We all know Phil Jackson’s time in New York was filled with drama on and off the court. All of us have opinions on Jackson’s coaching hires, trades and free-agent signings. We’ll leave it to others today to look at his legacy in New York and where things ultimately went wrong.
Instead, let’s take a look at the here and now with the Knicks and where things stand in the wake of Jackson’s departure days before free agency:
Where do the Knicks go from here? As ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported, the club has prioritized free agency at the moment over finding a replacement for Jackson. Many in the organization are fans of Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Their interest in Ujiri is real, according to sources, but the compensation that may (?) be needed to pry Ujiri out of his Raptors contract could be a holdup.
The Knicks know they are in the midst of a rebuild and have no appetite for parting with future first-round picks. It will be interesting to see where things go from here. If you talk to some people connected to Toronto, they believe a deal will eventually get done. Folks in New York are more skeptical. If things don’t progress with Ujiri, it would be surprising if New York didn’t check in on former Cavs GM David Griffin to gauge his interest. Another name that has been mentioned internally as a candidate is Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti, sources told ESPN. The Knicks would likely need to offer compensation to OKC for Presti, who is currently under contract.
For now and for the foreseeable future, Knicks GM Steve Mills will be the club’s top decision-maker.
Carmelo Anthony's future? Jackson is gone. So is the triangle offense, presumably. So it would be safe to assume that Carmelo is in a Knicks uniform at the start of next season. But there are still plausible scenarios that put Anthony in another city next season. The Knicks at this time have no appetite to buy out, waive or stretch Anthony (ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that Anthony’s camp requested a buyout).
So the only way Anthony leaves New York at this point is via trade. One team to keep an eye on is the Houston Rockets. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported that the Rockets feel they can acquire either Anthony or Paul George (or maybe both?). Would Anthony waive his no-trade clause to go to Houston? That’s unclear. His relationship with Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni was strained, at best, when D’Antoni left New York.
But new Rocket Chris Paul was telling friends recently that he’d like to play with Anthony, his close friend, per league sources. Can Houston put together a package that entices the Knicks? Ryan Anderson is said to be available in a trade but his salary is onerous for a team like New York that wants to rebuild. Anderson is under contract for another three years at about $20 million per year.
Given all the parameters at play, Melo to Houston seems like a long shot. It’s worth noting that, had Paul stayed with the Clippers, the Knicks and Clippers had discussed a trade involving Anthony for a package that included Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and a future first-round pick, league sources told ESPN. It’s unclear if Anthony would have waived his no-trade clause to join the Clippers in this scenario. The guess here is that Anthony remains in New York but the possibility that he leaves is certainly not dead at this point.
What about Kristaps? The guess here is that Mills or another member of the organization will reach out to Kristaps Porzingis as soon as possible to talk about the future in the wake of Jackson’s departure. The mistake some people are making here is to conflate Porzingis’ frustration with the Knicks’ drama and dysfunction with issues surrounding Anthony. The two are mostly unrelated, according to sources. It also appears that the Knicks’ discussions with other teams about trading Porzingis are on hold and will likely die if they can get back on the same page with Porzingis.
Some have said that Jackson was just playing a "mind game" with Porzingis and the Knicks had no intention of trading him. That’s inaccurate. Several members of the organization were in favor of moving Porzingis before the draft, per sources. The Knicks were in serious conversations with both the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics. It’s also worth noting that members of the organization talked to rookie Lauri Markkanen's camp prior to the draft about the possibility of trading Porzingis, sources say.
What about free agency? Jeff Teague, who probably wouldn’t have had interest in the Knicks while Jackson was team president, now sees New York as a potential destination in the wake of Jackson’s departure, as ESPN reported. Teague is an interesting candidate for New York.
He will command a high salary but could be worth it for the Knicks in several areas. Teague was incredibly efficient for Indiana last season, ranking in the top 16 percent in both PER (19.24) and win shares per 48 minutes (0.146). He also creates his own shot, has a strong assist rate (36.4 percent) and gets to the free throw line -- all areas where New York struggled at times last season.
Some members of the organization also see point guard George Hill as a potential free-agent target. Hill had a strong season in Utah and most around the league expect him to remain with the Jazz or end up in San Antonio. Minnesota, which has interest in several top point guards, also could be a destination for Hill. The Knicks would likely have to create cap space to sign either Teague or Hill.
Taking Derrick Rose’s cap hold off the books, the Knicks project to have less than $12 million in space. Speaking of Rose, the Knicks had legitimate interest in signing the free-agent point guard when Jackson was running the club, per sources. It is unclear if that is still the case with Mills in charge.
Point guard aside, the Knicks are interested in tough-minded veterans such as PJ Tucker, according to sources, and are looking, in particular, for players who can compete on both ends of the floor.
New York also has high interest in retaining its own free agents, including Justin Holiday and Ron Baker. Holiday is expected to draw interest from several suitors, including multiple Eastern Conference teams. So New York will have competition there. According to league sources, the club is also expected to extend a qualifying offer to Baker, making him a restricted free agent. This would give the Knicks the opportunity to match any offer made to Baker, who has fans from several organizations around the league. The Knicks may have to use some of their cap space to re-sign Baker.
What about the triangle? It’s a safe bet to say that the triangle offense, or at least the iteration of it that we’ve seen over the past few seasons in New York, is dead. Head coach Jeff Hornacek will have the freedom to run the offense that he sees fit. Some people have subsequently questioned why the Knicks drafted a player who they felt fit the triangle well in Frank Ntilikina if Jackson was on the way out.
But it’s worth noting that Ntilikina played well in the pick-and-roll as a pro player in France, according to his teammates. So it seems as if he has the skill set to adapt to any offense. And he projects as a strong defender, which is useful no matter what offense the Knicks run.
It’s definitely fair to question the Knicks’ decision to pass over Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk. But it seems shortsighted to peg Ntilikina as a triangle-only player. For what it’s worth, Smith Jr. has told people that he wasn’t enthused about the idea of running the triangle offense after his meeting with the Knicks, per sources.