Knicks fans don’t have a reputation for patience. Nor does management.
Throughout the Scott Layden, Isiah Thomas, Donnie Walsh, Glen Grunwald and Steve Mills eras, fans have demanded success. And the Knicks rarely had a front office person willing to take the time to build a real contender. Sure, there has been sporadic success – the 2012-13 team is a great example – but no team with the youth or talent to succeed for a long period of time. GMs have avoided rebuilding the roster, instead building flawed teams with more names than talent.
Today Phil Jackson confirmed he is capable of the patience required to build a contender – if Knicks fans are able to overlook the horror that they watch this season.
Jackson today pressed go on a trade to send J.R Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland as part of a three team trade. With this transaction, Jackson signalled the end of any pretence that the success of the 2012-13 team could be replicated again. The Knicks have been on this pathway for some time. After last year’s difficult season it was clear the success of 2012-13 was an outlier. Carmelo Anthony was resigned last offseason on the promise that Jackson would upgrade the roster over this season.
Trading away Tyson Chandler was the first step in this. The former Defensive Player of the Year was critical in the success of 2012-13, but had been hamstrung by health issues since. Jackson knew that by the time the Knicks were competing for a championship, Chandler would be too old to be instrumental in this. Trading Chandler for the draft pick that became Cleanthony Early as well as Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin signalled the end of the win now phase.
This project has been hamstrung in this endeavour by the complete lack of ‘assets’ on the roster, as outlined here. The ‘stars’ of today’s trade were no exception to this. In the time following his winning the Sixth Man of the Year, J.R Smith has proven himself a headache on and off the court. Unfortunately, Iman Shumpert never lived up the potential Knicks fans hoped he had, never once posting a PER of close to 15 (this year’s 12.1 was his high), failing to shoot over 40 per cent for this career and having win shares of around 2 each season, a number similar to that of Evan Turner.
Some Knicks fans are complaining that not enough was received in this trade – but expecting more for an overpaid head case and a role player who shoots less than 40 per cent? Rightly both of these players have now been traded in an attempt to build the financial flexibility to build a new team around Melo, as Jackson hinted at in this statement that said “these transactions improve our flexibility to the current roster and the salary cap for future seasons.”
Jackson’s plan clearly involves allowing the contracts of forwards Amare Stoudamire and Andrea Bargnani to expire. This, along with the moves made today, will give the Knicks the capacity to make sign several free agents in a class that includes Paul Millsap, Brooke Lopez, Al Jefferson, LeBron James (nominally at least), Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Greg Monroe, Roy Hibbert, Deandre Jordan, Marc Gasol, Loul Deng, Goran Dragic and Rudy Gay amongst others. The Knicks also have their first round draft pick which will likely be in the top three picks.
Knicks fans have little to cheer for this year. But Jackson is positioning the team well for the future. It’s just whether or not the fans can stomach the present.
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