This season the New York Knicks will be better, a lot better than 32 wins and 13th place in the Eastern Conference, and it’s obvious just improving on last season isn’t what president Phil Jackson was shooting for when he found ways to add Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee this summer. The Knicks are now a self-described super team, but have they improved enough to stop the Atlantic Division winning Toronto Raptors from a four-peat?
Rose is showing an extreme level of confidence in his new team according to Lang Whitaker of NBA.com
Rose: “I mean, with these teams right now, they’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams, … And the expectations I think of us, we just want to win.”
It almost isn’t fair to rain on any team’s parade after what should be described as a pretty successful off season retooling effort, however, it isn’t going to be easy for the Knicks to make major strides in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics added a badly needed veteran star and they won 48 games last year and the 56 win Raptors shouldn’t be expected to take a step back. If the Knicks are going to make any inroads here, they are going to have to get things together really fast in October/November.
Rose: You’ve got Brandon who just signed for one year, he’s got to show why he’s there. I’ve got to show why I’m there. Joakim has to show why he’s there. Everybody’s trying to prove themselves.
Jackson already has a $100 million payroll for the upcoming season, but with both Rose and Jennings coming off the books in a year, if things don’t work out as well as hoped, he can try retooling again next summer. As Rose says, the pressure is on the players to show why they are there, so maybe he should have kept those “super team” thoughts to himself?
Rose was an MVP, but that was a long time ago in basketball terms and a seemingly endless list of injuries and setbacks have caused him to miss a lot of games over the past four seasons. Recent years suggest he’s closer to a 16-17 point 4.5-5 assist point guard than the 22-25 point 7.5-8 assist All-Star prior to getting hurt.
It’s not that the Knicks can’t win with Rose playing at this new lower level of production. He’s still very effective – when he’s on the court. The real concern is can Rose accept his new reality?
Will Rose play off the ball more to save his knees? Will Rose drive and dish before trying a risky move to beat that last defender? The former All-Star could be just one hard plant and turn away from another knee injury and if he doesn’t adapt his game to avoid putting himself at risk, he could prematurely end his career or from a Knicks point of view, just miss too many games and cause his team to fall out of the playoff race.
Rose seems to think he has to prove himself and he doesn’t. There are lots of things he can do to help the Knicks win without putting that kind of pressure on himself.
The Knicks signed the 31-year-old Joakim Noah to a four-year $72 million deal and if signing older centers coming off serious injuries has a familiar ring to it in New York, it should. The Knicks have been down this road before.
Noah had knee surgery two seasons ago and lingering concerns about knee soreness bled into last season, then shoulder surgery ended his season last year. If one looks at Noah’s basketball resume, he should have gotten $100 million over four years or more, so Jackson signed him at a big discount based on his talent, but there was a reason the Knicks got a bargain. Noah comes with some big risks.
If it wasn’t for the Knicks history of taking these kinds of risks in the past, it would be easy to dismiss any concerns with the assumption the team’s medical staff vetted the player’s health. However, it’s just hard to shake the thought they rolled the dice again.
Jennings is coming back from a torn Achilles and history shows no one knows what to expect. It could take a couple of years for Jennings to regain the speed and mobility that made him a disruptive force – or not.
A role coming off the bench is perfect for Jennings. If he’s healthy, he should tear up backup point guards and if he doesn’t have it? Jackson only has him on a modest one-year deal. It’s a good risk.
Assume everyone shows up to camp healthy and stays healthy. The next big issue for the Knicks is simple chemistry. These guys haven’t played together. Even the Big 3 in Miami took half a season to figure out how to share the ball and be effective and no one should be comparing the risks the HEAT took putting together LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the risks Jackson is taking adding Rose and Noah to Carmelo Anthony and company.
Winning the Atlantic Division by overtaking two teams with solid winning records that are bringing back substantially the same rosters isn’t likely to happen, even if things go relatively well for the Knicks right from the start.
The Knicks focus has to be on the second half of the season and the playoffs. Stay healthy and figure out how to play together over the first 40 games without falling too far off the playoff pace and then push for the best playoff seeding that’s reasonably attainable.
Knicks fans have reason for optimism. This is more talent than they’ve seen on their team for a while. However, optimism shouldn’t be translated into pressure. Success for the Knicks isn’t becoming the next “super team” right away.
Success is building team chemistry, finding a way to keep their new found talent healthy and making the postseason. One step at a time. And somebody needs to convince Rose he doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. He just needs to make shots, facilitate the offense and stay on the court.