The rebuilding process for the New York Knicks began in the middle of the 2014-15 regular season. It was abundantly clear that Phil Jackson was hitting the reset button when he shipped off J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers for three non-guaranteed contracts. The details surrounding Jackson’s motives were confirmed following a recent article written by Charlie Rosen for ESPN. Jackson was getting rid of the bad eggs and starting completely fresh. He has responded over the past several months with intelligent, hard-working players that New Yorkers will be able to respect.
The three aforementioned non-guaranteed contracts went to Lou Amundson, Lance Thomas, and Alex Kirk. Thomas and Amundson were given John Starks-esque 10-day contracts that were essentially tryouts. The Knicks were not dramatically different in the wins column, but there was a noticeable difference in the attitude of the club. With players like Thomas, Amundson and Langston Galloway all fighting for their dreams, hustle and defense was a frequent showing. It was a faint glimmer of a disastrous season, but arguably, even though the losing was still predominant, the Knicks went from unwatchable to watchable.
Galloway, Amundson, and Thomas were all recently rewarded with contracts. Their fight and desire was what assisted the Knicks in winning three of their last four games of the season. Negative hollers surfaced when Knicks fans found out that their little spurt of wins at the end of the season essentially pushed them down to the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft. The bitterness of the masses was understandable, but not fair to the deliberate commitment to playing hard exhibited by these players that had no guarantees in their future.
With the fourth pick in the draft the Knicks’ selected Kristaps Porzingis, a 19-year-old multilingual, Latvian with experience playing in the Spanish League overseas. The mystery of the unknown caused initial boo-birds, but after seeing this man’s attitude and composure in the NBA Summer League, hopefully Knicks fans will hush up. He may be skinny for someone of his height, but his awareness and intelligence is undeniable. Throw in the trade, where Jackson gave up the inconsistencies of Tim Hardaway for a four-year graduate from Notre Dame in Jerian Grant, Knicks fans can officially notice a trend: hard work and smart play will get you in a Knicks uniform. It’s difficult to believe that something so simple could be considered innovative, but in the world of wild over-signings and coaching firings of Knicks Basketball in the 21st century, simplicity should be cherished.
NBA free-agency made Jackson’s approach as team president even more crystal clear. Signing players like Robin Lopez, an alumnus from Stanford University with a four-year degree, Arron Afflalo, a 29-year-old point guard with a four-year degree from UCLA, and Kyle O’Quinn, a native New Yorker with a four-year degree from Norfolk State. The only exception to Jackson’s college degree signings was Derrick Williams, the 24 year old that went 2nd overall in the 2011 NBA draft. Not a bad haul to say the least.
Jackson’s insistent desire to run the triangle obviously was high on the teams’ priority list when signing this arsenal of intelligent players. As a 69 year old with nothing to prove, Knicks fans have every right to believe that Jackson can revive the hopes and dreams of the fans that were evaporated with disappointment within a month of play last season.
The only question mark to the character of the roster is NBA star Carmelo Anthony. As an obvious talent with a scoring ability that’s almost uncanny, his happiness and work ethic are crucial for the team’s success. Following last season Anthony signed a 5-year, $120-million contract with the club. Jackson and the Knicks have invested ten-fold in him, and he needs to be all-in on anything Jackson says/does. True basketball fans understand that Anthony has a history of sometimes pouting, demanding trades, or not playing as well defensively as he’s capable of. Laziness and an inefficient work ethic cannot be tolerated from a man that wishes to be a leader and a star. Anthony has to do anything and everything he can to add an NBA championship to his resume.
Can Jackson, the once tall, gangly, defensive-minded work horse that wore number 18 for the Knicks revive the magical history that has since been congested by a circus-like media system that’s infatuated with the clubs consistent trend of disappointment?
Who knows. But if the players on the floor can give New Yorkers something to be proud of, it’ll be all worthwhile. And if there’s anyone that understands New Yorkers demands, it’s the Zen Master, Phil Jackson.