As each NBA team is eliminated from contention for the 2016-17 title, The Washington Post will look ahead to what they have in store for this offseason. The series continues with the New York Knicks, who were eliminated from playoff contention last week.
2017 draft picks
First round: Their own.
Second round: Chicago’s, Houston’s.
2017-18 salary cap space (with projected $102 million cap)
$29.8 million (eight players with $65.4 million in guaranteed contracts, three draft picks worth $6.2 million and one roster charge worth $815,615). Doesn’t include non-guaranteed contracts for Marshall Plumlee, Maurice Ndour and Chasson Randle.
2017 free agents
SG Justin Holiday, SG Sasha Vujacic, PG Ron Baker (restricted)
Five questions to answer
1. Where will Carmelo Anthony play next season?
Carmelo Anthony’s future has been debated almost from the moment he signed his five-year, $120 million contract in 2014, just a few months after Phil Jackson took over as president of the Knicks. Anthony spent most of the following season dealing with a knee injury that eventually required surgery, and then has spent the past two seasons enduring constant trade rumors.
Jackson, however, gave Anthony a no-trade clause. Since then, Anthony has been steadfast about his desire to stay with the Knicks, but recent comments indicate his attitude might change. More specifically, Anthony recently told reporters “the chips will be on the table” in his upcoming exit meeting with Jackson when the season is over.
So what’s next? That’s the million dollar question. The guess here is that Anthony will be back in New York next season, given his hefty contract and the unlikelihood that a team with cap space — and that he’d be interested in — will pursue him. But if Anthony is willing to move, Jackson will do everything to make it happen.he can to move on from a player he clearly would like to get rid of.
2. What is the future of Phil Jackson, Jeff Hornacek and the triangle offense?
When Jackson was denied the ability to hire his preferred candidate, Kurt Rambis, as head coach last summer, Jeff Hornacek was hired instead. The Knicks were then expected to move from Jackson’s beloved triangle offense to more of the spread pick-and-roll play Hornacek employed in his prior job as coach of the Phoenix Suns.
Fast forward to the end of this season, and Hornacek says the Knicks will be fully running the triangle next season. Is that because he’s come around to Jackson’s line of thinking? Unlikely. Is it to try to keep his job, and remain in Jackson’s good graces? Much more likely.
The Knicks — led by Anthony — have expressed frustration about the offense. It goes against the way virtually every team in the league plays today. Continuing to run it will likely lead to more frustrations moving forward, and could keep the Knicks from getting the kind of free agents they hope to this summer (more on that in a minute).
But assuming Jackson sticks around — and owner James Dolan said that he will — it’s hard to see the triangle going anywhere, much to the dismay of the team’s players and its fans.
3. Who will play point guard?
The Knicks made an ill-fated trade for Derrick Rose last June, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with the 2011 MVP. Instead, they dealt with Rose’s civil trial, him going AWOL and missing a game and, while playing better than expected, still offering no shooting or defense at the point.
With Rose set to be a free agent and out for the remainder of the season after undergoing knee surgery, it seems exceedingly unlikely he’ll be back next season. So, with him gone, who will be his replacement?
The Knicks, like every team at the bottom of the standings, will go into this year’s NBA Draft Lottery hoping to jump up into the top two or three spots to get their hands on top point guards Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball. If the Knicks stay in the range they are in (they currently sit in sixth), they’ll have a chance to get their hands on De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith or Frank Ntikilina, players in the next tier of point guard prospects.
If the draft doesn’t solve the point guard problem, the Knicks will likely go shopping in free agency, but they will have plenty of competition for options such as Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague without much in the way of an incentive to join a rebuilding team with front office issues.
4. Will the Knicks get some lottery luck?
The Knicks have drafted in the top four just once — Kristaps Porzingis, No. 4 overall in 2015 — since taking Patrick Ewing first overall in 1985. Like that 2015 draft, this year’s class is expected to be loaded, with Fultz, Ball, Fox, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum all rumored to be in the mix for the top three picks.
If there was a year for the Knicks to jump up and grab another young star to pair with Porzingis, this would be it. And, to be fair to Phil Jackson, he’s drafted well (Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez being the best examples, as well as finding Ron Baker as an undrafted free agent this past year).
This is a deep draft, and the Knicks should get a difference maker no matter where they wind up. But moving into the top three — and specifically into the top two, given the team’s point guard deficiencies — could prove to be a huge boost to rebuilding efforts.
5. Can Porzingis take another leap?
There’s no question Porzingis got better this season. He played more minutes, improved both his field goal and three-point percentage while taking on a bigger load and shooting more overall, from behind the arc and from the foul line.
He did, however, have nagging injuries, and at times struggled with taking on a bigger load. That’s perfectly reasonable from a 21-year-old in his second NBA season, and there’s every reason to think Porzingis will continue to make progress.
The question, however, is how much, and how soon. If Porzingis can develop into a legitimate all-star next season and the Knicks can find a difference maker in the draft, all of a sudden the future will begin to look much rosier for them than it has appeared for these past few months.