The Knicks opened training camp last year with more questions and concerns than healthy bodies. Part of that stemmed from the sudden dismissal of Glen Grunwald and subsequent hiring of Steve Mills as team president four days before the start of camp.
Four days before camp opens this year, new team president Phil Jackson sat between first-time coach Derek Fisher and Mills, now the GM, inside the Knicks training facility. The Knicks appear to be more stable than a year ago and on the same page and with a clear plan of how to build a championship contender with Carmelo Anthony as the focal point.
"I think it feels much better now," Mills said Friday morning. "I think the addition of Phil to the team adds a different look in terms of creating a culture. I think that was important to Carmelo and I think it's important to how we move forward as a unit. So I think there's a lot more stability. I see the rhythm to how we need to build the team."
The Knicks, who will host Media Day on Monday before tipping off camp Tuesday at the U.S. Military Academy, are nowhere near a finished product.
After going 37-45 last season -- 17 games worse than 2012-13 -- Jackson said he believes the Knicks will be a playoff team this year in the revamped Eastern Conference and thinks the Atlantic Division is wide open.
But at least for right now, Jackson and Fisher are concerned with seeing how the Knicks, with seven new faces, play together and pick up the triangle offense and commit to defense.
"I think defense is what we have to focus on from Day One," said Fisher, who played on five NBA championship teams under Jackson with the Lakers. "We got to figure out a way to break into that elite defensive teams."
Returning from last season are Anthony, with a new five-year, $124 million contract; Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Andrea Bargnani, Pablo Prigioni and Cole Aldrich. The newcomers are Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, Travis Outlaw, Shane Larkin, Quincy Acy and rookie Cleanthony Early.
"We've had considerable amount of personnel change," Jackson said. "We're hoping it's all for the good and they fit together quite well.
"We have really good depth on this team. We feel like we're backed up in every position with some depth and I think that's really good."
Fisher said Anthony is the only player guaranteed to start. Everything else will be determined during camp. But it's a safe bet Calderon will be the starting point guard.
Calderon is a clear upgrade from Raymond Felton, who was sent to Dallas along with Tyson Chandler in an eight-player deal the night before the draft.
In Smith, Shumpert and Hardaway Jr., the Knicks have talent and versatility at both shooting guard and small forward if Fisher chooses to start a smaller lineup with Anthony at power forward. They also have potential trade chips.
The same things can be said about the frontcourt as Outlaw and Acy can play both forward spots, while Stoudemire, Bargnani and Smith can be used at power forward or center.
"The wonderful thing about having a system of offense is the interchangeable parts," Jackson said. "We can do a number of things that can create playing time for players, change lineups. Hopefully the players learn how to organize themselves out there."
Jackson said it usually takes about six weeks for a team to jell and it all starts Tuesday. Then, the Knicks, with just three players with fully guaranteed deals for next season, will determine who will be a part of the future.
"We feel very comfortable with how we have developed this roster, how we supported this team in bringing in some talent and our prospects moving forward next year," Jackson said.
Mills added, "I think the idea and the opportunity to really lay a foundation and see how we can move and plan on a consistent basis is very different this year. We look forward to it."
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