The New York Knicks are coming off a season that was full of disappointment as they ultimately struggled and missed the playoffs.
New president Phil Jackson — who quickly hired Derrick Fisher as head coach to run the triangle offense — improved the roster. Jackson upgraded at point guard with Jose Calderon, reassured the defense by swapping a declining Tyson Chandler for solid veteran Samuel Dalembert, stole Cleanthony Early in the second round of the draft, and ultimately re-signed Carmelo Anthony to a max deal.
Despite these improvements, the Knicks continue to be left out of the discussion of legit contenders in the NBA going into next season, even in the Eastern conference.
The main way New York can enter its name into that conversation along with the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls is to shock everyone by winning early and often against the top-notch teams in the league as opposed to remaining inconsistent ad nauseam.
Since bringing in Amar’e Stoudemire and ultimately Anthony during the 2010-11 season, the franchise has been expected to make a complete turnaround from a struggling franchise to an elite team. But instead, they have only been a mediocre team with back-to-back first-round playoff exits, a conference semifinal upset at the hands of the Indiana Pacers (arguably the franchise’s biggest rival), and ultimately a wash this past season to show for it.
And now, with the landscape of the league drastically shifting as a result of recent major offseason moves (ie. LeBron James and Kevin Love to Cleveland, Paul George‘s injury, and Derrick Rose‘s return to the Bulls), the Knicks must find a way to keep up despite having limited cap flexibility. But as many see it all but impossible for the Knicks to make noise next season, the franchise has quietly set itself up to make a big splash in the NBA next season.
With a roster brimming with talent, especially on the perimeter, New York has the ingredients to flourish in the triangle offense in which spacing is prime. With the combination of Stoudemire and Anthony at the focal points, offset by deadly spot-up shooters, the offense won’t be leaning entirely on ‘Melo, as solid structure and game planning will lead to New York ranking among one of the highest-scoring teams in the association.
The only real weakness that the Knicks must address is the interior defense, as they have no protection in the middle once you get past Dalembert. But that’s why the Knicks hired the ‘Zen Master’ to execute basketball decisions, and he knows that adding another defensive-minded free agent big man to backup Dalembert down low, like a Jermaine O’Neal, Shawn Marion or Emeka Okafor will be just enough to make New York a formidable defensive team.
Moreover, if the Knicks truly want to jump into the championship discussion, they must win consistently on the road against the West. Showing an ability to beat those teams consistently will force people to reevaluate the Knicks as an Eastern conference team that can compete in the West, and not merely an Eastern conference team,.
Ultimately, anything short of the best record in the league will make it hard for people to legitimately consider the Knicks for the championship, and that probably still wouldn’t be enough.