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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Looking back and ahead at the Knicks and the NBA

The Knicks entered Saturday night’s game at New Orleans with the NBA’s worst road record (2-12).

Then-Knicks president Phil Jackson accepted blame for the

Then-Knicks president Phil Jackson accepted blame for the Knicks' poor season during a media session on Friday, April 14, 2017. Photo Credit: Richard Harbus

Jeff Hornacek isn’t one to make New Year’s resolutions. But when pushed on it, the Knicks’ coach said, “Road wins” and laughed heartily.

The Knicks entered Saturday night’s game at New Orleans with the NBA’s worst road record (2-12), and they’re in a stretch that can have a ripple effect on what they do before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

As we set to turn the calendar to 2018, we look back at the biggest Knicks and NBA stories of 2017 and ahead to what could happen in the New Year.

Top three Knicks stories of 2017

1. Phil’s out: It came out of nowhere, just six days after the NBA Draft and two before free agency started. Team president Phil Jackson was let go after three-plus seasons in charge, numerous unnecessary controversies created, public spats with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, two coaches fired, three coaches hired, roster overhauls, zero playoff berths and an 80-166 record while making his coaches play the triangle offense.

The final straws for Jackson involved Anthony and Porzingis. Jackson openly discussed fielding trade offers for Porzingis before the draft and was willing to buy out Anthony around that time just to get him off the roster. Jackson was hired to bring stability to the Knicks, and that didn’t happen.

2. Melo’s out: The face of the franchise for 6 ½ seasons became an ex-Knick days before training camp opened. Most expected Anthony to end up in Houston — that was his preferred destination — but the two sides couldn’t reach an accord. The new regime of president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry struck a deal with Oklahoma City that worked out well for the Knicks. They got starting center Enes Kanter, shooter Doug McDermott and the Bulls’ second-round pick for Anthony.

All things considered, it probably was the best deal they could make, given that Anthony would have waived his no-trade clause only for certain teams. It was better than buying him out and getting nothing in return.

3. Kristaps’ evolution: Porzingis went from potentially being on the outs to becoming the Knicks’ franchise player rather quickly. He upset Knicks officials when he skipped April’s exit interview out of frustration over the team’s direction, but fences were mended after Jackson’s departure. Porzingis returned from an offseason overseas with a clearer mind and stronger body, ready to be the focal point of the Knicks.

The third option last season behind Anthony and Derrick Rose, Porzingis let it be known quickly, loudly and clearly that he could handle the extra workload. He scored 300 points in the first 10 games this season, the best start in franchise history. He has hit some nagging injuries and road bumps since then, however, as he continues to grow into his new role.

Top three Knicks stories to watch for in 2018

1. Porzingis’ future: The third-year big man seems much happier than he was last season. Things have been much smoother without Jackson and Anthony, and this young team is buying into Hornacek’s system and style. But Porzingis’ brother and agent, Janis Porzingis, said in an interview with a Latvian magazine that there are no guarantees that Kristaps will sign an extension and that money won’t be the only consideration. The Knicks can pay him the most, but Porzingis wants to see the team continue to head in the right direction and build a contender.

2. Make a run or make trades: The Knicks will play 16 of 22 games on the road before the Feb. 8 trade deadline. How they do could determine what they do.

If they somehow stay in the playoff hunt, management could decide to let it ride. If not, Courtney Lee would be an enticing addition for a playoff team. Kyle O’Quinn, too. They could get the Knicks some pieces that help them in the future and would open playing time for Damyean Dotson and Willy Hernangomez, putting the rebuild into full effect. The Knicks could go this way regardless.

3. Changes coming anyway: The Knicks still need to strengthen the point guard position and clear the logjam at center. They have four centers at a time when the NBA is playing smaller and versatile perimeter players are the rave. The Knicks want more of them, and fewer bigs. It’s too soon to know if rookie Frank Ntilikina can be the point guard of the future, but the Knicks should start him to find out.

Other things to watch for: whether Hornacek can survive if the Knicks really crumble and if Kanter will opt out of his contract after the season.

Top three NBA stories of 2017

1. Kyrie says goodbye to LeBron, Cleveland: Kyrie Irving blindsided everyone when he requested a trade from the reigning three-time Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers. Irving, who hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers history to win Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, had been a good player on a bad team for years until James returned to Cleveland. Irving decided he wanted to be out of James’ shadow and was sent to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and two draft picks. The Cavs and Celtics appear on a collision course for an Eastern Conference finals matchup.

2. Stars on the move: Chris Paul and Paul George also requested and were granted trades in a dizzying offseason in which perennial All-Stars and franchise players changed addresses. Among them were Anthony, Thomas, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard.

3. KD laughs last: Kevin Durant was criticized for leaving the Thunder and signing with the Warriors just over a month after Golden State beat OKC in the 2016 Western Conference finals, but it all worked out for Durant. Those negative words helped fuel him as Durant outdueled James and the Cavaliers en route to being named Finals MVP and earning his first NBA championship.

Top three NBA stories to watch for in 2018

1. Where’s LeBron going? Yes, it’s another summer of that question. The rumor mill has him signing with the Lakers or the Rockets or the 76ers or staying in Cleveland. The Cavaliers could make moves in the next several weeks to improve their chances of keeping James. It will be the biggest story in the early summer, but know this: James will go to the team or stay with the one that gives him the best chance to win. That’s the only thing that drives him.

2. Thunderstruck or Thunder stuck: Oklahoma City hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, but the Thunder is playing better lately. The team was built for the playoffs anyway. Anthony and George have had difficulty meshing with the ball-dominant Russell Westbrook. With George’s future up in the air — rumors persist that he will sign with the Lakers this summer — the Thunder could try to deal him in February if things don’t work out. Oklahoma Cityis a team worth watching because it should be interesting one way or another.

3. You again: The Warriors and Cavaliers are trying to join a select group of teams that have appeared in at least four straight NBA Finals (1957-66 Celtics, 1982-85 Lakers, 1984-87 Celtics and the James-led 2011-14 Heat). No teams have ever squared off against each other in four consecutive Finals, though. Golden State and Cleveland were the first to meet three straight times. Both teams face challenges in their respective conferences, which will make for a compelling postseason to see if either or both are knocked off.

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