The New York Knicks will be better in 2016-17. Let me say that now to avoid sounding too negative.
It took an appearance from Olympic Melo in Rio to remind people how good Carmelo Anthony still is.
Kristaps Porzingis showed such promise and impact as a rookie, and he’ll only improve.
Brandon Jennings is a solid, scoring backup point guard on a cheap one-year, $5 million contract.
Courtney Lee taking the shooting guard spot gives the Knicks a reliable, above-average defender and career 38.3 percent three-point shooter, also coming in at a fair price in the new market on a four-year, $48 million deal. He could become an unexpected star for the Knicks in time.
Then there are the others. The bigger names. The Knicks’ new stars and the ones accounting for a ton of the salary cap: Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
The first impression of such additions? Could these moves be more Knicksy?
The team has a history of adding players a few years too late, when they’re past their prime and no longer have the athleticism, health or peak talent to carry a title contender.
From Jerome James — had a good playoff series for Seattle in 2005 and received a six-year, $30 million deal before averaging 2.5 points per game with the Knicks — to Amar’e Stoudemire — signed a five-year, $100 million deal in 2010 and had one All-Star season before breaking down with injury and never working out long-term — the Knicks have had a host of misses in free agency.
Of course, that might not necessarily be the case this year. Trade acquisition Derrick Rose is an immense talent upgrade over the likes of Jose Calderon, and providing he can stay relatively healthy and have the benefit of two-eyed vision after an orbital bone fracture last season, he can help the team.
Weak three-point shooting through his career and questionable defense aside, his talent hasn’t evaporated and averaging 17.9 points over his last 45 games on 44.8 percent shooting — in spite of a lengthy spell with double vision — is a brief indicator of that.
Plus, with only one year left under contract, the Knicks can cut ties next summer if things don’t work out. It won’t be the end of the world if the second coming of D-Rose never happens (it won’t happen).
As for Noah, a fairly similar narrative applies in terms of what could be left in the tank. Playing in only 27 games last season, a separated shoulder cut Noah short in January, although such an injury isn’t the most debilitating surgery he could be forced to recover from. While he’s still a sound defensive presence, a stellar passer and tough rebounder (14.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game last season), he fell to the bench in Chicago. His field goal percentage hit a career-low 38.3, and he’s no longer the Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA First Team center he was in 2013-14.
Without trying to sound too negative, though, with a larger role and good health, Noah can be key with the gritty defense he brings in the paint and his post passing for the triangle. Alongside Rose, he forms a point guard-center duo of former stars. So, in other words, a Knicksy duo.
However, there’s a recent historical comparison that seems rather fitting to the Knicks’ 2016 offseason approach.
Don’t they seem just a little too similar to the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets?
Sure, the beginnings of both teams were very different. In an all-out attempt to enter “win now” mode, the Nets made a trade that couldn’t have wound up looking more disastrous.
On July 12, 2013, Brooklyn dealt Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace and — by far most importantly — their first round picks for 2014, 2016, 2018 and the right to swap first rounders in 2017 to the Boston Celtics. In exchange, they received Paul Pierce (36), Kevin Garnett (37), Jason Terry (36) and D.J. White.
It was a bold, desperate attempt to put together a championship roster. And they missed that mark. They missed by a mile. Winning 44 games to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference before losing 4-1 in the second round of the playoffs to the Miami Heat’s Big 3, the Nets’ championship dreams quickly turned into a puzzling nightmare.
Brook Lopez was injured for almost the entire year and played just 17 games. Deron Williams was quickly on the decline. Joe Johnson could only do so much and wasn’t in his prime at 32. Meanwhile, Garnett played only 20.5 minutes per game and Pierce averaged just 13.5 points and recorded the worst PER (16.8) of his career by that point.
Pierce and Garnett, brought in to help lead the Nets over the top, were old and past that level. They weren’t up to the task. Along with the injury to Lopez and questions of fit as a bunch of big names were thrown together, the Nets threw away potential stars in the form of (what became) high lottery picks for one year of disappointing failure.
So, while the Knicks aren’t attempting to win a championship this season, their former stars are a little younger than those of the Nets, and they didn’t sacrifice years of draft success to acquire their free agent talent, similar questions arise.
Will Melo be bothered by Rose carrying a large share of the offense, controlling the ball and entering sporadic waves of floaters and drives? Melo played in a more selfless leadership role last season (recording a career-high 4.2 assists per game), but there could still be issues at times in that regard.
Rose’s shot selection can often be another cause for concern. He had a painful ranking in the 11th percentile for transition scoring last season and only ranked in the 53rd percentile in isolation plays, per NBA.com.
How will a point guard rotation of Rose and Jennings get by defensively?
Meanwhile, the arrival of Noah has questions of whether he can bounce back offensively and how many years of capable defense he has left. Approaching 32 years of age, his prime days have passed him by.
The Knicks wanted to improve, though. They’d like to make something happen before 31-year-old Melo’s already closing window is slammed shut. Some kind of competitiveness in a playoff series would be a start. Trading a young talent like Jerian Grant and a dependable center in Robin Lopez for Rose was part of that. Signing Noah for $72 million on a four-year deal is the second part.
Even though it’s on a far lower scale than the Nets, the Knicks have a future to consider with the changes they’ve made. Changes that leave the roster accentuated by new stars past their prime.
If Noah doesn’t work out, how will they hope to part with his huge salary? Salary cap explosions aside, it still won’t be easy to land much return in a trade if he struggles and comes at such a high price.
We all know the possibility of Rose getting injured. If that’s the case and he misses a large portion of the season, the Knicks either traded for a few games of limited D-Rose with a chance to lose him in free agency after a year, or they’ll wish they never made the trade for him to begin with. That’s a possibility.
Rather than the disastrous loss of draft picks, the Knicks will have issues with players escaping their primes and salary to consider going forward.
Ultimately, the Knicks invested in making something happen, rather than patiently waiting for the Kristaps Porzingis era to enter full swing. They’ll be better, and taking the 8th seed should be possible. But as we’ve seen in recent years, placing emphasis on immediate results doesn’t always work, both now and in the future.
Don’t get too excited about these Knicks just yet. Similarly to the 2013-14 Nets, they took a big swing for mediocrity.