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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks need to undergo a New Year's evolution

Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks on stage at

Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks on stage at Phil Jackson in Conversation with Ben McGrath at the MasterCard stage at SVA Theatre during The New Yorker Festival 2014 on Oct. 12, 2014 in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Brad Barket

As the New Year approaches, so does the end of many players' time with the Knicks.

This is something to look forward to if you are a fan and have followed this team through the good and mostly bad of this calendar year. It has been disappointing, to say the least, and it's ending much worse than how it began.

Phil Jackson's message on Christmas Eve through Twitter to what he called #knicknation was: "Please be assured your hopes and wishes are getting through to Santa. He will bring a better 2015 than '14. The effort and skill of our team will grow as the players learn how to play with and for each other.''

Jackson believes that because he experienced that as a player with the Knicks, and with some prodding and pushing as a coach with the Bulls and Lakers.

Those teams had chemistry, cohesion, selfless players and guys who played defense. But they also had some of the game's all-time greats, and that can't be discounted.

The Knicks don't have players like that, and it will be up to the Knicks' president to find game-changing -- if not franchise-changing -- players.

Carmelo Anthony is a great scorer but not an all-time great player, and he probably is having his worst season as a Knick. His best season was playing alongside future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd. Anthony probably wondered where Kidd had been all his life.

Anthony's reputation also has to take a hit for last season and this one because great players lift their teammates, make them better and will them to the playoffs. It looks as though this will be the second straight season he won't be able to do that.

Major changes are coming again.

Jackson, coach Derek Fisher and the staff viewed this season as one in which they would establish a foundation and learn which players are worth keeping as they move the franchise forward. Ask yourself this: Do they have one?

The Knicks have at least nine players who will be free agents: Quincy Acy, Cole Aldrich, Andrea Bargnani, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Iman Shumpert, Jason Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire and Travis Wear.

Pablo Prigioni's contract is partially guaranteed, and J.R. Smith has a $6.4-million player option. It's hard to imagine him not picking it up, especially given that he's underperformed the past two seasons. The Knicks hope to trade him but haven't found any takers.

The trade deadline is six weeks away, and free agency begins in a little more than six months. Some Knicks' days are numbered.

Change is coming again in 2015 for the Knicks, and Jackson has to make sure it's for the better. It's hard to imagine it being worse.

Kidd's story

Jason Kidd continues to say there was "no power struggle'' with the Nets. He told Bleacher Report he would have done "nothing'' different in his exit from Brooklyn, and he "didn't ask for anything. I asked them to improve the franchise.''

The Nets have another side to the story, but they don't want to revisit the past.

Kidd also said with the injuries and age of last season's team, he was "trying to tape that thing together with duct tape . . . We all learned from each other. We learned we weren't going to quit. When it turned, it turned. It's almost like anything I've been involved in -- it's always bad and at some point it turns good.''

Kidd, who already has matched the Bucks' 15-win total from all of last season in only 30 games, is right about the last part. But he neglected to mention that almost anything he's been involved in has ended badly, too. Look at his departures from the Nets as a player and coach. He forced trades in both instances.

Mr. Smith goes to Houston

Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy sent a message when he shockingly waived Josh Smith, who'll make $13.5 million in 2014-15 and has two years and $27 million left on his contract.

Most predicted Smith wouldn't last too long in Detroit with the no-nonsense Van Gundy. Smith is talented, but he's also a maddening player whose effort drifts and whose shot selection is among the worst in the league. He was averaging 13.1 points and shooting a career-worst 39.1 percent.

Smith, though, is in a better place all the way around. He gets all of his money and he signed with Houston, a contender in the Western Conference.

He has to learn to share the ball with MVP candidate James Harden and Dwight Howard, who is Smith's close friend. Smith could be a good fit and difference-maker in the postseason if he goes back to filling up the stat sheet the way he did with Atlanta.

Fire away

Kobe Bryant's shooting has come under fire again. He needed 30 shots to score 25 points and had nine turnovers against the Kings last Sunday. ESPN reported last week that Bryant had taken more contested midrange jumpers than 12 NBA teams.

Bryant took off the last three games to rest. Without him, the Lakers had balanced scoring in a win over the Warriors, adding more fuel to the debate that Bryant should shoot less and trust his teammates more.

Afterward, outspoken and ultra-confident guard Nick Young, who calls himself "Swaggy P'' and might believe he's better than Bryant, said: "Some guys just played like 'Django Unchained.' They were free.''

Young was asked what he would tell Bryant, and he went to the movies again.

"Pretty much going to have to tell Kobe to pass me the ball, pass us the ball,'' Young said. "Tell him to take the backseat for a little bit. He can be 'Driving Miss Daisy' and I can be Miss Daisy and drive.''

After the Lakers lost their next game in Chicago, coach Byron Scott said people who think the team is better without Bryant "are idiots.''

Buzzer beaters

Pistons big man Greg Monroe, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, could make sense for the Knicks, especially given that Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love are long, long shots right now.

 

Dallas proved you can rebuild on the fly and remain competitive. Rick Carlisle's coaching can't be understated. Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo -- all acquired since February -- can be free agents in July. The Mavs want to re-sign all three, keep the starting five together and add pieces to try to win another championship before Dirk Nowitzki retires.

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