As the Knicks ponder their future, there's no doubt Phil Jackson and his administration have uncovered some promising gems that can be used as building blocks for years to come.
Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez obviously come to mind right away. Signing Mindaguas Kuzminskas from overseas was also a solid move. And while the team has lacked some very crucial draft picks, taking chances on undrafted guards like Ron Baker and Chasson Randle has already begun to pay off for New York. They, too, are capable of playing roles in the team's positive future.
With so much promise in the team's youth and the front office's ability to evaluate up and coming talent, something just doesn't fit. Players are feeling the pressure and the team has appeared to hit rock bottom. As they near closer to a fourth consecutive year without a postseason appearance (third under Jackson), all is clearly not right in paradise.
The vision has been questionable from the get-go. Jackson recognized that Tyson Chandler's decision to air out his frustration in the media was not good for the culture he wanted to create. But instead of letting Chandler's expiring contract run its course, Jackson traded the big man to Dallas for a package centered around Jose Calderon. Though Calderon had been a reliable floor general over his career, he inched closer towards a major decline during his time with the Knicks. His contract was an eye sore on this payroll for two seasons. The perception that he, as a veteran, could help the Knicks compete, was poorly timed. This was a bad acquisition.
Around the same time, just months into his tenure, Jackson re-signed Carmelo Anthony. Moving on from Anthony would have allowed the Knicks to hit the reset button much quicker with more flexibility. To be fair, Jackson likely would have been chastised and criticized by the media and the team's fan base alike if he let his most talented asset walk away with nothing to show for it. Unfortunately, the new pact that Anthony signed includes a no-trade clause, a trade kicker, and a player option as the contract nears its end. That makes it nearly impossible to deal him somewhere that the Knicks can get appealing value back in return.
Acquiring Calderon and re-signing Anthony suggested the Knicks wanted to compete sooner than later. Hiring Derek Fisher didn't align with such a direction. With no prior coaching experience, Fisher may have been better suited to grow and learn with a young core. Setting unreasonable expectations for contention made this union a very unsuccessful one. Fisher wasn't prepared to lead a group of veterans.
Signing Robin Lopez back in the summer of 2015 proved to be a brilliant move, especially given the massive contracts for big men that followed in the new CBA one year later. Lopez gave New York a quality center at a reasonable rate. Sending him and intriguing youngster Jerian Grant to Chicago for Derrick Rose last summer was a risky move, but certainly had rationale behind it. Both were valuable pieces, but the Knicks could have hit the jackpot by letting the Big Apple be the former M.V.P.'s place of redemption. Worst case scenario would be Rose coming off the books and both sides moving on. Fast forward to March with the end of the 2016-17 campaign near, and the latter outcome appears more likely.
Rose's expiring contract will give the Knicks flexibility (even with Anthony on the payroll), but signing guys like Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas last offseason meant that Jackson and Co. were all in. Jackson's shortcomings as Knicks president have been evident, but it's also worth noting that rebuilding does take time. Patience should be exercised. Unfortunately, the biggest culprit to resisting such a process appears to be Jackson himself. Instead of allowing things to play out, Jackson has made short-sided moves in hopes of fast tracking the process. This hasn't resulted in the team being competitive in any of the last three seasons.
Furthermore, it has only created a difficult hole to climb out of. Perhaps the contracts of Lee and Thomas can be moved in the offseason. The team has its work cut out for them with Anthony. As far as Noah goes, he has not proven himself capable of playing a key role, let alone worthy of his current contract.
As Rose comes off the books and this team looks to retool yet again, it remains to be seen if Jackson makes another knee jerk reaction to overpay another veteran or two. Given what's happened over his tenure, it should not come as a relief that the team will have cap space and flexibility. Jackson hasn't proven he knows what to do with it just yet.
With a great team of scouts and advisors behind him, Jackson's talent evaluation, when it comes to up and comers, has been solid. The rest of his efforts as Knicks president have left much to be desired.