CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball is taking a team-by-team look at the 2014 NBA offseason. We continue with the new masters of Zen, the New York Knicks. Check out the rest of the offseason reports here.
How they finished 2014: The Knicks finished the 2013-14 season really well, winning 16 of their final 23 games. When the Knicks went small with their best lineup of Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler during this stretch, they destroyed teams. During those 23 games, that was their second most used and they blew teams out of the water by 20.6 points per 100 possessions. The Knicks got back to what made them successful in the previous season when they were a small ball, 3-point chucking offensive wonder.
The Knicks made 38.7 percent of their 3-pointers during that stretch, two full percentage points better than they shot during the first 59 games. Their offensive rating rose from 103.6 points per 100 possessions to 110.2 points per 100 possessions. The defense also improved by 1.1 points per 100 possessions. It's a big reason the Knicks were able to shave four games off Atlanta's lead over them for the 8-seed over the final month and a half, ultimately finishing a game behind the Hawks.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, the first 59 games were an abomination. Winning 54 games the previous season was wiped away. It was clouded by Smith being really bad as he worked his way back from knee surgery. It was clouded by Andrea Bargnani looking like one of the worst players the Knicks have ever seen. It was clouded by a poor defensive effort all around that seemed to actually break Chandler's spirit by the end of the season. Mike Woodson battled going to a small lineup as long as he could, often bemoaning the idea to the media. Felton was also horrendous most of the season.
Offseason needs: The Knicks needed direction. They needed a strong, reputable voice to lead the organization and offer up enough experience to keep owner James Dolan at bay. All that added up to Phil Jackson, of course. They parted ways with Woodson as the player-coach relationship was a lost cause. From there, the Knicks needed to find a way to remain somewhat competitive in the East while beginning to transform the roster to one which could contend in the near future.
Jackson and the front office had to pull off all that while convincing Carmelo Anthony it was worth the money only they could offer (a max of $129M over five years) as incentive to stick out the transition. However, the league's largest market faced challenges from the Bulls, who made Anthony a very good pitch, and the Lakers, who offered up being the face of an organization with a better track record while retooling toward title contention.
The draft: The Knicks headed into the draft without a single pick. They owed Denver (which turned into Orlando) their first round pick (No. 12) for the Anthony trade and their second-round pick (No. 42) to the Rockets for the Marcus Camby trade. A deal prior to the draft involving Tyson Chandler going to the Dallas Mavericks gave the Knicks another shot at the 2014 draft.
With the 34th pick (acquired from Dallas), the Knicks selected Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early. The 23-year-old fell to the second round despite many feeling he was a first-round talent. Early is a solid scorer, did a good job of knocking down 3-pointers (37.3 percent) last season, and is projected to be a nice NBA defender. The Knicks also received No. 51 in the second round, which they used to select Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The brother of Giannis Antetokounmpo played in the D-League last season and is a nice hustle, energy player who can be a good defender.
The Knicks also purchased the 57th pick in the draft from the Pacers and selected Louis Labeyrie out of France.
Free agency and trades: The Knicks have been extremely busy this offseason with Jackson on board. The biggest win is Dolan being star-struck enough to stay out of Jackson's way. This led to Jackson making sure his vision is put into action by hiring Derek Fisher as the new coach. Assuming Fisher isn't a disaster, there is unified voice and direction from the team president down to the sideline, critical in a league all about continuity and consistency.
Their big deal was trading Chandler to the Mavericks. It weakens depth for the time being but it jump-starts a needed change on the court. Chandler had been hung out to dry enough defensively by a unit and coach that didn't seem to care about consistent at that end. The Knicks moved Chandler and Felton to the Mavericks in exchange for the second-rounders mentioned above, plus Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert and Shane Larkin. Calderon gives them a better point guard who can shoot and make plays for others. Dalembert might be able to fill in for Chandler on some respectable level.
The Knicks then moved Ellington and Jeremy Tyler to the Sacramento Kings for forwards Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw. They also signed Jason Smith to a one-year, $3.3 million deal to bring in some much-needed depth and strength inside.
They also managed to convince Anthony to stay, as he agreed to a five-year, $124 million deal to be the man around whom Jackson rebuilds. They'll clear a lot of salary in the summer of 2015 and it will allow the Knicks to go after another big name player to put next to Melo. It was the right move because Anthony has played his best basketball as a member of the Knicks and doesn't look to be slowing down. This puts the pressure on Jackson and Co. to build a roster befitting Anthony's star power in the next two years.
Overall grade and accomplishments -- B-plus: Have the Knicks remade themselves into title contenders this offseason? Absolutely not. This team has a lot of holes and they don't necessarily have the assets to plug them now. This organization has rarely shown patience in executing a plan, but with the Zen Master at the helm, patience won't be a problem. Jackson has the clout to keep Dolan away and the vision to create a team-oriented roster.
Knicks front offices of the past would have thrown more money on top of the problem and taken away future flexibility. The Knicks made themselves a better offensive team and have the options and breathing room next summer to really add to this team on both ends of the floor. You can watch them finally develop Shumpert and use him properly. They can harness the energy and scoring of Tim Hardaway Jr. off the bench and make him part of a squad that tries to run your defense ragged. Their defense likely will remain poor. Counter that with consistency and firepower on offense, remain competitive, make the playoffs in the East, and get the plan to gain steam next summer.
The Knicks aren't fixed by any means. But they don't look hopeless either.