Phil Jackson says Carmelo Anthony told him during a postseason meeting that getting a point guard should be a priority. The Knicks president listened, agreed and got one.
That set the wheels in motion for the acquisition of Derrick Rose in a trade that shaped the Knicks’ offseason plan. It changed the Knicks from a team being rebuilt slowly to one that is in win-now mode to help meet Anthony’s timeline to be a playoff contender.
The Knicks signed Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings. Add Rose, and that’s four veterans with 162 games of playoff experience to join Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis in hopes of ending the Knicks’ three-year postseason hiatus and getting them a seat at the marquee free agents’ table next summer.
A good season could improve the Knicks’ chances of landing franchise-changing point guard Russell Westbrook next July. Kevin Durant, who left the Thunder and signed with the Warriors, wouldn’t even grant the Knicks a meeting during this free agency.
“I think it just made us feel good about our approach in terms of how we dealt with free agency this year,” general manager Steve Mills said. “We knew that KD wanted to go to a team that he felt like had a chance to win the championship this upcoming season and we didn’t fit that bill.”
The Knicks think they will fit the bill next year, and it started with Rose.
Jackson said he and Mills considered chasing a point guard in free agency. They ended up going to Plan B, acquiring Rose and Justin Holiday from Chicago for Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant.
“It was really a Plan A,” Jackson said.
Without Rose, the Knicks might not have gotten Noah and Lee or even Jennings.
Noah said he probably wouldn’t have entertained the Knicks if they didn’t have Rose, his former Bulls teammate. Lee said Noah helped recruit him to the Knicks and that he wanted to play with Rose. Jennings said he’s excited about playing against one of the best point guards in practice.
“The initial beginning of this started with the trade for Derrick Rose,” Jackson said. “That kind of accentuated how we are going to approach this free- agent year, the direction that we wanted to head towards.”
Rose, a former MVP, at one time was the best point guard in the league. He’s only 27, so although he has had three knee surgeries in the last five years, the Knicks hope Rose can return to being an elite player.
He’s already lifted the mood and expectations around a team that has won one playoff series in 16 years, and he might turn out to be the best player Anthony has ever played with.
“We need to have other forceful players that have established games to come to this team to activate our team,” Jackson said. “I saw an opportunity with Rose to have that individual that would come in and take that load off of Carmelo as a scorer. Derrick gave us that opportunity to move forward a little bit quicker than we anticipated.”
Jackson, who is 49-115 in his two full seasons as president, has assembled one of the better starting units in the league. If they stay healthy next season, the Knicks could surpass Jackson’s previous win total as an executive.
Rose, Lee, Anthony, Porzingis and Noah is an extremely balanced starting five with scoring, defenders, good passers, length and rebounders. Jennings should provide scoring off the bench and Lance Thomas is a glue guy.
Some thought the Knicks should rebuild around the 20-year-old Porzingis. But Mills said what they have done has been with Porzingis in mind.
“We said it was really important for KP to develop as a basketball player,” Mills said. “The best thing we can do to help him develop is to put him in a culture of winning basketball and he’s around other good players.”