By the time NBA All-Star Weekend came to a close, there was refreshing optimism in the air surrounding the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony and Willy Hernangomez were late additions to the festivities. Kristaps Porzingis went home a winner after snagging the trophy at the Skills Challenge. Following the passing of the trade deadline, New York stood pat. After a spirited Cleveland loss and an exhilarating win against the 76ers, signs led to the Knicks wanting to remain competitive, for better or worse.
But alas, reality has begun to set in. Waiving Brandon Jennings may be the domino effect for the tone of the rest of the season. The dust probably hasn't cleared. More changes could be on the way. It's time to look towards the future, build towards the draft, embrace and explore more youthful talent, etc. With that in mind, here's a look at the Knicks will face in the week ahead and beyond.
Defensive Communication: The Knicks' defense has been a raw source of frustration for this team all season long. Frankly, it's a bit strange to see a squad that added players like Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, and Willy Hernangomez in the offseason struggle on that end of the floor. Clearly, putting up a consistent effort on defense had been an initial priority. Such a plan hasn't come to fruition.
The Knicks have really had poor communication on defense. Players are failing to switch and/or pick each other up when a teammate loses his man following a swift pass or a penetration toward the basket. They've looked lost whenever an opposing team begins to push the pace. The Knicks are slow to react.
The more New York struggles, the more discouraged and deflated they appear. Jeff Hornacek isn't known for being a defensive minded coach, but the Jazz teams he appeared on as a player had wonderful chemistry. Playing defense isn't the most glamorous part of the game, but players have to lock in and begin to communicate much more efficiently.
Making assessments for next year: The Knicks may not be at the point in the year where they can clearly say they're throwing in the towel just yet. Still, the reported swap of Brandon Jennings for Chasson Randle should perhaps be indicative of what is to come.
New York can use the rest of this time to figure out which players will stick around, and answer more pressing questions. Will Willy Hernangomez be capable of handling starting duties full time next year? Perhaps Kyle O'Quinn is worth holding onto. Lance Thomas had a good game against the 76ers, but all indications are that New York could benefit from moving his contract.
If the team decides the Derrick Rose experiment is over, will he be shown the door similarly to Jennings? These are all evaluations that need to be made. There are, however, a handful of players worth keeping. Identifying and developing those players should become the focus over the next month and a half.
A rotating fifteenth spot: The moves of the NBA trade deadline led to a shift in many rosters across the league. After dealing pieces and/or waiving recently acquired veterans, many teams have taken this opportunity to sign players from the D-League to 10-day contracts. Players like Quinn Cook, Ben Bentil, and Reggie Williams have all been signed in the past week alone.
The Knicks were familiar enough with Chasson Randle to grant him a longer contract. It's reasonable that he assume Jennings' spot. There's an opportunity for even more exploration. The team has assumedly seen enough of Maurice Ndour to make the necessary determinations. He isn't likely to play a key role moving forward and there are better prospects out there.
It'd be smart to create a free roster spot to usher in and out different prospects on 10-day contracts. Such a strategy has been discussed before. These youngsters may not play substantial minutes right away, but seeing them in practice could help New York decide who they want to look at more seriously in the offseason.
Should they opt to continue growing organically, intriguing combo guard Travis Trice recently returned to Westchester following a stint overseas. He could be a candidate to follow in the footsteps of Randle and Langston Galloway. Another player to keep an eye on is Briante Weber, who will play out a10-day contract with the Hornets. New York should pounce on him once that's up and go from there.