Latest posts by Larry Fleisher (see all)
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Phil Jackson won the first two of his 13 rings as a player and coach with the New York Knicks. For a Knick fan, it is a nice sentiment to think about.
Then you realize that those titles came in 1970 and 1973 and then you remember that his first four championships with the Chicago Bulls came after beating the Knicks at some point, including 1993, which was the franchise’s last really great opportunity at a ring.
To say it’s been a painful and tantalizing close journey for Knick fans since 1973 would be an understatement. Now Jackson is the latest person entrusted with the job of fixing the Knicks, who have won one playoff series since Patrick Ewing played his last game in 2000.
The Knicks entered last year with expectations the highest they’ve been since the Ewing era. They were coming off their first Atlantic division championship in two decades and had high expectations, though not as high as owner Jim Dolan’s.
That was when the Knicks were coming off a 54-win season and their first playoff series victory since 2000.
Instead, the Knicks careened towards disaster. They never recovered from the 3-13 start and spent last year trying to catch up before finishing with a disappointing 37 wins.
And enter Zen and the Triangle.
Jackson will not have direct control of the Triangle offense but he hired someone very familiar with its intricacies. That man is Derek Fisher, a five-time champion with Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers and fresh off a playing career.
Fisher will have Carmelo Anthony, which is a relief to Knick fans even if you think he’s a ball-stopper or any other negative term. Anthony had to do it all last year when he averaged 27.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in 38.7 minutes per game and even that was not enough because the decrease in high quality performances around him.
Anthony could have joined forces with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago. Instead he elected to re-sign in New York and hope the salary cap room following the 2015-16 season becomes the special something for the Knicks.
“I think any time you have a new coach, a new energy comes along with that. You can just walk around the building and feel that energy,” Anthony told reporters. “You can just see everybody is rejuvenated again. Everybody wants to win, everybody wants to do what’s right to help this team be successful,” he said. “So at the end of the day, I believe that we’ll be there at the end.”
Besides keeping Anthony, the other thing that Jackson had to do was swiftly remedy the point guard situation. He did that with one move by dealing Raymond Felton, who was viewed as the cause and not the solution to Knick problems, for Jose Calderon, who has an outstanding 4:1 assist to turnover ratio and is a 44.9 percent shooter from three-point range.
As good as Anthony’s and Calderon’s offense has been, defense will play a role. The switch-heavy principles of former coach Mike Woodson had mixed results (average in 2012-13 but 24th in defensive efficiency last season). Other than Iman Shumpert, there is not a expected rotation player known for his defense and that includes Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, and J.R. Smith.
All four of those have something to prove.
Shumpert has dealt with injuries, poor relations with coaches, and constant trade rumors. Stoudemire is playing for his next contract and looking to build off a decent season following two injury-plagued years. Bargnani will miss the first three games but after that will be trying to prove that he’s some semblance of the player worthy of a top pick. Smith will be trying to prove he’s not among the leaders in the league’s all-knucklehead team and that he’s more like the player who won Sixth Man of the Year two years ago in a contract season.
The Knicks are not at the level they were when they competed against Jackson’s teams in the playoffs. Whether they’re a 37-win team or a middle seed in the East is also contingent how long learning the triangle offense translates into wins.