The roster is set for the New York Knicks pending a Carmelo Anthony trade, so I evaluated what moves the team has made so far.
The New York Knicks were still the New York Knicks this summer. Each time they took one step forward (firing Phil Jackson) they took two steps back (Tim Hardaway Jr.’s contract). They just can’t help themselves.
The new regime is still pondering potential Carmelo Anthony trades, but as of now, they have filled the 15 man roster. Most of the current group of Knicks is what we’ll see in 2017-18, except for whatever comes back in a trade for Anthony. After all this time, there’s no way it will be a great return.
So I evaluated all the moves New York has made so far to get to this point. We’ve reached the dog days of the NBA offseason, and that’s a good time for a recap.
As a naturally pessimistic fan, I was expecting to hand out an awful grade. That’s not how it went for the Knicks this summer. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. Sometimes that’s as good as you can hope for in New York.
The NBA Draft in June was a blast, for most teams. Free agency is primarily in the books with almost all the top guys now off the board. The hirings and firings (in the case of this summer lack thereof) have come and gone. Now we wait for the preseason to start.
Firing Phil Jackson
In three seasons running the Knicks Jackson’s teams compiled a record of 80-166. The former championship-winning head coach made some mind-boggling trades (Tyson Chandler to Dallas; J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland) and free agent signings (Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings).
His constant needling of Carmelo Anthony was bad enough, but when he flirted with the idea of trading Kristaps Porzingis that was the last straw. If Jackson was trying to get fired, there was no better way than alienating himself from the best Knicks draft pick since Patrick Ewing.
In a classic Knicks move, Jackson was allowed to draft triangle point guard Frank Ntilikina before being fired on June 28. Despite the unfortunate timing, the move was still a positive one as it removed the black cloud the Zen Master cast over the organization.
His outdated offense was draining the life out of the franchise, and it needed a kick start. While Jackson made plenty of basketball mistakes, it was his off the court nonsense that cost him his high-paying gig.
The Steve Mills-Scott Perry Dynamic
Jackson was replaced by the duo of Steve Mills and Scott Perry. Perry is the one with the basketball knowledge, but make no mistake Mills is in charge. He’s president while Perry is general manager serving under him.
Mills did say that Perry would be allowed to bring in his staff and that’s happened. Perry hired his former Orlando Magic colleagues, Michael Arcieri and Harold Ellis, to be Director of Basketball Strategy and Director of Player Personnel respectively.
Mills is considered a “Dolan guy” so there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about him. The bulk of his many years of front office experience has been on the business side of the organization. While he played basketball at Princeton under legendary head coach Pete Carrill his time as an executive on the basketball side of operations is still brief.
If Mills is willing to listen to Perry, and he probably will, then this could work. Unlike Mills, Perry has the experience. He began his career as an executive in 2000 with the Detroit Pistons and helped Joe Dumars build the team that won a championship in 2004.
Drafting Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson
I’ve said from the start that we shouldn’t make any judgments about Frank Ntilikina until we see him play. I know I can’t. Frank not playing in NBA Summer League was a killer for some Knicks fans.
They watched Dennis Smith Jr. (the point guard Phil passed on) set NBA Twitter on fire with highlight reel dunks and big scoring numbers. It’s true that Frank will never score like Smith, but we truly don’t know what he is yet. The guy hasn’t played a game against NBA competition.
Ntilikina’s rookie season, like most point guards, will likely be a struggle. Particularly since as an International prospect they always struggle with the new three-point line. Even Ntilikina himself admitted that he needs to get stronger to match-up with NBA point guards. He’s working on that now.
Second-round pick Damyean Dotson looks like a steal for the Knicks. That term is overused when it comes to draft picks, but in Dotson’s case, it’s fitting.
He stood out more than any other player on the Knicks summer league squad averaging 12.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists while shooting 48 percent from three-point range on over five attempts per game.
The Knicks were confident enough in his abilities as a potential 3-and-D stud to let Justin Holiday walk in free agency to the Bulls.
The Horrible Contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ron Baker
The worst move this summer (by far) was the Tim Hardaway Jr. signing. New York reacquired the 25-year-old swingman on a four-year, $71 million contract. Knicks fans reacted appropriately on Twitter.
What makes the large amount so much worse is that Hardaway’s a restricted free agent. Not only did the Knicks completely overbid, but the deal has a 15 percent trade kicker with a player option for the fourth season.
This has nothing to do with the player. Tim Hardaway is a nice rotation guy who can do some things well on offense, but he’s not a star, and the Knicks are paying him like they think he’s going to develop into one. His defense is an issue. The Knicks were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last season, and Hardaway’s so bad he makes them worse.
The Ron Baker deal is inexplicable. The 24-year-old was rewarded with a two-year, $8.9 million contract for averaging 4.1 points and 2.1 assists on 37.8 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from three-point range.
The kicker? Baker has a player option for the second season, and a technicality in the deal gives him a no-trade clause. That’s right, another no-trade clause. So much for learning from their mistake on Carmelo Anthony.
I love Ron “Burgundy” Baker as much as the next guy, but this move was just unnecessary. Baker will be making more money in 2017-18 than Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. The Knicks didn’t need to pay Baker like that. For some reason, they chose to.
One Year Rentals Ramon Sessions and Michael Beasley
Sessions was brought in to be the veteran mentor to Frank Ntilikina. The rookie is probably not ready to start right away and Sessions is a great choice to help the kid along.
The Knicks will be his eighth team in 11 NBA seasons. Sessions have been a reserve for the majority of his career, so the starting spot between him and Baker is probably up in the air. The veteran is also coming off knee surgery. That could factor in.
Beasley is on the team to score. That’s probably it. With Carmelo’s departure imminent, the Knicks will need someone else to put the ball in the basket beside Porzingis. Beasley can fill that role.
Expect the former No. 2 overall pick to take a lot of shots. He’s still on the right side of 30 (28), so he’ll be looking to prove something for his next contract. Something else worth noting: Like Anthony, Beasley loves to iso. Loves it.
Final Grade: C
So overall I give the Knicks a “C” grade. Some of you optimists might think that’s too low and some of you pessimists probably think they deserve an “F” after the Tim Hardaway deal.
To me, they’re somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s the best you can hope for with the Knicks.