Phil Jackson and the triangle offense are gone, and Carmelo Anthony is leaving too. The Knicks will become Kristaps Porzingis’ team on Monday when the Anthony trade is official.
The Knicks hope all of this allows the focus to be basketball with the start of a new season approaching and that they won’t lead the league in drama and distractions again.
They avoided some by agreeing to send Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick. If Anthony was still a Knick Monday when the team held its annual Media Day, he would have been the focal point of the team and not in a good way.
The Knicks still have to address this trade and moving on from Anthony. But it would have been a messy Media Day and training camp if Anthony was still a Knick.
They will miss Anthony’s scoring and his ability to handle all the pressures that come with being the Knicks’ franchise player. Now the role will rest squarely on the shoulder of Porzingis, who benefited his first two seasons from Anthony owning the spotlight.
Porzingis’ relationship with the Knicks and coach Jeff Hornacek after skipping his exit meeting last April is something that hasn’t been settled.
Team officials tried on Friday to paint a positive picture about their relationship with Porzingis, who spent the offseason overseas and has mostly communicated with the Knicks by text.
But at least the Knicks can start training camp Tuesday fresh and move forward with the youth movement they’ve been touting all offseason. They want to build with Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, Tim Hardaway Jr., first-round pick Frank Ntilikina and Ron Baker and develop this young core.
What does it mean in terms of wins and losses? You should probably expect a fifth straight season of no playoffs for the Knicks. But they are trying to rebuild as a team and an organization.
“Part of my job is to try to add some sense of calmness to what had been a little bit of a crazy environment that we’ve been going through,” Knicks president Steve Mills said.
Mills talked about creating a “good environment” and Hornacek “a nice atmosphere” for the players. Under Jackson, the Knicks had neither, and probably the best news for everyone involved is that the Knicks will be running a different offense.
“The style the guys are liking to play is a little bit different,” Hornacek said. “We’re going to try to open it up and get some different things out there and try to put our guys in the best position, whether it’s post-ups, whether it’s outside on the court shooting threes. We’ll go through the roster [and] look at players’ strengths. That’s what we’ve been doing all summer.”
That’s a sign of progress after Jackson picked players he believed fit the triangle, and pushed his coaches to run that system.
Hornacek ran a fast-paced offense in Phoenix, heavy on three-pointers. He wouldn’t go into details about what he’ll play this season. But he believes it will bring out “the best” in the players.
“What we want to do this year is give them a nice atmosphere where when they go out and play, they’re having fun, they’re playing the game they love, a style they might like to run,” Hornacek said. “That’s when I think that they’re going to do their best. That’s our job to put them in their positions that will help them achieve that. To reach their best potential, they’ve got to be enjoying it.”
The Knicks will open camp with nine players from last year’s 31-51 team — Porzingis, Hernangomez, Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, Lance Thomas, Mindaugus Kuzminskas, Baker and Kyle O’Quinn.
Their big offseason move was giving Hardaway Jr. a four-year, $71 million contract. They also drafted swingman Damyean Dotson, signed veteran guards Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack to mentor Ntilikina and added scoring forward Michael Beasley, who is viewed as a potential replacement for Anthony. Kanter and McDermott will bolster the bench.
Knicks new general manager Scott Perry said what excites him most about this team is “our commitment to being a defensive team that’s going to fight hard every time, that’s going to lay it all on the line.”
If the Knicks can get their players to defend it would be another step in the right direction. Hornacek and Perry pushed a renewed commitment to defense, while the Knicks continue to say it’s all about the kids.
“We’re trying to win and so we’ll play guys that will help us do that,” Hornacek said. “But we want to make sure that our young guys get a chance to develop and we’ll give them as many opportunities as we can to do that.”
TOPICS OF CONVERSATION
1. How much has Kristaps Porzingis grown as a player and person?
He has bulked up and gotten stronger this offseason. The Knicks will need him to carry a heavier workload, especially with Carmelo Anthony headed to Oklahoma City. Porzingis also has to finally clear the air with Jeff Hornacek and management about missing his exit meeting and put it behind him.
2. How different will Hornacek’s offense be?
Very different, and more up-tempo. Hornacek lost some respect in the locker room last season for agreeing to run the triangle instead of a more modern offense and one that fit the personnel. Everyone will see what kind of coach Hornacek is now that he’ll be able to run what he wants.
3. Is Frank Ntilikina ready to start or at least be in the rotation?
With no real established starting point guard, there will be an open competition in camp. Ntilikina appears to have the physical tools and mental makeup to play right away. The Knicks want that. Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack should help the 19-year-old French rookie learn and grow.
4. Can Tim Hardaway Jr. live up to his $71 million price tag?
He improved in Atlanta, and became a better defender. But his shot selection still needs to improve. The Knicks view Hardaway Jr. as a cornerstone player and he could flourish in a more fast-paced, open offense. But he also has to prove he can handle the pressures that come with that contract.
5. Will the Knicks commit to playing defense?
Knicks officials keep talking about it but it remains to be seen. The Knicks picked up more offensive players than defensive stalwarts. The young guys have to play harder and with intensity, veterans Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah and Lance Thomas to push them and Hornacek must demand it from them.