This summer’s whirlwind NBA free agency period was a hit for some teams, like the San Antonio Spurs, and a miss for others, like the Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks, however, fell right in the middle of that spectrum, as they decided to go an alternate route and acquire B-level players.
This past week was either a minor success or complete failure for the franchise, depending on whichever Knicks fan is asked. But for Knicks boss Phil Jackson, he must feel as if he’s built a roster the best way he could, considering no real stars even contemplated playing in New York.
Jackson entered the free agency frenzy equipped with roughly $30 million in cap space. That has been all but used up, as he now has just a $2.8 million exception to use – likely to split between hopeful returnees Lance Thomas and Lou Amundson. Free agents Jason Smith and Alexey Shved are also willing to return to the team – for the right price. New York could also use that exception on either of the well-traveled veterans that they’re in the midst of talking to – Caron Butler and Willie Green. Either of the two would fill a need as they’re both tough-guy veterans who are good locker room guys, and can score.
Jackson is looking for tough, hard-hat guys who know their roles, and will acquiesce to Carmelo Anthony hoarding most of the shots. It’s a formula that helped the 76ers reach the 2001 NBA Finals when Allen Iverson was surrounded by a bunch of lunch-pail player who played their roles to perfection. It was a collection of unselfish characters that played tough defense and did whatever they had to do get their leader free on offense.
Jackson’s beloved Triangle offense isn’t exactly built that way, but the way his roster is forming, he may have to allow head coach Derek Fisher to adjust the system some when needed.
Outside of perhaps Langston Galloway, who averaged about 12 points per game last season, the Knicks do not feature a returning player who can score when asked. Perhaps Arron Afflalo, who was signed away from Portland, can help Anthony. Or maybe their No. 4 overall pick, Kristaps Porzingis, will actually be the offensive threat that Jackson believes he can be.
The other weekend signees, center Robin Lopez, center/forward Kyle O’Quinn, and forward Derrick Williams, are high-energy, effort guys who are accustomed to getting their points the “garbage” way – gathering loose balls and scoring on putbacks. There will be no plays called for any of them.
The lesson that Jackson learned is that no real stars – or budding stars like Tobias Harris and Greg Monroe – will ever seriously consider the Knicks as a destination until they prove they can win over the long haul.
So, for the time being, the Knicks will hope their new plan of building through the draft and being prudent in free agency will be the way to build a consistent winner.
- O’Quinn signed a four-year, $16M deal as part of the sign-and-trade the Knicks pulled off with Orlando. New York will also send Orlando cash and the rights to swap a second-round draft pick in 2019.
- O'Quinn, 25, averaged 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 51 games with the Magic last season. He’s a New York native and a second-round draft pick of the Magic in 2012.
- Williams was a former No. 2 overall draft pick – behind Kyrie Irving – but never really lived up to that lofty pick for Minnesota. He was traded to Sacramento in 2013. The Knicks signed him to a two-year year deal worth $10 million. He averaged 8.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 74 games for the Kings last year.
- Lopez was inked to a four-year/$54 million deal. He’ll be the new starting center, and be in the general area of his twin brother Brook, who re-upped last week with the cross-river rival Brooklyn Nets.