Knicks fall apart after promising start, miss third straight playoffs
As the weather gets warmer and the studying lasts longer, the 2015-16 New York Knicks season will end earlier than they would have liked it to for the third consecutive year. Coming off of a tanked season, all the talk was about making the playoffs in an improved Eastern Conference but the team failed to do so, trailing the eighth place Detroit Pistons by over 10 games.
The team unconvincingly hovered around the .500 mark for the first half of the season, never playing with enough consistency to prove they were a legitimate team. Then, on January 20, at Madison Square Garden, New York defeated Utah by a small margin in what ended up being the most exciting game and the highpoint of the year. This win gave the team a 22-22 record but more importantly it gave them realistic hope that they could be a playoff team in the East.
Through the final 38 games of the season, the team from Manhattan floundered, only winning 10 additional games. Derek Fisher was fired, Carmelo Anthony questioned his future in New York and Jose Calderon was unable to guard a snail. Disaster is an understatement for the way the team ended the year, considering how much potential they showed in the first half of the year.
When Kurt Rambis took over as the interim head coach, he talked about how the Knicks needed to make the playoffs but when he was unable to deliver on his promise, he completely changed his tone. Rambis said that Phil Jackson has done a “nice job with the process” through his first two full seasons in New York, despite only 49 wins to show for it. He showed that he is incapable of leading a team when the veterans had to come to him asking for their minutes to be cut down after they were eliminated from playoff contention. A head coach should know when to play the younger players to get more experience and it took the vets to speak up and teach Rambis this. What happened when rookie Jerian Grant received more playing time? He looked like an NBA player, something that could not have been said when he was playing less than 10 minutes a night.
Kristaps Porzingis, drafted fourth overall by the team, was the big news last summer, and he turned out to be everything Jackson and the Knicks could have hoped for and more. He reached his goal of turning “boos into cheers” through high-flying putback dunks, energetic blocks and impressive shooting. He actually impressed some fans so much that they are ready to call the 7’3” Latvian their next franchise player after Anthony.
Speaking of Anthony, he evolved as a player this season, averaging the most assists per game in his career. He was also a big brother of sorts to Porzingis, teaching him the ropes of the NBA. Anthony has said that he wished he had someone there for him when he first came into the league so he knows how important it is to have a mentor in the first year in the NBA.
While Melo and KP both had impressive years individually, there were some members of the team that disappointed mightily in 2016.
First on the list is shooting guard Arron Afflalo. He signed a two-year, $16 million deal that many think he will opt out of after his first year in New York. Afflalo was a former teammate of Anthony’s in Denver so to him it felt like the perfect place to go to for some familiarity. Except for a select few amount of games, Afflalo struggled to be the second scorer the Knicks were looking for when they signed him and certainly did not live up to their expectations of him defensively. All of this lead to his benching for Sasha Vujacic, which did not make Afflalo too happy. There was not much communication between him and Rambis after the media had their fun with the situation. The former Denver Nugget said he is looking for a starting job this summer and New York does not look like a likely destination for him so all signs point to his opt-out clause being utilized.
Another player who was expected to have a better season was Kyle O’Quinn. The Knicks signed him to a multi-year deal hoping to get some valuable minutes off the bench from their free agent signing but they did not get much from him. He went several games at a time not playing due to a coach’s decision and disappointed many who hoped he would contribute more to the team with his hustle and defensive prowess.
Heading into the summer of 2016, the team has some obvious holes to patch up to Anthony’s liking. He has said that he wants a say in the coaching decision if he has a future in New York and he is right. In the “Melo Era,” the Knicks have gone through four coaches and three general managers not to mention experimenting with dozens of players. The instability of the organization is “tough to go through,” in Melo’s own words as he sees his close buddies LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul all competing at high levels with their respective teams. Some notable coaches that are expected to be on the market are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. Instead, Jackson reportedly has some interest in retaining Rambis or hiring David Blatt. The point guard position for the team has also been a weak spot, something that should be addressed this summer.
Knicks fans have hope heading into this offseason, which has been the case for numerous years now. Will they continue to improve or will Jackson’s stubbornness drive Anthony and any hope New York has at competing out of town?