Knicks Fix

  • Monday, June 30, 2014

    The Knicks Fix: JACKSON LAYS OUT THE NEW PHIL-OSOPHY

    Alacrity.

    That’s one of several words that Phil Jackson used to describe the attitude he is seeking from players as he embarks on revamping the roster. Alacrity describes an eagerness, a readiness and, most importantly, a willingness to play the game the right way.

    Jackson brought in Jose Calderon, whom he says will “fit into what we’re trying to do” on the court, mainly on offense. There are reports that say the Knicks may attempt to target Pau Gasol, an unrestricted free agent who, at 33, is still considered one of the best passing big men in the game.

    Gasol struggled with his game after Jackson and his philosophy left the Lakers, so a move to New York may be appealing to him. The hang-up of course is how the Knicks are restricted in what they may offer him because they are over the salary cap. But they could work a sign-and-trade in this scenario if the Lakers are willing. Gasol made $19.2 million last season and if he is looking to stay above $10 million, it could be an extremely difficult deal to make for both sides.

    The Knicks have their mid-level exception to offer, but not much else unless it comes by way of a trade, to make upgrades to the roster. Their target area likely will be modest as they try to protect as much of the cap space awaiting in 2015 when two major contracts – Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani – melt off the payroll.

    But Jackson did say he may be more aggressive this summer to add a free agent if something develops via trade.

     “We have many handicaps obviously with our salary cap being what it is,” he said. “But, you know, there’s always a possibility. We’re not going to rule ourselves out of any [situation] that could put us in the chance to really do something special.”

    Might that be Gasol?

    Free agency officially begins at 12:01 a.m. ET July 1 and a lot of teams begin business on the West Coast (9:01 p.m. PT on June 30). Primarily, Jackson and the Knicks have one of the biggest names in free agency to deal with in Carmelo Anthony, but there is work to be done in other areas to make sure Melo sees the progression of Jackson’s plan.

    Reports say Melo will begin free agency on Tuesday, talking to the Bulls in Chicago. He will then head to Texas on Wednesday to chat with the Mavericks and the Rockets, which I would file under “Due Diligence.” Reports say he will also talk to the Lakers in Los Angeles sometime next week.

    Why wait until next week? The free agency signing moratorium lifts on July 10. That is when teams can officially sign free agents. It is also the day before the NBA Summer League begins in Las Vegas.

    Melo has met with Jackson and coach Derek Fisher on several occasions already and Jackson has maintained personal communication with Melo as well.

    “We have every confidence that Carmelo is good for what his word is, that he wants to be in New York, that he likes playing in New York,” Jackson said. “He wants to compete, he wants to be part of a playoff team that’s bound and competitive towards a championship.”

    Regardless of who is in uniform next season for the Knicks, the game will be different than what we’ve seen in recent years. We can recall when Mike D’Antoni arrived and how the Seven Seconds or Less (SSOL) offense was supposed to light up The Garden. It did on some nights, but not nearly consistently enough and mainly to the detriment of defensive positioning.

    Some may point out that Melo came off disenchanted by the system, to suggest that’s why it didn’t work, but Jackson isn’t enamored by it, either. There is a defensive imbalance caused when you bury two players deep in the corners for three-point outlets and teams can exploit that on average to mediocre shooting nights.

    The SSOL did rely on selfless ball-movement, but so much of it was predicated on the ball-dominance of the point guard in high screen-and-roll attacks. Melo found himself a spectator too often and that’s not a comfortable place for a scorer. Want another example? See Jamal Crawford in early 2008-09, before he was traded. Crawford told me he struggled on the wing, trying to figure out how to get his shots while Chris Duhon and David Lee ran pick-and-roll all game long. Zach Randolph experienced the same issues early on.

    What Jackson hopes to implement with the Triangle Offense as a foundation – this won’t be an exclusive system, mind you, they will run other basic stuff – is a flow of movement by all five players on the court while maintaining a balance that keeps the team protected in defensive transition. The catch is all five players have to be committed to the movement and the responsibilities of the balance.

    That’s where the selflessness comes in. It goes beyond making the extra pass, which is something, if you’ve been paying attention, Melo never has had an issue doing since he joined the Knicks.

    Here’s Jackson, describing his philosophy, last week:

    “We want to have a certain sense of offensive alacrity where we’re getting up and down the court and challenging defenses to get back and protect the basket,” Jackson said. “We’re not comfortable just setting up in a half-court situation, even though we feel we have one of the best half-court scorers in Carmelo.

    “We know that basketball is a 94-foot game and you have to play it that way. So those are some of the messages we’re sending out there and to do that we’ve asked our players about the condition they have to be in, the defenses we’re going to require and that our offense requires ball-movement and player-movement. It’s not going to be a static game that they play, so they’re going to have to be in great condition to play it.”

    That last part provides yet another reason why Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton were jettisoned. Chandler often did not consistently run hard in transition and Felton’s conditioning was a major issue last season.

    Melo is going to have to push himself even more in this area, but as for players who remain, J.R. Smith might thrive in this system because he’s much better in transition than in half-court. Iman Shumpert’s conditioning was questioned last season, but when he is in shape, his game is also better suited for motion.

    The mistake last season was that the players arrived for training camp thinking the new season started there. They were wrong. The new season always starts in July.

    So here we go.

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