Phil Jackson has previously been associated with the New York Knicks. And it was a winning time for the team. Although not as significant as others on the team, Jackson was a member of the Knicks’ teams that won Championships in 1970 and 1973. He was last affiliated with the Knicks on April 23, 1978 when he played his final game in uniform for the team. Much has changed in the Big Apple since his departure 35 years ago. The team has failed to capture a ring since that ’73 title run and the team up to this point in the season is moving in the wrong direction.
Last season, the Knicks finished with an impressive 54-28 record and the second seed in the Eastern Conference. They won their first playoff series in a decade and it looked like the Knicks were finally coming back from a decade of turbulence that included front office mishaps and issues with player personnel. It appeared as if the Knicks were building a head of steam and could potentially make another big step by making the Eastern Conference Finals this season. This hope faded quickly though as the Knicks held a 3-13 record by the beginning of December. Head Coach Mike Woodson was blamed for the dismal record, but no single member of the team could possibly have taken full responsibility for the atrocious start. The team was out of playoff contention and the team looked at this season as a failure until very recently.
New York has been climbing itself out of the hole that it dug for itself in the past couple weeks. Prior to the official signing of Phil Jackson, the Knicks were riding a six game winning streak and hitting its stride. The Knicks faced its biggest challenge in the past few weeks when it played Indiana tonight. I don’t know if it was Phil Jackson’s presence at Madison Square Garden, but the Knicks played some of their best ball of the season during that win against a gritty Pacers team. They currently stand four games out of the final playoff spot in the poor performing East. The momentum from the last week and an easy slate of upcoming games may turn things around in New York this season. The Jackson signing can’t hurt either.
More importantly, the five-year $60 million signing of Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations provides optimism for the future of the franchise. The Zen master, who holds the highest winning percentage (70.2% at 1155-485) in NBA history, now takes on his first front office position. Nobody knows for certain if his winning ways will translate to him as an executive. Yet, his signing certainly provides the aforementioned motivation for his players to work harder. And he knows what kinds of things need to be in place for the wins to pile up.
At this point, his top priority must be to sign Carmelo Anthony, who is expected to opt out of his current deal. New York can offer him almost $30 million more than any other team this summer at five years for $129 million. It has also recently been reported that Melo is willing to change his role within the offense and even take less money if Jackson believes that it can bolster the team’s performance and chances at a title in the near future.
Past this, Jackson does not seem to have much room to operate. Andrea Bargnani, Tyson Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire are all signed until the end of next year at a whopping $50 million. This doesn’t allow for much room this offseason but Jackson will have to make a splash in free agency the following summer. This lack of financial flexibility causes problems for a team that has mediocre role players. No solution is in sight unless Jackson can work his magic by restructuring a few contracts in the next several months.
All signs also point to Jackson dismissing Coach Mike Woodson at the conclusion of this season. It will be interesting to see who Jackson picks to succeed the underperforming Woodson. He might pick someone who implements the triangle offense, a game plan Jackson made popular during his tenures with the Bulls and Lakers. Ultimately, Jackson will be the one shaping the offense for years to come with his acquisitions and shaping of the roster.
Nevertheless, the fate of the franchise essentially rests in Jackson’s hands as owner James Dolan will give him unlimited room to operate. This is pretty difficult for Dolan, who’s basically influenced every single decision the Knicks have made since the turn of the century. Jackson has the opportunity to bring a glimmer of hope to a fan base that hasn’t seen much success in quite some time. His recent signing with New York ushers in a new era of optimism and hopefully wins for a club that has been struggling since his departure three and a half decades ago.
JR Smith will most likely not wear a New York Knick uniform next year. Since JR Smith opted out of his contract, the Knicks need to fill his void if he decides not to re-sign. From a Knicks fan perspective: “give him everything he wants and literally match any offer. Without him we’re not getting close to advancing out of the first round.” Glen Grunwald’s perspective is probably completely different though. This is the harsh reality that Knick fans must face. The Knicks don’t exactly have too many good options at replacing the Knicks secondary scorer after Carmelo Anthony. Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Novak, Ray Felton, and Iman Shumpert all come to mind as possible candidates. Although Tyson Chandler is one of the best defenders in the NBA, he is void of any offensive talent. His high field goal percentage is in part because every other shot he takes is a dunk. This is also assuming that Chris Copeland, the three point specialist, doesn’t re-sign. Last season, he produced 8.7 PPG but in a very limited capacity (15.4 MPG). No matter how inefficient JR Smith was in the postseason, this year’s regular season was his coming out party, averaging 18.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in his sixth man role. In order for the Knicks to even reach the Eastern Conference Semi Finals again, another Knick needs to step up and accept the challenge.
Amar’e Stoudemire’s Case
STAT was paid more than Tyson Chandler this year and about half a million less than Carmelo Anthony and is going to be paid more than either next year. It’s a combined total of $41,628,692 with another $23,410,988 coming his way during the 2014/2015 NBA season. Yet, injuries have derailed him the last couple season. He played in 29 games and has averaged 23.5 MPG and 14.2 PPG. His first season in New York, 2010 was his best when he averaged 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks a game. His numbers were actually a little higher until the February of that season, when Carmelo came to the Knicks. Critics of the trade say that Melo and STAT can’t coexist and it has been proven in the last two and a half years. They have a point: Amar’e has averaged fewer numbers each subsequent season and his worst season in NY was last, 14.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG. But, what these seemingly knowledgeable critics haven’t accounted for, is Stoudemire’s limited play due to injuries. In the last two seasons, injuries have derailed his playing time to the point of him only playing 76 games and the latter 29 saw him not starting. So, it’s not a matter of them not coexisting but an alternate factor comes into play. If Stoudemire played 36 minutes last season, which he’s done a few times in his career, he could’ve scored around 21 PPG. But, because of his injuries, I don’t look to him performing and taking on a scoring burden next season. Stoudemire will most probably never be the same player that we saw in 2010.
Steve Novak’s Case
Novak is a great and an efficient three point shooter who led the league in three point efficiency a couple years ago. Beyond that he sucks. His defense is poor because of his athletic ability and qualities. He lacks speed, strength, agility, and toughness. He can’t pass or grab boards. He averages 1.9 RPG and 0.4 APG in 20.3 minutes. The rebounding stat is pretty heinous considering he is 6 foot 10. His scoring beyond the three is not that great. He only averages 6.6 points a game. He’ll be lucky if he could even score half of what the eventual secondary scorer will attain. It was my mistake for even putting him in this discussion.
Raymond Felton’s Case
I think Ray Felton is the most viable candidate to take on the job. He is the current starting point guard who touches the ball every possession down the court. He averaged 13.9 PPG and 5.5 APG this past season. He brings a lot of energy to the team, but might get too excited sometimes. He decides to take layups at inappropriate times when there might be two big men in the paint. Not surprisingly, he is one of the most blocked players on the team. This questionable play calling might be him channeling his inner JR Smith. His physical fitness was in much question a couple seasons ago but has improved tremendously this season and look for him to improve even more in agility and speed for this upcoming season. During his first stint with the Knicks, he averaged 17.1 points, 9.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game in 38.4 minutes a game. Unfortunately for him, Felton was a part of the massive Carmelo deal and got dealt to the Nuggets. Hopefully, he can put up these kind of numbers next season without a selfish JR Smith. He has proven though that he can thrive in a Knicks system and I look to him to step up to the challenge and have a much better season next year.
Iman Shumpert’s Case
I think he’s the most exciting prospect to become a bigger scorer and have a bigger role in the Knicks offseason. Everything about him excites me, his athleticism, ability to knock down threes (39.6%), perimeter defense, and high top fade. Shump came back from a torn ACL this year and played bench minutes (22.1 MPG) but will definitely become more productive next year. Yet, it’s ambiguous how much of an immediate improvement and impact we’ll see from him next season. But, he is definitely an integral part of the Knick future.
Melo clearly needs a partner to help the Knicks go deeper in the playoffs. We all know that he has his streaks that can span quarters, games, and even series. But, the other times when his shot isn’t falling or on the bench, he needs somebody to take over the offense. After all, he averaged 37 minutes a game this past season. The other time, worth almost a quarter was when JR Smith got a large chunk of his points and when he was the primary scorer in the second unit. I’m only hoping that another secondary scorer doesn’t have to be selected and the Knicks can hold on to Smith because of the Knicks’ lack of options.
The 2002-2003 NBA season saw the San Antonio Spurs beat the Nets in the NBA Finals, Tim Duncan winning MVP, Tracy McGrady winning the scoring title, and the Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers tied for the worst record in the NBA, both having a 17-65 record. When the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery came along, the Nuggets and Cavaliers each had a 22.5% chance of winning the number one overall pick. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they didn’t get the first or second pick in the draft eventually dropping to the third pick. The Memphis Grizzlies attained the second overall pick, but because of a 1997 trade with the Pistons for Otis Thorpe, it was awarded to Detroit.
2003 NBA Draft
Today marks the 10th anniversary to the day of the 2003 NBA Draft. Every NBA fan in the country knows who the Cavs selected with the #1 overall pick and how that panned out. LeBron James was considered one of the most anticipated basketball players in NBA draft history, so much that 2003 was dubbed the “LeBron Lottery”. But after that pick, the next four picks were met with uncertainty. Joe Dumars, the Pistons’ President of Basketball Operations, saw a 17 year old Serbian named Darko Miličić workout several hours before the lottery and felt that he could help the Pistons win another title, which hadn’t been done since Isaiah Thomas’ Bad Boy Pistons. Prior to the workout, the projected second overall pick was Carmelo Anthony, a freshmen who just led Syracuse to the NCAA Championship. Anthony fell to Denver with the third pick because of the massive gamble that Detroit took. Chris Bosh was fourth to the Toronto Raptors and Dwayne Wade went fifth to the Miami Heat. Of these first five picks, Wade, the fifth, was the first to win an NBA Finals MVP and led the “Redeem Team” in scoring during the 2008 Summer Olympics. Yet, I don’t believe he should have gone second in the draft if this draft was picked all over again 10 years later.
Initial Pick: #1
10 years later: #1
Every NBA fan and NBA player will say that LeBron should have definitely been picked first overall in this draft with the exception of Cavs fans. He is a four time MVP, two time Finals MVP, two time NBA champion, and nine time All-Star. He is the most successful NBA player to ever come straight out of high school. In his first decade in the league, he has accumulated the most points, assists, steals, and is 7th in rebounds for any prep-to-pro player in their first 10 years in the league. The rebound statistic is impressive considering that for the majority of his career he has played small forward. LeBron’s versatility is unquestionable as he has the ability to play any one of the five positions on the floor at any given time. Although he was scrutinized greatly about his signing with the Miami Heat, people tend to forget that he is still the centerpiece of his team, not Wade. He posted one of the all time greatest stat lines in history this season, but 26.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.3 APG, and 1.7 SPG seems pedestrian for his standards. People will continue to challenge his ability to perform when the pressure is on because of his failure to do so earlier in his career, but Game 6 and Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals will attest to his recent growing dominance in clutch time.
Initial Pick: #2
10 years later: NA
The Detroit Pistons and everybody on their staff from their most senior executive to their assistant coaches were enamored with Miličić after watching him workout the day of the NBA Lottery. They asked him to do certain post moves and drives. They thought it was the best basketball workout they had ever seen and these people had been in basketball for decades. But in hindsight, I’m sure everyone there has thought that they should have seen him play more than once before making him the second overall pick in a star studded draft class. And now, Darko Miličić’s name is added to the list, Sam Bowie, Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Kwame Brown. Miličić might even top this list of North America’s historic draft busts. At least Bowie, who was drafted above Jordan, had a few decent seasons where he averaged over 11 PPG topping at 16. Darko Miličić has never had a season over 9 PPG or 6 RPG. However, he is the first of the first five selections to win an NBA Championship, but hardly had an impact on the title run. He averaged a mere 4.7 minutes per game and 1.4 PPG during that season, coincidentally his rookie campaign. He never played starting minutes in his NBA career. Miličić doesn’t even play in the NBA anymore. A decade later, Dumars and the Pistons surely regret this pick, as Miličić will go down in NBA infamy for being selected above Anthony, Bosh, or Wade, all All-Stars. If he was redrafted with all of this knowledge, I’m certain that he wouldn’t even make for a mid second round pick.
Initial Pick: #3
10 years later: #2
Carmelo Anthony was an exciting prospect that led his school to the NCAA Championship as a freshman. He had an innate scoring ability with a big frame when filled out with muscle could make for a dangerous offensive player. Anthony won the scoring title this year, he’s a six time All-Star, and scored the most points in history in a single game for the US Olympic team (37). When he was with Denver, he single-handedly led them to the Western Conference Finals one season. Anthony shoots a higher career three point percentage (33.4%) than Dwayne Wade (28.9%). Melo and Wade have virtually the same career PPG, Melo has 25.0 PPG and Wade, 24.7 PPG. Of the first five players drafted, Melo is the most statistically clutch when it comes to the last 24 seconds in the game. From 2006-2012, Melo shot 37.5% (15/40), LeBron shot 29.5% (18/61), and Wade shot 18.9% (10/53). The difference however are the titles won. Melo still hasn’t won that elusive ring that haunted LeBron for nine years. Meanwhile, Wade has won three rings in the last ten years. But, the argument can be made that Melo has never had a strong supporting cast to help him capture the ring, while Wade had Shaq in 2006 and of course, LeBron in 2012 and 2013. Clearly, Wade was not the main driver behind the latter two championship runs. Shaq’s support in the 2006 season made a huge difference as he averaged 20.0 PPG and 9.2 RPG to go along with almost 2 BPG. To be fair, Wade too played outstanding basketball in the Finals, scoring at least 35 points in Games 3, 4, 5, and 6, which helped him garner the NBA Finals MVP. Nevertheless, it’s probably my love for the Knicks, but if I were to draft the 2003 class again, Melo would be second overall and not Wade.
Initial Pick: #4
10 years later: #4
Chris Bosh has been under appreciated by all NBA fans his entire career with the exception of Toronto Raptor fans who adored him the seven years he was there. The member of the Big Three who’s always left out, is an eight time All-Star and two time NBA Champ. Of the top five, I believe Chris Bosh is the only one who should stay at the position he was drafted excluding LeBron. This past season, he had a higher true shooting percentage than Carmelo and Wade. He generally averages more rebounds than any of the other top five picks in part because of his size and role as a big man. This season however was a poor performance from Bosh and I expect him to do much better next year. He averaged a career low in rebounds (6.8) and had his lowest scoring output (16.6), since his first year in the league. He has the ability to go inside and drive but shoots perimeter shots as well. He was heavily criticized for this, during this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, where he allowed Roy Hibbert and David West to attain rebounds they wouldn’t usually because he wasn’t boxing them out in the paint.
Initial Pick: #5
10 years later: #3
Pat Riley and the Miami Heat organization were contemplating picking Dwayne Wade or Chris Kaman. Before he declared himself for the draft, Dwayne Wade, as a junior led Marquette to the Final Four while notching a Triple Double, only the fourth in NCAA tournament history. I’m sure Riley is very happy with his decision in picking Wade over Kaman. Wade is noted for his ability to drive hard using his quickness and speed. Wade has won a scoring title, is a nine time All-Star, and has the aforementioned NBA titles on his resumé. For a shooting guard, Wade is very efficient, shooting 48.9% in his career and traditionally averages around 1.5-2.0 SPG. In the Carmelo Anthony segment, I explained my rationale and why I believe that Wade should have gone third overall.
Where 2003 will be in history
1984, 1996, and 2003 will go down as arguably the three greatest draft classes in NBA History. 1984 featured Jordan, Olajuwon, Barkley, and Stockton. There have been only four quadruple-doubles in NBA history and two of them were achieved by people in this draft class, Hakeem Olajuwon and Alvin Robertson. ’96’s class had Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, and Steve Nash. Both of these classes possessed great scorers, rebounders, passers, defenders, and winners. These same great traits are held by members of the 2003 class. There is no doubt though that 2003’s class is already the greatest draft class since the turn of the century. Perhaps, when all is said and done the 2003 NBA Draft class could top the list. This class is special, it’s got more in its tank and is going for history.