The 2015-16 New York Knicks won just 32 games. Despite a relatively healthy and potent year from Carmelo Anthony and a breakout rookie campaign from big man Kristaps Porzingis, the team never threatened for a postseason berth while costing former head and interim coaches Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis their jobs along the way.
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In the offseason, the team made bold moves to trade for former Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, while signing Rose’s former Bulls teammate in Joakim Noah. Rose has been already chided for calling the new-look Knicks a “superteam” of sorts, and rightfully so.
Lesser-heralded but no less ambitious addition Courtney Lee is echoing the all-out campaign. In a discussion with Basketball Insiders (via Pro Basketball Talk), the journeyman guard sees high-end expectations for the Knicks that outpace just about most prognosticators’ predictions for the team’s 2016-17 campaign:
“We’re contenders, man. They didn’t make the playoffs last year, but we’re looking to change that and win big. The ring is the ultimate goal for everybody on the team; I know it is for me. When they talked to me and told me about the pieces they were adding alongside the players who were already there, I didn’t think anything less than a championship [was the goal].
“We’re trying to get the Knicks back into the playoffs and win big. … Everybody is hungry and everybody has their own motivation or chip on their shoulder. We just need to come together, get that chemistry and see it click. Once everybody is together and everybody is hungry, I think we can be very scary.”
Whew. Well … whew.
The Knicks will be better in 2016-17. Rose was among the NBA’s worst high-usage players for most of last season, but he showed flashes of offensive adequacy down the stretch. If Joakim Noah is healthy at age 31, he can help at least approximate some of the triple post offense hopes that Knick president Phil Jackson still has for the club. Addition Brandon Jennings might seem like the worst possible point guard for the triangle, but he turned in an overlooked season last year and is hoping for yet another fresh start in New York. And coach Jeff Hornacek will count as a massive upgrade over the work of Kurt Rambis.
Lee, meanwhile, will provide solid two-way play for a team that had hoped to secure as much from swingman Arron Afflalo last season. Courtney will turn 31 during training camp, but he’s an above-average three-point shooter that can play off the ball and defend several positions – a Phil Jackson dream hire, even though he’ll be paid over $12.7 million in 2019-20 at age 34.
“The ring,” though?
It is an odd, interesting mix. Rose hasn’t been the same since three knee surgeries in Chicago, while Noah has played as a sadly diminished version of himself since a still-hazy “minor” knee operation took place 2 1/2 years ago. Jennings is a year and a half removed from an Achilles tear, and Lee is as inconsistent as they come when it comes to his long range shooting. Carmelo Anthony is working off of yet another summertime gig with Team USA at age 32, and 21-year old Porzingis is still years away from his prime.
Hornacek has done exceedingly well with disparate parts (48 wins in 2013-14 with Phoenix) and not as well with other hastily-arranged rosters, and despite the cheery tone the first-year Knick head coach is probably as anxious as anyone to see how this odd group works together. The “chemistry” that Lee described may blow up in everyone’s faces.
Or, something special could result. Though Jeff Hornacek isn’t a triangle offense disciple, versatile and mismatched rosters are supposed to play right into the triangle’s expectations for equal opportunity success and position-less triumph. If everything goes right, this could be a sneaky-good team. We do know that it will at least be an interesting team to break down once the games start rolling together.
Courtney Lee, unfortunately, is best known for blowing a chippie lay-up while working with Orlando, a lob finish that could have tied the 2009 NBA Finals at 1-1. That misstep came during his rookie season, and he’s bounced around to five other teams in the years since – not because his talents weren’t welcome on five different NBA rosters, but because teams coveted his abilities.
Playing in his seventh uniform and with the best contract of his impressive career, Courtney Lee obviously has the serotonin buzzing as summer winds to a close.
Will that good cheer last through the fall and winter, and into spring? Or early summer, even, should the New York Knicks somehow find themselves battling against the champion Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern title, or the team’s third Finals appearance since the Nixon Administration?
Only the chemistry will tell, apparently. At the very least, it’s nice to dream big while the leaves are still on the trees.
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