The New York Knicks are one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. The bright lights of The Big Apple, the energy and excitement roaming throughout Madison Square Garden, and the prominence that comes along with playing in the Mecca of basketball combine to make up what Knicks basketball is all about. However, since two championship wins during the 1970s (1970 and 1973), the Knicks have struggled mightily to get back to that level. However, despite moderate and less-than-ideal success the team has enjoyed over the past couple decades, the Knicks still have a lot of popularity and still maintain a huge fan following.
This past off-season, the Knicks made a big splash in acquiring former MVP Derrick Rose in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. They followed that up by signing former Defensive Player of the Year and 2x All-Star Joakim Noah, guards Courtney Lee & Brandon Jennings, and re-signing forward Lance Thomas. Despite not owning a draft pick in 2016, the Knicks made solid moves in improving their team in an effort to return to the playoffs after a 3-year absence.
Earlier in the season, the Knicks looked to be well on their way in achieving that goal. A stretch that bridged the end of November into the beginning of December saw the Knicks win four straight, improve to three games over .500, and find themselves right in the middle of the playoff picture. However, since peaking at 14-10 on December 11, the Knicks have found themselves losers of 12 of their last 15 games. They’ve also lost nine of their last 10 games, including two ending with a buzzer-beating game-winner against the Bucks and Sixers, as the Knicks blew late 4th quarter leads in both games.
Now finding themselves with a 17-22 record and 11th in the East, the best the team can likely hope for now as we near the midway point of the season is one of the bottom playoff seeds in the East. However, is that worth it? What was working for the Knicks earlier in the season obviously isn’t working now. The team looks disengaged, they’re struggling badly on the defensive end, and don’t look very sharp from possession to possession. Despite there still being plenty of basketball left to be played this season, at this point the question of whether this experiment can work out looks to already have an answer — a resounding one.
The Knicks are currently built around great scorer Carmelo Anthony, who is now 32 and exiting his prime, and 21-year-old Kristaps Porziņģis, who is still years away from his prime. That 11-year age difference is the biggest reason why Knicks President Phil Jackson and the front office must soon make a decision on whether it’s in the team’s best interest to continue hoping to make a splash in free agency each year or simply put their veteran players on the trade market and hope to get draft picks in return to develop and build around Porziņģis.
Rookies Ron Baker and Willy Hernangómez have each had solid moments throughout the season; perhaps the Knicks could decide to keep them in the long-term. Perhaps trading Anthony (in the event he ever decides to waive his no-trade clause), Lee, Kyle O’Quinn, and/or perhaps Rose and Noah could help the Knicks acquire young, high-upside players and/or draft picks who can grow with Porziņģis in a potential rebuilding effort.
With the trade deadline just over a month away, Phil Jackson must take a hard look at the roster and where they are in the standings and decide what the best approach is. Jackson and the front office owes it to the Knicks to at least gauge the interest of his veteran players and consider the possibility of a rebuild. Anthony only has so many more years left as an impact player and he hasn’t been on a winning team for years. Rose is set to enter free agency this June and he likely prefers to be on a winning team as well. Whether the team can regroup and still make the playoffs this year or not, these next several months may be the moment of truth for the Knicks. They must make a decision and the sooner they make it, the better for all parties involved.