The New York Knicks were one of the busier teams this offseason as Phil Jackson made an attempt to quickly get the team back in contention. They hired a new coach in Jeff Hornacek. They traded for Derrick Rose. They added Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee on four-year deals in free agency. Brandon Jennings is on board. There’s certainly a lot more talent on the roster now, but will the Knicks actually be a lot better?
1. Best move of offseason
Jared Mintz: In an offseason that saw the Knicks take on a ton of risk, their best move of the summer had to be their surest free agency signing, which was landing Courtney Lee for four years at around $48M. One of the Knicks’ biggest problems the last few seasons was a lack of perimeter defense, which Lee immediately improves, while also being an efficient perimeter shooter with the ability to stay engaged playing off of the ball. Being sandwiched in between ball-dominant guys like Melo and Rose shouldn’t hinder Lee’s production, and for the first time in years, the Knicks have a player who they can stick on opposing point guards without having to worry about giving up a career night.
Thomas Duffy: Getting Jennings for a one-year deal worth $5 million is unbelievable value. To give that number some context, Matthew Dellavedova will be making an average of $9.5 million in his next four years with the Milwaukee Bucks.
While Jennings is not a picture of perfect health himself — he tore his left Achilles in January of 2015 — he’s a starting-caliber reserve off the bench behind Derrick Rose. If D-Rose goes down, the Knicks will be fine handing Jennings the keys.
He’ll also occupy a second-string role at the point, a position opponents have abused the Knicks at in recent years:
Knicks have gone from Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant to Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings.
— Thomas Duffy (@TJDhoops) July 4, 2016
Kelly Scaletta: Brandon Jennings works well as a backup point guard who can score points in bunches and fill in that traditional sixth-man role. I also like the Courtney Lee signing, but “best move” is a bar that has to be lowered for the Knicks.
Jason Patt: Given the rest of the starting lineup, the Courtney Lee signing makes a lot of sense. He’s a guy who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to succeed, as he can simply spot up and shoot open threes created by guys like Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony. Lee is also a solid perimeter defender, and the Knicks’ defense was in dire need of improvement. The four-year deal may feel a bit excessive given Lee will be 31 in October, but he’s not a guy who should see a significant decline anytime soon.
2. Worst move of offseason
Jared: I just don’t know how even the most optimistic Knicks fans can ignore the last two seasons of Joakim Noah’s career to not be incredibly bothered by the team committing four years and $72M to him. Especially when you consider Robin Lopez was one of the most productive players on the team last season, is younger and more durable, and had a more affordable contract than Noah.
I get it, when Noah speaks he gets you fired up, and if he can regain his form from three seasons ago then the Knicks might really be good this season. However, his body has shown signs of breaking down the last two seasons, and when he was on the court this past year he was really bad. Considering how generous of a portion of the Knicks’ cap space Noah will be taking up for four seasons, and the fact that his body might not hold up — and if it does, he may not play well — Noah has potential to be Amar’e Stoudemire 2.0. To be clear, I mean that in the worst way possible.
Thomas: Everyone wants to take shots at the Joakim Noah signing.
Is four years, $72 million too much? Absolutely. But that’s what the market called for, and Noah should bring back the fire Madison Square Garden has been missing for some time.
He’ll be worth the money — at first, at least. In fairness, the final two years of the contract are tough to swallow.
Kelly: Joakim Noah is one of my favorite players in the league. I love his enthusiasm, intensity and leadership. But there is no way that he’s worth four years and $72 million.
Jason: The Derrick Rose trade is looking worse by the day thanks to the details surfacing in his alleged rape case, but if things go really south with him the Knicks can be done with him next summer.
Outside of Rose, I’m still stunned the Knicks gave Joakim Noah four years and $72 million. I thought Noah would POSSIBLY get that kind of money per year on a short-term deal…but he got it on a long-term deal. As a Bulls fan I always admired Noah, but he’s been in notable decline over the past few years and hasn’t finished a season healthy in forever. That deal could look real, real ugly unless Noah bucks his recent health trends.
3. Offseason grade
Jared: D+. Should the Knicks be better next season than they were last season? Yes. Are they still just two seasons removed from winning 17 games? Yes. Are any of their big additions this offseason sure-fire impact players? That remains to be seen, but for now, answers will vary based on how optimistic you are.
Facts being facts, Rose was one of the most negative rotation players on a 42-win team last season, and Noah was moved to the bench last year before getting hurt. These are the two players that Melo and company are counting on to help return them to the playoffs. While the Knicks’ success this season hinges on their ability to miraculously play better as they get older (and are more banged up), the depth behind them also provides a lot of unknowns, leaving the Knicks as the league’s leader in “if everything goes right, they’ll be good.” That doesn’t feel overly reliable to me.
Thomas: The Knicks now have a starting five that’s respectable. They have guys who can guard everyone reading this, which is new. They should be a playoff team.
And after two straight seasons in the lottery, that’s a win.
Kelly: D-. The Derrick Rose trade was a kind of a disaster too, but that’s one that you can get over after a year. One of our writers, Tom West, wrote how this team has the same kind of feel as the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets, and I have to agree. What’s the ceiling here? At best a second-round team? And not even a guaranteed postseason. You have three guys who have trouble making it through a season in Noah, Anthony and Rose. This could just be a very expensive disaster. They’re “better” but no closer to winning a championship. If anything, the money they invested in Noah long term puts them further away from it.
Jason: C+. While the Noah signing was outlandish and the Rose trade is looking worse, I still don’t totally hate what the Knicks did this offseason. I actually probably would’ve given New York something in the B range before the latest Rose details surfaced. There’s a good amount of risk here, but the team should be better and there’s no long-term commitment to Rose (for now).
4. Early prediction for 2016-17
Jared: If this was a few seasons ago then there would be legitimate room for optimism for the Knicks’ moves to potentially be enough to catapult them into the playoffs conversation, but the Eastern Conference was incredibly competitive last season. While teams around the Knicks improved to the point of not just getting better, but becoming good, the Knicks might not even be all that much better, and could feasibly be bad if Noah and Rose duplicate their outputs from last season.
I think this team’s going to struggle to be a .500 team, and wind up just missing out on the postseason. It’s easy to only think about this team’s ceiling (which at best is probably around 45 wins), but the worst-case scenario could be about as ugly as last season.
Thomas: I’d give the Knicks a mid-40s win projection (45-37). Carmelo Anthony — now feeling 10 pounds lighter without the burden of carrying an entire city on his back — should make his 10th All-Star Game, but Kristaps Porzingis will be the clear-cut No. 1 player.
Kelly: Another team that’s going to be in that giant cluster of everyone other than Cleveland, Boston and Toronto on the good end and Orlando and Philadelphia on the other that could end up anywhere between the No. 4 seed and the lottery. We’ll go with 42-40.
Jason: I don’t know if I have the guts to say the Knicks will definitely make the playoffs, but they should be in the conversation. There’s disaster potential here as well, but I’m thinking New York gets to somewhere around 40 wins and could perhaps sneak in to the postseason as one of the final seeds.