The Knicks are light years ahead of where they used to be and all because of Phil Jackson. By drafting Kristaps Porzingis and sliding him next to Carmelo Anthony, Jackson has done the unthinkable, sort of like digging for gold in rock. He has complimented Carmelo’s game without ruining it or damaging Carmelo’s fragile psyche that can go south in a hurry if he doesn’t feel validated. Add to that, the signing of Robin Lopez, and it gives the Knicks a viable center in an era where centers don’t really matter.
There are still holes. The Knicks need a point guard who can control the tempo, make perimeter shots and drive in the lane and finish, not to mention defend hyper-skilled guards like Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. The rest of the roster is B level. Aron Afflalo is a decent enough shooting guard when he is healthy. Langston Galloway adds punch off the bench and is a solid role player who doesn’t try to be something he is not. Derrick Williams is a failed lottery pick but can score some and rebound. These are the pieces you need when trying to bring in the second best player in the NBA, Kevin Durant.
The Knicks, if healthy, should compete for the lower half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, and Jackson has everything to do with that. The jury is still out on Derek Fisher as a coach, even after a much improved second season with victories over the Raptors and Thunder.
Come late April we’ll see exactly how competent Fisher is.
But Jackson has done exactly what he was supposed to do despite the doubters. He has built the Knicks, step by step, crafting them in his own image. With Jackson, it’s always going to be the front court first and defense. Credit his acumen.
The Knicks are 6th in field goal percentage defense (42%). They are 1st in 3-point percentage defense (30%). They are 5th in rebounding, 8th in steals, 2nd in free throw percentage (81%).
Smarter than 75% of NBA scouts who evaluate talent for a living, Jackson is aware there are no in their prime Michael Jordans or Kobe Bryants out there.
Or, is there?
Kevin Durant, in his unrestricted free agent year, has the opportunity to take a 42 win team and turn them into a 55 win team and in the Eastern Conference that allows you to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls with a conference finals trip on the slate. Escaping the Western Conference and the young Warriors who are set to be this good for the next five years is one of the benefits that Jackson will try to sell. And then there is the Knicks franchise itself.
It’s been 42 years since the Knicks won a NBA title- that agonizing bit of history trivia can be a tad extreme causing Knick fans to anoint the average and hail the mediocre.
Durant coming in and delivering the Knicks just one title would have a similar impact of LeBron doing the same in his home state. Except, the only ones who care about the Cavs winning in Ohio are natives of Ohio. A dominant Knicks team would impact more than the boroughs, and the tri-state region. Durant would be bigger than Steph Curry is now. LeBron, at 32, would slip into third place on the importance scale.
It still sounds farfetched until you consider that Durant has already signed on to big market possibilities by joining forces with Jay-Z’s agency. From appearances, small town Oklahoma City is on the clock, but there is another way of looking at it too. Durant is attached to what he has built in OKC and the Thunder still are the frontrunner.
Durant prizes family and he has family on the Thunder. Could he leave that, leave Westbrook? Durant and Westbrook have built an infrastructure in OKC. If Durant leaves, Westbrook, more than likely, will leave the year after and then what is left of their eight years? What was accomplished but a failed NBA Finals appearance?
Recently, Durant has allowed his media sensitivity to show, blasting reporters about how they cover athletes, all of which he thinks is unfair. Could he survive in the media capital with their non-stop coverage? There is nothing Durant can compare it to, no way for him to prepare for the onslaught of attention 24-7. Already, Durant is fatigued by what he perceives to be negative stories on athletes he reveres (Kobe Bryant). It just may be that New York is a level of invasiveness Durant may not be wired to handle on a day to day basis. It’s a city not made for everyone, even talented stars.
Carmelo Anthony is another interesting sub-plot in this story. He would welcome Durant and everything that Durant brings because Carmelo has not been a winner in the way the NBA celebrates. Durant would instantly solve that. But at the same time, the city and franchise that was Carmelo’s and Carmelo’s alone, he would have to share with a bigger celebrity, a better and younger player. Carmelo would no longer be untradeable. The pieces would be centered around Durant. How would Carmelo handle the throne ripped away, given to someone else?
Durant wants to win a NBA title. He could conceivably follow in James’ footsteps and take a losing franchise to the greatest heights it has known in over four decades. He could take a risk. He could trust Jackson.
The winners would be Durant, New York, the NBA. And the Zen Master, of course.
photo via llananba