• Andrew Hughes

The State of the Knicks

It is business as usual this offseason at Madison Square Garden. The New York Knicks front office is having problems with its star player and the team is alienating its prized 21-year-old "unicorn."

Yup, business as usual.

Phil Jackson publicly commented on Carmelo Anthony's tendency to hold the basketball and stifle ball movement in December. The team was 17-13 and was a top four seed in the Eastern Conference. Following his comments, the Knicks spiraled and finished the season 31-51, one game worse than the prior year.

Since then, Jackson has repeatedly said that the Knicks and Anthony would both be better off going their separate ways. The Zen Master attempted to deal Anthony at the trade deadline in February but was restricted because of Anthony's no-trade clause in his contract. Of course, Jackson gave Anthony the no-trade clause as part of his max deal. He also gave Anthony a trade kicker which would give the 14-year veteran even more money if he was dealt to another team.

All of these factors made Anthony almost untradeable. His already bloated salary would balloon further for any team that dealt for him. In addition, Melo's no-trade clause gave him the ability to veto almost any deal. This narrowed Jackson's potential trading partners down to a handful of teams. Jackson was unable to land a deal at the deadline after giving Anthony all of the bargaining power in a potential trade.

Following the season's conclusion, Jackson didn't budge on his stance. For his part, Anthony has said that he'd "just as soon as stay," per Jackson's comments to the New York Times.

Now the two sides are at an impasse. This could lead to the Knicks negotiating a buyout with their 33-year-old star. After passing up a package of Austin Rivers, J.J. Reddick (who the team has interest in signing in free agency now) and Jamal Crawford from the L.A. Clippers, the team may pay Anthony not to play and watch him join a contender like the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Things couldn't get any worse right? Well it almost went nuclear.

Last Wednesday, the night before the NBA Draft, Phil Jackson answered questions from Al Trautwig on MSG Network. During the interview, he revealed that the Knicks had fielded calls about Porzingis and was negotiating with teams about a potential Porzingis trade.

Regarding the unicorn, Jackson said: “As much as we love this guy, we have to do what’s good for the club."

Jackson was clearly ticked at Porzingis skipping his exit meeting with the club. KP flew home to his native Latvia after the season and kept minimal contact with the franchise. This prompted Jackson to listen to offers for the previously untouchable big man.

The Latvian wonder-kid has blown spectators away with his athleticism in his first two seasons, surpassing expectations and making those who booed him on draft night regret it. His career averages of 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocks through two seasons have caught the eyes of just about anyone paying attention to the NBA since his arrival. One missed exit meeting could be all it takes for Jackson to overlook that and send him packing.

Prior to the NBA Draft this past Thursday, there was speculation the Boston Celtics could swoop in and give Jackson an offer he couldn't refuse for Porzingis. Ultimately, there was no deal. That may not mean Porzingis is in the clear. Depending on how free agency shakes out, the Celtics could feel that they are one piece away from dethroning the Cavaliers in the East. Danny Ainge may come calling again to try and pry Porzingis away from New York. If there is more bickering between the team's future cornerstone and its president, the asking price may go down and the Knicks may once again execute a trade that will live on in infamy. After all, the Celtics are no strangers to fleecing a New York-based franchise in a blockbuster deal.

With Jackson on the outs with Anthony and Porzingis, it is easy to say the Knicks are one of the most dysfunctional franchises and have little hope for the future. Knicks fans are somewhat fortunate that only one of those statements is true.

The team has a president who is in over his head. Jackson has never held a front office job and his meddling has negatively impacted the Knicks' locker room. In that Knicks locker room, however, are several building blocks and competent rotational pieces.

New York's latest draft choice, Frank Ntilkina, is an athletic and lengthy floor general. The French guard can finish at the rim with power or finesse, and has adept passing ability. It is unclear how his shot will translate to the NBA game but he should be able to benefit from the offensive attention Porzingis gets (assuming he is still on the team).

Willy Hernangomez was named to the All-Rookie First Team after a stellar rookie season. After injuries to Joakim Noah (whose albatross contract is the only egregious error Phil has made), Hernangomez stepped up and showed Knicks brass he was starter-material. His per-36 minutes numbers were astounding: 16 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. The Spaniard, who played overseas with Porzingis, is clearly the center of the future for New York.

Elsewhere, there are solid rotational pieces. Courtney Lee was an effective 3-point sniper this season, shooting over 40 percent. Ron Baker went from undrafted to starting for the Knicks towards the end of the season. Mindaugus Kuzminskas showed promise as a 3-point shooter and a finisher in transition. Kyle O'Quinn has been a steady boost of energy off of the Knicks bench. His rebounding, toughness and underrated passing ability has allowed the Knicks to remain afloat when the starters sit.

The team figures to add a piece or two in free agency as well. While the Knicks won't have cap space for a max contract, Jackson will have around $20 million to spend. If the team doesn't bring back Justin Holiday or Derrick Rose and a buyout with Carmelo Anthony is reached, the team will be able to add several impactful free agents. If they are somehow able to offload Noah's contract, they could be major players in free agency.

If not, the team should be in good hands as long as it doesn't do the unthinkable and trades Porzingis. The team figures to get worse if it parts ways with Carmelo Anthony, but it owns its first round draft choice. All in all the team has several intriguing young pieces and could be competitive next season. It could also falter and find its way to another top lottery choice.

Neither option isn't bad as long as Jackson stops calling out his players and allows Porzingis to be the centerpiece of the franchise moving forward. A Porzingis-Ntilkina-Hernangomez core would have its growing pains but would be a threat in a few years. Add Carmelo Anthony to that this year and the Knicks may make a run for the #8 seed. Subtract both Anthony and Porzingis and the state of the Knicks would be one of pure disarray and chaos.

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