Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Knicks Catch Their Fish

It may not have been Phil Jackson's first choice, but the Zen Master finally inked one of his own to come coach the New York Knicks. Derek Fisher, the 18 year NBA vet last seen two weeks ago vying for a NBA Finals appearance with the Oklahoma City Thunder, agreed to a 5 year/$25 million dollar deal to come to the Big Apple on Monday.

Fisher has no coaching experience, but with five NBA titles and close to 260 playoff games under his belt, he is no stranger to success on the basketball court. His familiarity with the triangle offense, and his assumed approachability with Phil, made him a ideal candidate for the job. Especially after Jackson's first choice, Steve Kerr, signed with the Warriors, following a low-ball offer from Knicks owner James Dolan.

With the head coaching spot finally solidified, the next step will be constructing a roster that gives Fisher and the Knicks the best chance to succeed. The obvious question mark in all of this is All Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who intends to opt out the final year of his current deal come July 1st.

The Knicks can offer him more years and money than any other team once he hits free agency, which keeps them at the forefront of the Carmelo sweepstakes. But Jackson has already alluded to wanting Melo to sign for less than the max, and Anthony's desire to win-now as he approaches the back end of his career may see him bolt to form his own "Big 3" before it is too late, most likely in either Houston or Chicago.

Melo leaving would actually be the Knicks best case scenario moving forward. As their roster stands now, there's no chance they could possibly dethrone LeBron's Heat (let alone the Wizards or Pacers) in the foreseeable future, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A sign and trade deal could potentially net them multiple first round draft picks (something they have never been on the receiving end of in the Dolan era) and perhaps some young talent like Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic or Chandler Parsons. New York will also shed $50 million dollars from their cap once Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler come off the books next summer. Moving Melo would help weaken their roster, increasing their odds of stumbling into a high lottery pick (Jahlil Okafor, anyone?) in the 2015 draft.

If you look around the league, every serious title contender features at least one star player whom they acquired through the draft. In most cases it's two or more (Spurs, Thunder, Pacers, Clippers, Blazers, Bulls), though the Heat and Rockets are exceptions to that theory for obvious reasons (they were able to sign *multiple* top 10 players during the primes of their careers). The Knicks already dealt away their 2016 first rounder last summer (along with two second rounders) for Bargnani, in a deal that seemed just as boneheaded then as it does now. That makes the Knicks 2015 pick all that much more valuable. Anything less than a home run could mean as many as five more years of mediocrity.

The Knicks have had an impressive track record when it comes to drafting rookies in recent years (Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. all made First Team All Rookie), though they'll find themselves sitting on the sidelines when the draft heads to Brooklyn's Barclay Center at the end of the month, as a result of 2011's blockbuster deal for Anthony. The #12 pick in the draft now belongs to Orlando, by way of Denver, and could very well wind up being an immediate impact player like Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris or Doug McDermott. Regardless of who the Magic pick, it will sting for Knicks fans, though I can't fault them for including that pick in the deal. It had to be done, but it goes to show how valuable assets like first round draft picks are. 

If New York can flip Melo for future picks it would provide hope of a better tomorrow for the smart fans of the organization who realize they are in no position to contend for a title in the present, and lower Fisher's immediate expectations with the team, allowing him to grow as a coach without the unreasonable high expectations that have derailed so many others before him. 

I'd take that over a second round exit any day.

-fresh (@danye33


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