The New York Knicks finally introduced head coach Jeff Hornacek last week as they turn the page to next season. In his opening presser Hornacek noted that the Knicks will implement his uptempo offense, but still hold some of the triangle’s principles. Phil Jackson has finally admitted that the triangle has to adjust to today’s game where the three-point shot is much more prevalent. He also said that the Knicks are a few tweaks away from being playoff contenders.
With that in mind it is time for the roster to reflect this change. Contrary to media criticism Jackson is right. The Knicks are not title contenders, but they are not a bunch of misfits either. While Hornacek’s coaching staff is expected to be filled out sooner rather than later it’s time for Jackson to get down to work and restructure the roster. Here is what his itinerary should look like this summer.
I. Acquire A Starting Point Guard
In the golden era of point guards the Knicks have been reserved to lumps of coal. Jose Calderon might be the only starting point guard in the league that would get beat off the dribble by a senior citizen. Jerian Grant and Tony Wroten could be good rotation guys, but any aspirations of any more from those two is cockeyed optimism.
If the team is serious about making a legitimate run at Kevin Durant the first thing they must do is acquire a legitimate starting point guard. This upcoming free agent class has a few names that fit the bill. Mike Conley and Rajon Rondo are the head of the class with guys like Jeremy Lin and Brandon Jennings rounding out the viable options.
In Conley the Knicks would have a true point guard in every meaning of the word. Both Conley and Rondo have a cerebral view of the game and make sure to keep everyone involved. If the Knicks have the luxury of picking Conley would be the wiser choice. He brings much of the same skills Rondo does—phenomenal court vision, gets all five guys involved in the offense—just with better shooting. Jackson recently mentioned that the triangle needs to adapt to the three ball which only places Conley further ahead.
If Jackson strikes out on Conley and Rondo expect Lin to be the next man up. Recently hired Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni who coached the Knicks during Linsanity is expected to make a run at Lin as well. Assuming the Rockets sign Lin look for the focus to shift to Jennings who is far from a consolation prize.
Jennings brings the good type of crazy every team needs (i.e. Draymond Green, Steven Adams) and has the personality that blends well with the MSG crowd. Even if the Knicks were to sign Rondo, Conley, or Lin targeting Jennings to come off the bench would be a wise move. Prior to his Achilles injury in Detroit he was playing his most efficient basketball and was solid upon returning to action last year for both the Pistons and Orlando Magic.
II. Find A Shooting Guard
Arron Afflalo appears to be on his way out. Last season Afflalo was a reliable scorer, but his style is better suited for halfcourt offenses more so than the uptempo offense Hornacek plans to use. He also believes he is an elite talent at his position and wants to be compensated as such, meaning he will not be rocking orange and blue next season. With that being said, there is another whole to fill in the starting lineup. Hornacek used a dual point guard system in Phoenix, but landing a legitimate two guard should still be high on the priority list.
In a perfect world they land a pure sniper like Bradley Beal or a quintessential slasher like DeMar DeRozan, but both are likely to stay where they are on max deals. An interesting option that hasn’t been talked about is Eric Gordon. He has been unmemorable since being traded to New Orleans, but a change of scenery can do wonders. He can score in bunches, handle the ball, and can flourish in an uptempo offense. He definitely will not be the sexy signing, but it is worth taking a flier on for the right price.
III. Get Smaller And Faster
One of the Knicks’s biggest problems last season was their slogging pace. They ranked in the lower half of the league in fast break points and were never mistaken for the Golden State Warriors. A main reason for that is Jackson spent last offseason bulking up signing four big men—Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, Kyle O’Quinn, and Kevin Seraphin—in an age where the game is faster and big men are few and far between, the slower defensive types are of less value, especially if they cannot stretch the floor with a reliable jumper.
Under Hornacek the Knicks will look to run more and outside of Williams none of those big men can play at that pace. Langston Galloway (restricted free agent) should be back as should Lance Thomas, but outside of that is unknown. This is where Jackson can satisfy his big guard fetish and go after Evan Turner, Evan Fournier (restricted), Kent Bazemore, and Gerald Green (had success under Hornacek in Phoenix). If he can find trade partners to ship out O’Quinn and Calderon for quicker guards the bench unit can excel with Lopez anchoring the middle and Williams serving as the power forward. The league has gotten smaller and it’s time for the Knicks to adapt.
IV. Woo Kevin Durant
A Knicks offseason would not be complete without a pipe dream. One of the staples of the James Dolan era has been going after the top flight free agent only to see Pat Riley steal them. With that being said, Kevin Durant to NYC is not as unrealistic as LeBron James coming to the Big Apple in 2010 was. If the team can accomplish the first two tasks on the checklist quickly they can enter their meeting with Durant (assuming he enters free agency this year) with legitimate confidence.
For all the crap that gets flung in Jackson and the Knicks’ face, this team is not terrible. Carmelo is still better than 85-percent of the league and Kristaps Porzingis—who Durant has referred to as a “unicorn”—is the stretch five that will hopefully dominate the Eastern Conference for years to come. That’s a whole lot more than other teams can pitch. Promising to stash max money for Russell Westbrook in 2017 is another good talking point.
Signing KD will be as uphill a battle as it will get, but nothing is impossible. But what happens when reality rears its ugly head? Jackson should focus his attention to 3-And-D players like Bazemore, Chandler Parsons, or Nicolas Batum at the right price is the ideal solution. The main thing they shouldn’t do is overpay for any of the guys mentioned above or bring Joe Johnson anywhere near this team.
V. Exile Rambis
There was a point a couple weeks ago when Knicks fans had come to terms that Kurt Rambis would be retained as head coach. Thankfully logic won out and the guy with a 65-164 head coaching record was not rewarded with the job. With Rambis now out of the way only one question remains. Where does he go?
It is unlikely that he will be gone from the team given his tight relationship with Jackson. One place he should not be is the bench. Keeping Rambis around is like keeping your new girlfriend’s best guy friend around even though you know he was smashing before you came into the picture. Hornacek would not be able to ever fully trust Rambis and for things to go as smoothly it would be best for him to stay away from the bench. A front office role is better suited for him because clearly his coaching ability is far from his buddy Jackson.