After three years of losing records with no playoff appearances, the New York Knicks are looking to make some noise in the Eastern Conference. Through free agency and trades, the team made some notable additions this offseason that could have them back in the postseason for the first time since 2013.
Finishing the 2015-2016 season with 50 losses and the 13th-best record in the East, Knicks team president Phil Jackson decided to shake up the roster. Speaking with Carmelo Anthony, who relayed to Jackson that “he's getting into an age where things have to happen for him,” New York made changes that will give them three new starters for the 2016-17 season.
The Knicks added a few players that had been staples in the Chicago Bulls’ starting lineup. First, they sent starting center Robin Lopez and point guard Jose Calderon, as well as backup guard Jerian Grant, to Chicago in exchange for point guard Derrick Rose, shooting guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick. New York then used their space under the salary cap to sign center Joakim Noah (four years, $72 million), shooting guard Courtney Lee (four years, $48 million) and point guard Brandon Jennings (one year, $5 million).
If Noah and Rose can stay healthy, they could help make the Knicks a 45-win team, which would be a vast improvement from recent years. But it seems to be clear that both players are well past their primes.
Noah is just two years removed from finishing fourth in the MVP voting, but he saw a steep drop in production in 2015 and 2016. Playing just 29 games last season, Noah averaged a career-low 4.3 points on 38.3 percent shooting.
Rose won the MVP award five years ago, but multiple knee surgeries will likely prevent him from ever reaching an All-Star level again. He played more than 51 games last season for the first time since 2011, averaging 16.4 points and 4.7 assists. The Bulls were better on both offense and defense with Rose off the court in 2015-16.
But the Knicks don’t necessarily need their two big additions to play as well as they once did. Robin Lopez was the Knicks’ most consistent starter last year, outside of Anthony, but Noah still managed to average more rebounds per game (8.8 to 7.3). As long as Rose can play 75 percent of the team’s games, he will be a significant upgrade over Calderon.
Lee isn’t a top shooting guard, but he’s at least as good as Arron Afflalo, who started 57 games for the Knicks last year. Jennings was awful a year ago, but there’s no risk in giving him $5 million for one season.
With the salary cap rising to $94 million and few long-term commitments on their payroll, the Knicks had plenty of money to spend on the likes of Noah, Rose and Lee. But they were unable to land any of the NBA’s top free agents. Players like Kevin Durant and Al Horford were never real options for New York because they are so far away from competing for a championship.
In a best case scenario, the Knicks will make the playoffs and win their first-round series. The team, however, has virtually no chance of competing for a title. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are far and away the favorites in the East, and teams like the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors seem to have a significant edge over New York.
The Knicks have set themselves up to potentially be players in free agency next year when the salary cap could rise by close to $15 million, putting New York in a position to add pieces that would make them a title contender. Almost all of the sport’s best players—LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and more—will have a chance to become free agents next summer.
Anthony will make just over $26 million in 2017-18, which will be a bargain next season. Rose will become a free agent, freeing up more money for the Knicks to spend. Kristaps Porzingis is a potential star at just 20 years old, and he’ll earn less than $9 million over the next two seasons.
The development of Porzingis is probably the biggest key for New York next season. The 7’3 inch forward finished second in last year’s voting for Rookie of the Year, averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Other stars would be more likely to join the Knicks if they see that Porzingis is becoming one of the NBA’s best young players, though it’s hard to believe the team can lure a top player if they have another poor season.
For now, the Knicks will have to rely on their new-look starting lineup and a bench that features a few of the same players from last year. Lance Thomas, Kyle O’Quinn and Sasha Vujacic are all coming back. The Knicks have also signed three addition frontcourt players, putting them two players shy of the 15 that teams can have signed to guaranteed contracts. Undrafted free agent Ron Baker has a partially guaranteed contract.
Here’s a look at the current 13-man roster for the 2016-17 season:
Carmelo Anthony, SF
Kristaps Porzingis, PF
Joakim Noah, C
Derrick Rose, PG
Courtney Lee, SG
Brandon Jennings, PG
Justin Holiday, SG
Sasha Vujacic, SG
Lance Thomas, SF
Kyle O’Quinn, PF
Mindaugas Kuzminskas, PF
Willy Hernangomez, C
Marshall Plumlee, C