Verde, officially the Republic of Cape Verde, is an island country spanning an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean. Located 570 kilometres (350 miles) off the coast of Western Africa, the islands cover a combined area of slightly over 4,000 square kilometres (1,500 sq mi). Three (Sal, Boa Vista and Maio) are fairly flat, sandy and dry; the others generally rockier with more vegetation. Historically, the name “Cape Verde” has been used in English for the archipelago and, since independence, for the country. In 2013, the Cape Verdean government determined that the Portuguese designation “Cabo Verde” would henceforth be used for official purposes, such as at the United Nations, even in English contexts.

So there you go. As for Tavares, he’s a really interesting prospect. He stands 7’2 with massive hands and a 7’10 wingspan. That alone makes him intriguing, but he also possesses some useful skills. He’s a strong rebounder and is active on defense. Tavares isn’t a plodder, like say Kendrick Perkins. He doesn’t move gracefully like Embiid, but he’s not a dope either. Draft Express’ scouting video of him has footage of him being an effective roll guy in the screen and roll, showcasing his ability to move efficiently. He’s also a 74% free throw shooter, which is encouraging for a guy who didn’t touch a basketball until he was 17. He’s definitely a long-term project, which probably rules him out for the Knicks.

While I think they’d be fine to draft him and stash him for a few years–he just signed a three-year deal with Gran Canaria–they probably want somebody who is closer to contributing. Even if Tavares came over this season or next, he wouldn’t have much of an impact. He needs a lot of time. Having said that, Phil did wonders for Andrew Bynum, a young, raw seven-footer and might be open to taking on the Tavares project as well. Tavares won’t become the scorer Bynum was in his prime, but he has the potential to be better defensively.

Spencer Dinwiddie G, Colorado

In the book 11 Rings, Phil Jackson talks about how he liked having big guards to counteract the league’s movement towards smaller, quicker ones. Spencer Dinwiddie is a 6’6 point guard from Colorado that can play both the one and two. He tore his ACL in January which obviously has hurt his draft stock immensely. But assuming he comes back close to where he was pre-injury, Dinwiddie could provide a good return on investment for whichever team is patient enough to grab him. In Draft Express’ preseason scouting video for Dinwiddie, they list his four strengths as:

Scoring Instincts Creating for Others Defensive Potential Versatility

Sounds pretty good, right? They listed his biggest weakness as athleticism, and a torn ACL obviously won’t help that. He’s a risk in that regard; he just might not be athletic enough to survive in the league. With modern medicine being where it’s at, ACL injuries have become far less catastrophic than they used to be. But with cases like Derrick Rose’s, we see that there is still a ways to go. In twenty years, ACL injuries will probably carry far less long term risk than they currently do now, but we’re not there yet. Chad Ford says in his mock draft 9.0 that teams are looking at Dinwiddie at the end of the first round and that he’s probably not getting past Philadelphia at 39. He’d be a fine value pick for the Knicks at 34 and would be of use to them in the triangle. It’s just a matter of whether or not they’re willing to roll the dice.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo, F Greece

Giannis’ brother!

Well, older brother. Like Tavares, he’s a project. He’s super athletic, has good length, and plays with a lot of energy. Because of these aforementioned traits, he has big upside as a wing defender. However, his offensive game is totally raw. He can’t shoot and scouts think he’s lacking in basketball IQ. He needs more time to develop. Not even close to warranting consideration at 34, but I’d be fine with the Knicks grabbing him at 51.

Nick Johnson, G Arizona

Johnson could be an option for the Knicks at 51 if they wanted to try and turn him into a triangle point guard. He’s really undersized for a two guard, which is why he’ll drop so far. However, he’s very athletic, can shoot with three point range and is a strong defender. If they think he’s smart enough to eventually get the offense down, I could see them trying him at the point. Then again, we’ve seen what happens when you try to cram a SG peg into a PG hole. You know, like Shump.

Aaron Craft, G Ohio State

Please don’t draft this guy.

CJ Fair, F Syracuse

He’s the guy who got called for the charge at the end of that Duke game where Boeheim lost his freaking mind. That was pretty great.

Jordan Bachynski, C Arizona State 

He’s big and white and plays center. Phil likes the big white guy we already have playing center. Maybe he takes another one. Who knows?

Christiano Felicio, F/C Minas

There are going to be a bunch of dirty jokes made about this dude’s last name if the gets drafted. Or there might not be. I think I have problems.

World Cup! Woo!

Bogdan Bogdanovic, G Partizan

I feel like this guy has been a prospect in every draft since 2002.

There are some notable names in the late 2nd round/undrafted player category, like: Markel Brown, G Oklahoma State, James Michael McAdoo, PF North Carolina, Dwight Powell PF, Stanford, Scottie Wilbekin G, Florida, Keith Appling G, Michigan State, Jahii Carson G, Arizona State, and should the Knickerbockers decide to take anyone of them to the big barn dance, we’ll have all kinds of thoughts, but this lil’ primer is already long enough.

***

Well there you have it. Now you sort of know some things about a few of the prospects the Knicks might take in the draft tonight. It’s virtually impossible to predict what they’re going to do, but it should be fun nonetheless. The Knicks have actually had some relevant second round picks the past few years, so the draft is definitely worth paying attention to. And it’s Phil’s first draft obviously, so that’ll be cool to see how he approaches it. In my “expert” opinion, he’ll be looking to add players who are good at basketball. Maybe he’ll just re-draft Andy Rautins. Actually, I really hope he re-drafts Andy Rautins. GO KNICKS!

JORTS FTW!

BREAKING NEWS: Knicks Trade Chandler and Felton to Dallas

DING DONG FELTON’S GONE!!!

At 4:15 EST, ESPN’s Marc Stein broke on Twitter (where else do you break news these days?) that the Knicks and Mavericks were on the verge of completing a trade that would send center Tyson Chandler and point guard/flaming tub of lard Raymond Felton to Dallas. The proposed trade has Dallas sending back Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and NOT ONE, BUT TWO SECOND ROUND PICKS IN THIS YEAR’S DRAFT (Nos. 34 and 52). THE KNICKS TRADING FOR DRAFT PICKS? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

It had been long anticipated that Chandler would be moved before next season. Jackson’s triangle offense, a form of which is expected to be implemented by new coach Derek Fisher, works best when it deploys big men who are either good passers or low post scorers. Chandler is neither. Throw in his expiring contract and his unwillingness to play on a rebuilding team – a near certainty if Carmelo Anthony isn’t retained – and it made a lot of sense for the Knicks to move him. He clearly still has value despite two injury riddled seasons where he hasn’t been at his best. Dallas was obviously where he bloomed as a defensive savant and he gets a year to try and boost his value for his next contract. Both sides win here.

As for Felton, the Knicks get to take his 2015 player option worth $4.5M off the books. He wasn’t worth that money and it would have cut into their valuable 2015 cap space that they’ll need to pursue whichever star free agent they decide to target. That money would be better spent on pretty much anything else. I will not miss him.

The package the Knicks receive in return is a good one. The draft picks this year are crucial, as the Knicks didn’t have any prior to the trade. They get a cheap young asset in Larkin. Dalembert’s contract is guaranteed for just $1.8M this season, meaning the Knicks can waive him and save about $7.6M in cap space from the trade.

Calderon’s contract runs through the 2016-2017 season. He makes more than $7M each season, so he isn’t exactly coming cheap. However, he’s a good fit both in the triangle offense and as a backcourt mate next to Iman Shumpert. Given how little money the Knicks currently have on the books in 2015, they can still add a lot despite Calderon’s cap hit. He’s still a useful player, so unless he depreciates rapidly next season they’ll still probably be able to move him elsewhere, if they so choose.

Overall, the trade seems like a good one for the Knicks. They get a young player, an useful veteran, cap flexibility and DRAFT PICKS!!!!!!! And they dump Raymond Felton. Good? Good!

UPDATE, 6:02: It’s a done deal.

Steve Kerr Would Be a Smart Hire

Sunday afternoon, Peter Botte of the New York Daily News reported that Turner Sports analyst Steve Kerr met with Phil Jackson Friday night to discuss the Knicks head coaching vacancy. Of course, this is hardly a surprise. Kerr has long been thought of as the favorite for the job. Jackson has said that Kerr would’ve been his choice to coach, had he become the president of the new Seattle Supersonics. Now that he holds that title with the Knicks, Kerr is again his coach of choice.

Kerr has expressed a desire to get into coaching and has a good relationship with the master of zen. He’s articulate, intelligent and spends lots of time around the game calling not only NBA games, but March Madness as well. He even writes from time to time. But while Kerr is generally regarded as a smart basketball man, his hire would not be met with universal applause among the fan base. The former sharpshooting guard is not unfamiliar with day-to-day operations of an NBA franchise, thanks to his three years in Phoenix, but he has no prior coaching experience.

However, there is a recent precedent for coaches without any previous experience being successful. The Warriors took Mark Jackson off ESPN and gave him their head gig in 2011. While he’s come under scrutiny this year for his unimaginative offense and unwillingness to stagger his lineups, he’s also led the Warriors to their fifth 50-win campaign in franchise history and has a .526 winning percentage over three seasons. In Brooklyn, Jason Kidd has overcome a poor start to the season and led the Nets to the playoffs.

Last year, super-smart friend-of-the-blog Jared Dubin noted at Grantland that first time head coaches are slightly more successful than retread coaches. Retreads do better initially, but over time the first year coaches on average have a higher winning percentage. Of course, each situation is different and no two coaches are the same, but it’s clear that the Knicks don’t need to bring an experienced coach in order to be successful.

Kerr’s inexperience will also be less of a factor because of who works above him. Jackson spoke last week about him and Kerr sharing similar coaching philosophies. They have a good relationship and it can be anticipated that Jackson will be hands on in helping out his new coach. Jackson has said he won’t force his new coach to run the triangle, but he does believe in system basketball. Kerr’s experience playing under Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Lute Olson won’t automatically make him a good coach, but it can’t hurt either. He is sure to have picked up a few things here and there that will be useful to him.

As general manager in Phoenix, Kerr generally did a good job in talent evaluation. His Shaquille O’Neal experiment failed miserably, as did his drafting of Earl Clark 14th overall (Once a Knick, Always a Knick!), but he did draft Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic. He also traded Boris Diaw and Raja Bell for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley. That move might seem insignificant now, but it worked out well for Phoenix. Both players were key contributors to the Suns improbable run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009. If hired by the Knicks, Kerr won’t have final say on personnel, but it’s encouraging to see that he’s had success in that department in the past.

Because he’s never coached before, Kerr’s coaching style and schematic philosophies are relatively unknown. Listening to him call a game on TNT doesn’t tell you much. However, Kerr was on the Below the Rim podcast with Brian Windhorst in early-March and gave some insight into his coaching philosophies.

When asked about Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek, Kerr likened himself to his former teammate.

“I think Jeff and I are a lot alike personality wise.” Kerr said. “I think I would have a similar demeanor to him on the sidelines and I think I see the game in a similar way.”

Windhorst noted how the NBA has shifted to a more offensive game with a greater emphasis on up-tempo play. He asked Kerr whether he’d have his teams playing up-tempo.

“I don’t think I would be seven seconds or less. I love watching the Pacers play. Maybe I’m in the minority.” Kerr said. “I like size. I like teams that can put two bigs on the floor and defend the paint and still stretch the floor offensively and put a good attack on the court at that end.”

It’s not surprising that Kerr isn’t a SSOL guy. In 2008, he and Mike D’Antoni clashed over philosophical differences. Ultimately, the situation resulted in D’Antoni leaving and joining the Knicks.

“I don’t believe in four guards and a big.” Kerr said. “I still believe in playing two bigs, but if you can have the type of versatility where you can accomplish both, I think everyone still wants to push the ball.”

For Kerr, the most important part of any offense is ball movement.

“But the biggest thing is ball movement on offense; forcing the defense to react and respond. I just hate isolation basketball. And so as a coach I would absolutely demand a lot of ball movement and spacing.” he said. “It’s why I love watching Dallas play and San Antonio and Portland. Those teams just flow and there’s a beauty to the game and that’s what I would aspire to as a coach.”

In hearing Kerr talk like this, you see where him and Jackson agree philosophically. The triangle is a system based around ball movement and having multiple players who can play in the post. It’s also an offense that emphasizes pushing the tempo. Jackson’s Laker teams of the 2000s played at an average pace of 95.21 possessions a game. That’s not blistering fast, but it certainly isn’t slow. It’s encouraging to hear Kerr talk about floor spacing. With defenses evolving schematically and players more athletic than ever, spacing the floor is monumentally important to any successful NBA offense. Of course, being around the game as much as he is, Kerr should understand this as well as anyone.

Even if Carmelo Anthony re-signs, the Knicks aren’t going to compete for a championship next season. In that regard, they’re well suited for a more inexperienced coach. Because Kerr has never coached before, there will be an adjustment period. That is especially true if he’s implementing the triangle; which is complex and takes a while to fully implement. However, assuming ownership doesn’t muck things up, Jackson will likely demonstrate patience with his new coach. He rebuilt the Lakers in the mid-2000s. He understands that building a championship team is a process. Jackson may be able to accelerate that process in the summer of 2015, but until then his hands are pretty much tied.

If the Knicks were right on the cusp of contending, the conversation would be different. But as is, the Knicks are a team that can afford to, and probably should, bring in a younger, inexperienced coach. And as Brooklyn did with Kidd, Jackson will likely surround his new coach with experienced assistants.

While Kerr was the general manager in Phoenix, Bill Cartwright was an assistant under both Terry Porter and Alvin Gentry. Cartrwright’s name is one that has been thrown out there in the Knicks coaching search. Of course, Cartwright was one of Jackson’s guys in Chicago. Whether Kerr and Cartwright have a close relationship is unknown, but the fact that they’ve at least been part of the same organization before is noteworthy. You get the feel that Kerr and Jackson just have great synergy, something that has obviously been missing in the Knick organization for a long time. There will be skepticism surrounding his hire, if it comes to fruition, but that’s true of nearly all coaches. He’s got a good relationship with Jackson and he’s a smart guy; he’s a good fit for the Knicks. And in Kerr’s own words, he “hates” isolation basketball. Even the biggest skeptics have to like that.