Coming into this offseason, the Knicks were at a crossroads. The Phil Jackson era had just begun and so many things were up in the air. The Knicks had just come off a disappointing 37-win season in which star player Carmelo failed to carry his team to the playoffs for the first time in his career. This was the worst-case scenario for the organization because the Knicks entered the offseason with no picks in the loaded 2014 draft and Anthony had opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. The contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani also kept the Knicks from being able to afford to bring in reinforcements to build a contender on the fly. But there was hope on the horizon.
New President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson had a plan. With or without Carmelo Anthony, he pledged to build a contender out of the Knicks using his patented Triangle Offense and a core of like-minded coaches and players. Fast-forward a month into the offseason and all of a sudden things don’t look so bad anymore. Carmelo Anthony re-signed with the Knicks on a 5-year (worth more that $122 million) deal that will keep him around for the foreseeable future. Phil Jackson traded Tyson Chandler and embattled point guard Raymond Felton to Dallas for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin and 2 2nd-round picks, one of which ended up becoming Cleanthony Early. Even with all these positive changes, the best is yet to come for the Knicks. Although the Knicks have vowed to be competitive this season, the entire organization has an eye on the summer of 2015. That is when Phil Jackson will have the flexibility to really build the team that he needs to be successful in New York.
If there is one thing the Knicks have to look forward to in summer 2015, it’s cap space. The large contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani will expire after this upcoming season and it will leave the Knicks with plenty of room to build a contender. All-Star caliber players such as Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, and Marc Gasol highlight the free agent class of 2015. But star chasing may not be the best method when trying to build the kind of balanced team that the Triangle Offense requires. With that being said, next summer’s #1 target should be Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. His defensive presence and offensive IQ makes him ideal for the Knicks plan going forward. Rajon Rondo is too ball-dominant and lacks the perimeter shooting ability to be a fit for the triangle offense. Tony Parker probably won’t leave the Spurs and his skill set isn’t ideal for the Triangle Offense either. Lamarcus Aldridge has recently stated that he’d ideally stay with the Trailblazers next summer and he tends to occupy the same places on the floor as Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks should look to use their cap space to sure up their core with consistent, complimentary role players. Wing players like Wesley Matthews and Danny Green who are solid perimeter defenders and capable 3-point shooters with high basketball IQ fit in seamlessly in the Triangle Offense.
There are some interesting situations to monitor around the league when it comes to the summer of 2015. There are players with early termination options that are likely to enter free agency to cash in on the inflation of the new contracts being given out. The Knicks have one of those situations in mercurial shooting guard J.R. Smith. He is making only $5,982,375 next year and has an option that will give him a slight increase in pay the next season. This summer has already seen shooting guards with inferior ability receive higher salaries such as Jodie Meeks at $6 million a year and Avery Bradley at $8 million a year. There are other players with early termination options that will likely test their market value in free agency such as Arron Afflalo and Al Jefferson, who’d be a great plan B if Marc Gasol doesn’t sign. The Knicks will also be in position to be a player in restricted free agency and can offer hard-to-match deals to players such as Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Vucevic, and Klay Thompson. The cap room will also give the Knicks the ability to take on salaries in trades.
The Eastern Conference will be wide open this season. The Knicks could be as good as a top-4 team in the conference or miss the playoffs altogether. Luckily, the Knicks have a first round pick in the upcoming draft. A moderate prediction on how the Knicks will play this season puts them in the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed. This would give them a middle of the pack first round pick that they could use to draft the likes of Myles Turner, Ilimane Diop, or Dakari Johnson. Those are just 3 of the big men in a draft filled with bigs from top to bottom. If the Knicks underachieve this season, prospects like Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein will make for great consolation prizes. If they thrive in the Triangle early and have a great season, Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky is an example of the kind of talented big man that could still fall to them in the draft.
The possibilities are limitless. Knicks fans should rest assured that the Knicks are headed in the right direction and have a structure they are trying to build on. The years of seemingly aimless and reactionary management are behind us at Madison Square Garden and better days are coming.