Kristaps Porzingis got stronger and added some much-needed muscle this offseason. It should help him because he will carry more weight and more of the workload for the Knicks this season.
Carmelo Anthony’s trade to Oklahoma City is expected to become official Monday. The end of the Anthony era means the face of the Knicks will be a 7-3 Latvian who will have to prove himself as a franchise player.
Anthony has agreed to waive his no-trade clause to play with Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Thunder. The Knicks will receive center Enes Kanter, shooter Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick.
The timing couldn’t have been better for the Knicks. Monday is media day, the unofficial start of the season, and it truly will be the dawn of a new day for them.
Anthony, Phil Jackson and the triangle offense have left the building. They have been replaced by a youth movement, a faster-paced offense and what Knicks officials believe will be a better working environment.
The Knicks didn’t get a good return for their best player, but they hope the trade will put an end to the circus-like atmosphere that would have existed if he had been at media dayMonday and the start of camp Tuesday.
They still have plenty of work to do as they rebuild this team and organization after all the chaos that has followed them in recent years. “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,” Steve Mills — Jackson’s successor as president — said Friday.
The Knicks still have a long way to go. Their plan is to build with Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, Tim Hardaway Jr., first-round pick Frank Ntilikina and Ron Baker. It likely will be a fifth straight season of missing the playoffs, but the Knicks were going to have to go this route eventually. Marquee free agents weren’t lining up to play for them, and Anthony, despite all of his offensive tools, couldn’t lead them to playoff success.
In the end, the Knicks and Anthony got what they wanted by parting ways before Monday. Although Porzingis liked playing with Anthony, he will get what he wants as well.
Frustrated with the direction of the franchise and all the drama surrounding the Knicks, Porzingis skipped his exit meeting last April. Now the Knicks are moving forward with a young team that has Porzingis as the focal point.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, who said he has “a good relationship” with Porzingis, liked the way he played and carried himself for Latvia in the European Championships. Hornacek believes Porzingis is ready to take that next step.
“Moving forward in this league, he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to grow into that lead position,” Hornacek said. “We’re just excited to get back to coaching and moving forward with him and trying to develop him into that great player that we think he can become.”
Porzingis averaged 16.1 points through his first two NBA seasons but has missed 26 games. He got off to a good start last season before injuries took their toll. He also became less involved in the offense, and that can’t happen this season.
The Knicks will have to go through some major adjustments, especially in close games down the stretch, when the ball usually found Anthony in previous seasons.
That’s if they’re in close games down the stretch in 2017-18.
The Knicks will open camp with eight players from last season’s 31-51 team — Porzingis, Hernangomez, Baker, Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, Lance Thomas, Mindaugus Kuzminskas and Kyle O’Quinn. Chasson Randle likely will be waived to clear a spot for the trade to go through.
The Knicks signed veteran guards Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack to mentor Ntilikina and rookie swingman Damyean Dotson and also added forward Michael Beasley, who should pick up some of the scoring slack with Anthony gone. Kanter is a scoring big man. McDermott could fit well in Hornacek’s up-tempo offense, which could feature a heavy dose of three-pointers like his system in Phoenix.
“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.”
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.