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Key to Knicks’ Rebuild is Patience and Maybe Keeping Carmelo Anthony

Associated Press

“Rebuilding” isn’t typically a term that New York – and in fairness, most large cities – sports fans greet with open arms. Even when their teams perform poorly and seem far away from being able to compete at a high level, lots of fans want to see a quick fix that’ll result in the team being competitive in the immediate future.

The New York Knicks have been notorious for going after the quick fix for far too many years, often giving up valuable draft picks to attain a player hoped to be “the missing piece.” As the fan base has learned over the years in unsuccessful trades landing them players like Antonio McDyess, Eddy Curry and most recently Andrea Bargnani (and don’t forget, the team gave up two first-round picks on top of the assets they surrendered in the Carmelo Anthony trade), there’s no quick fix to rebuilding and winning big that doesn’t include signing LeBron James and hoping some form of NBA Avengers want to follow him.

I understand that “trusting the process” doesn’t always work out, but looking around the league at franchises like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and even the Minnesota Timberwolves moving forward, and it’s evident that more and more teams are winning by being patient and developing their young talent.

While the Knicks didn’t exactly show commitment to taking the slower route when they re-signed Carmelo Anthony to a five-year, $124M contract during the 2014 offseason, the vast majority of their moves during Phil Jackson’s tenure as team president have indicated that they’re going to be patient in rebuilding the team. Few things support that idea more than drafting Kristaps Porzingis this past June.

Of course in the time since, Porzingis has proven to be one of the most impactful rookies from the 2015 NBA Draft, but leading up to the draft he was the prospect thought to have the highest ceiling, with potential for him to take several years to even begin scratching the surface of said ceiling. As much as fans probably wanted a quick fix this offseason to try and win during Anthony’s tenure with the team, it was the right decision to swing for the fences with Porzingis, and it’s already paying dividends:

We’re not even a quarter of a way into the season, so it’s still too early to celebrate Porzingis as the Knicks’ messiah, but it’s clear the team now has a young cornerstone player to build around. In the same respect, with Porzingis still learning and developing, a growing storyline around the team has and will be whether or not Jackson should try and trade Anthony now for assets to put around their rookie.

A couple of weeks ago I brought up the idea of trading starting center Robin Lopez, and I’m going to go back to that idea, combine it with the possibility of trading Anthony, and tell myself and fellow Knicks fans to pump the brakes.

Again, here’s where patience comes in.

As much as he looks ready to be a starting center, the focal point of the offense and the President of the United States of America, if not the universe, maybe it’s more beneficial to keep these training wheels around Porzingis. I know, you’re sick of not seeing the talented rookie touch the ball down the stretch of games while the team slows down and runs ISO ball through Anthony, and just want Porzingis to get all of the looks at center and take all of the big shots.

Excuse me for getting narrative-y here, but maybe it’s helpful to play next to a guy like Lopez who’s been able to carve out a role as a dirty work player and fantastic teammate. What if playing next to Anthony makes him feel like there’s less pressure to make mistakes because he knows the spotlight isn’t entirely on him? What if playing between these two vets offers a level of comfort and helps build confidence, as opposed to say tanking and playing with D-League level players and accepting a losing mentality?

From an “NBA 2K” let’s get as much young talent and let them grow together and improve through unlimited playing time POV, I think it’d make sense if the Knicks were able to land an assortment of assets for Anthony. Whether it’s a player chosen in one of the last two lotteries, or even a player in his early 20s on the cusp of All-Star selection, or a bevy of picks and role players, I understand why a portion of the Knicks’ fan base would like for the team to close the Melo window ASAP. And I don’t completely disagree with them.

At the same time, unlike last season when the Knicks actually had their first-round pick (which they don’t this upcoming draft as it was traded for the previously mentioned Bargnani), the team won’t benefit in any way from throwing away the rest of the 2015-16 campaign. So while the organization is clearly trending in the right direction in terms of rebuilding around Porzingis, they’re pretty close to being in NBA purgatory this season by (more than likely) not being good enough to make the playoffs and not having a draft pick to be the consolation for a losing season.

So What Should the Knicks Do?

I know I’m sort of teetering on both sides of the fence here without offering a solution, and that’s because the team doesn’t really possess a glaring asset that another team would covet to send them the pieces that could both help them win now and build for the future. With that said, there are obvious needs for this team, specifically on the perimeter where aside from Anthony and Porzingis, only Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams can really score.

After Anthony and Lopez, the team’s two biggest assets – obviously other than Porzingis and fellow rookie Jerian Grant, who along with second-year combo guard Langston Galloway should be considered part of the team’s plans for the future – are probably veteran point guard Jose Calderon and backup big Kyle O’Quinn. Again, as much as I love the opportunities for Porzingis to learn from veterans with great character, which both Calderon and O’Quinn definitely categorize as, this article is an exercise in making the team better today and moving forward without getting rid of its two highest paid players.

As washed up as Calderon looked last season and even in the early parts of this season, he’s been much better as of late, posting a line of 8.7 points and 3.8 assists while shooting 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from three, with a -2.9 net rating (per NBA.com) since Nov. 1. I know those aren’t necessarily good numbers from your starting point guard, but after looking all but finished in his first year in New York, it’s encouraging to see him return to being a more efficient player. Considering he’s an expiring contract, there will more than likely be a team in the playoff hunt with a young player or pick they’d be willing to give up for the aging floor general, who can provide three-point shooting and help add offense to a second unit.

This is pure speculation, but here are a few teams that could be interested in adding Calderon:

Los Angeles Clippers – Despite having a top three at worst point guard in Chris Paul, the Clippers have proven already that they’re in desperate need of a backup facilitator/bench depth. You’d have to hope that the Knicks wouldn’t be suckered into taking back Lance Stephenson, and that they’d push for the Clippers’ upcoming first-round pick. I’m not sure that Calderon’s worth all of that, but maybe they can package Calderon and O’Quinn, who would also be a welcome addition considering the Clippers’ bench ranks 27th in the NBA in bench rebounds, per Hoopsstats.com.

San Antonio Spurs – I can’t remember the last time Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had a backup point guard who was a major defensive liability, but neither Tony Parker nor Patty Mills have proven to be super durable over the past few years, and Calderon could be a nice fit in their offense. A trade with the Spurs would ideally be for draft picks.

Dallas Mavericks – It’d be fairly odd if the team that traded Calderon to the Knicks wanted to reacquire him, and with Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Raymond Felton and J.J. Barea all on the roster, it’s all the more unlikely that they’d want to bring Calderon back into the fold. With that said, the Mavericks’ bench is dead last in bench three-point shooting, per Hoopsstats, and Calderon shot 45 percent from three the one season he was in Dallas. Ideally, the Knicks would be able to acquire Mavs’ rookie wing Justin Anderson or draft picks in return for their point guard.

I think the Knicks’ other trade chip, again without having to give up one of the younger players, is O’Quinn. A highly coveted free agent this past summer, the Queens native signed a four-year, $16M contract with his hometown team and was brought in to bring intensity off the bench. Unfortunately, with Lopez, Anthony, Porzingis and Kevin Seraphin playing big minutes in the Knicks’ frontcourt, O’Quinn’s fallen out of the rotation, averaging just over 10.5 minutes over the team’s last 14 games.

With career per-36 averages of 12.9 points and 10.6 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the field, O’Quinn’s a nice two-way player off of the bench, and could be an asset to the following teams:

Houston Rockets – A potential destination if the Knicks do decide to trade Melo, the Rockets could also be a landing point for both Calderon and O’Quinn. I’ll focus on O’Quinn here, as the Rockets are dead last in the league in bench rebounds per game, per Hoopsstats. I know some of that’ll change with the return of big man Donatas Motiejunas, but the Rockets have very little depth in the frontcourt, which is also hampered by their commitment to habitually dinged-up starting center Dwight Howard. Not certain what the Knicks would be able to net in return, but I’m sure Phil Jackson wouldn’t be too upset landing rookie Sam Dekker or picks.

Los Angeles Clippers – I mentioned O’Quinn above when discussing Calderon as an option for the Clippers, but I really think O’Quinn would be a great fit in Lob City as well. Josh Smith and Cole Aldrich are the Clippers’ only frontcourt options off the bench, and both have been pretty bad this season. O’Quinn’s ability to knock down mid-range jumpers and defend opposing centers would be beneficial to a Clippers team that’s (unsuccessfully) trotted out guys like Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis and Ryan Hollins as their backup bigs in recent years.

Milwaukee Bucks – On paper, the Bucks have a semi-decent collection of young big reserves, but the grouping of John Henson, Johnny O’Bryant and Miles Plumlee have had relatively low impact this season. According to Hoopsstats, Milwaukee’s second unit surrenders the most bench points in the NBA (40.4), while giving up the third-most rebounds per game (18.2). O’Quinn would offer relief in both areas and is more capable offensively than the three aforementioned bigs already on the roster. Ideally a trade with Milwaukee could bring back rookie wing Rashad Vaughn.

Again, this is all brainstorming. The Knicks could feasibly be a playoff team the way the roster is currently constructed, but they could also wind up going all in on the slow rebuild and trade Anthony and/or Lopez for assets. I just think maybe we should start thinking about Porzingis’s development from an emotional standpoint, and also acknowledge the value that Anthony provides in addition to being a great scorer.

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