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Knicks hand-picked by Phil Jackson, but he's not making any predictions

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to the media to preview the upcoming season at the MSG training facility on September 29th, 2015. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

Heading into training camp, Phil Jackson isn't making the same mistake as he did last year, when he predicted the Knicks would contend for a playoff spot.

Jackson ended up assembling and presiding over the worst team in franchise history, and he ultimately called the 17-65 season "a project gone awry."

On Tuesday, the Knicks will open their second training camp with Jackson as their president and Derek Fisher as their coach. There are eight new hand-picked faces and questions abound, but Jackson isn't predicting or promising anything this time.

"I want to stay away from expectations," he said. "It is such a long season. We want to talk about competitiveness, about home-court advantage."

The biggest keys to the Knicks' competitive level are the overall health of Carmelo Anthony and the players' ability to build chemistry and commit defensively.

By all accounts, Anthony will have no limitations after left knee surgery in February that ended his season. But the Knicks will monitor him during camp in an attempt to keep him as strong as possible.

With more lean moments a possibility -- if not a probability -- as this rebuild continues, they also hope their lone All-Star remains fully engaged with the organization.

On the chemistry front, Anthony and many of the Knicks have been scrimmaging at the team's practice facility. This is common for most teams, but the Knicks hope they have started getting comfortable with each other after last season's team looked out of sync in the triangle offense from the outset.

"What we are happy about is that we have a group of guys that seem to want to work together, that seem to want to play together," Jackson said. "We haven't had to encourage guys to show up here at our training facility this summer. They are coming and working hard and seem to respond very well to playing together and with each other."

Last year's team featured Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Andrea Bargnani and Tim Hardaway Jr. Injuries and some resistance to playing different roles in a new scheme led to a dismal season.

Over the summer, Jackson spent more than $110 million on six free agents and two rookies whom he hopes can change the way the Knicks play defensively and improve their energy level.

Center Robin Lopez was given $54 million to anchor the defense and should allow Anthony to play more power forward. Swingman Arron Afflalo is a strong defender who could become the Knicks' second scoring option.

The other newcomers are forward Derrick Williams, big men Kyle O'Quinn and Kevin Seraphin, guard Sasha Vujacic and the two first-round picks, 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis and athletic guard Jerian Grant.

Only Anthony, Jose Calderon and Cleanthony Early remain from last season's opening-night roster. Anthony is the lone player left from the team Jackson inherited in March 2014.

"This does feel like a group that's kind of been hand-picked," Jackson said.

That will put more onus on Jackson, Fisher and Anthony to make sure the project doesn't go awry again.

The Knicks believe Porzingis, the No. 4 pick in the draft, will be able to help them at some point, and he should get plenty of open looks playing with Anthony. But whether the Knicks overachieve one year after underachieving should depend on how their veterans jell and how much they're willing to work defensively.

"I think it's about people, essentially," Fisher said. "I know that a lot of focus is on talent -- here being in New York, the name of that talent. We all kind of decided that we'll find the right people for what we're trying to do as opposed to just the name of the person.

"We like the decisions that we made. Obviously, it's a results-oriented business, so until you win some games, none of it makes sense. And that's my job, to figure it out."

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