Phil Jackson had a simple message for free-agent signee Brandon Jennings.
“He said he expects me to be sixth man of the year,” Jennings said Friday. “So I’m definitely gonna embrace that role. I don’t see why I can’t be in that conversation, and I’m fine with it. I’m definitely fine with it.”
Jennings spoke during an introductory media conference at the New York Knicks' practice facility on Friday. The club agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal with Jennings earlier in the week.
Jennings will be the Knicks' first guard off the bench and serve as insurance if Derrick Rose has to miss time. The club also signed Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah over the summer, taking a decidedly "win now" approach in 2016-17.
“I feel like we can compete with anybody in the East right now,” Jennings said. “The East did get better; the Bulls got better of course and the Cavs are still the Cavs, but I don’t see why we can’t be in that top-five conversation. We have the talent. The main thing is we just got to stay healthy.”
Jennings is entering 2016-17 with some health concerns. He suffered a torn left Achilles in January 2015 and missed nearly 12 months. In the last half of the 2015-16 season with the Magic, he produced 20 points or more on three occasions, as well as a pair of outings with double-digit assists.
“I definitely have a chip on my shoulder,” Jennings said, adding that he’s looking to disprove the theory that he doesn’t like basketball. “I just want to prove that I’m back to who I am and that I can still play, I can still go and I’m healthy. I think the main thing is just showing people that I’m healthy and I’m back, and that I can still run a team.”
Jennings is scheduled to enter free agency in the summer of 2017, when the salary cap is expected to exceed $100 million.
That’s something that Jennings is aware of (“It’s good to be a free agent next year,” he says) but his primary focus is on the court. “This is the only thing that matters and that’s important to me.”
Lee an early target: Shooting guard Courtney Lee said he got a call from Phil Jackson within the first five minutes of free agency. He took some calls from other clubs, but ultimately settled on New York, signing a four-year, $48 million deal with the club. “I just felt it was a great situation,” he said. Lee said that he and Jackson discussed the club’s triangle offense. “He’s going to give coach [Jeff] Hornacek the freedom to run what he wants to run but it’ll be some kind of structure that’s going to be similar to the triangle offense,” Lee said.