Knicked Up: The Perpetually Rebuilding NY Knicks

By Frank Maduri
Feb. 28, 2017

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks announced on Monday afternoon that their center, Joakim Noah, will undergo knee surgery that will most likely keep him out of action for the rest of the season. It is just the latest setback for a Knicks team that has been under siege all season, seemingly moving from one messy situation to another, and leaving the fans in a state of confusion regarding the path forward.

The team also released guard Brandon Jennings yesterday, because according to the reports from the beat writers, the team was not happy with the way he dealt with the struggles of the team this season. The Knicks are going to pay him the balance remaining on his contract, which was just a one year deal.

The Noah injury and now the surgery which will shelve him for the remaining games is a bigger issue in the context of his contract. The often injured center is in the opening year of a 4 year contract worth $72 million, and is owed a great deal of money beyond this year. The contract is a bad situation for the Knicks because Noah has not played particularly well, and it is going to be a hard contract to trade off the books. It is a bad contract with no real way for the Knicks to get out of it.

The size of that contract coupled with the salary that Carmelo Anthony pulls down is going to greatly impede the Knicks from fully embracing a rebuilding mode which should be taking place at this point. The roster in their current construction is one that has struggled against the rest of the league. The team needs to get younger and more athletic, which is obvious, but is difficult to actually achieve.

The more pressing issue is that this team is seemingly always in a rebuilding mode and “the plan” seems to continually meander from one set of objectives to another whole new set of objectives. The fan base is also increasingly disillusioned with Phil Jackson, who was brought in to run the basketball operations of the team and return them to a playoff and eventually championship level organization.

Jackson did decide to bring Carmelo Anthony back on a long term and lucrative contract which also provided Carmelo with a no trade clause. The clause has become problematic in his new attempts to trade the star scoring forward because the list of teams he would agree to waive the clause to go to is very limited.

The impetus to rebuild most teams in sports comes down to money, most struggling teams begin to suffer greatly with reduced revenues from eroding attendance levels at their games. The Knicks are in a different scenario. New York is a huge market and a tourist destination.

Madison Square Garden is an iconic sports arena which becomes a point of interest for visiting basketball fans to head to a game there. The Knicks are in the unique position of commanding higher prices for their tickets and being able to sell them and maintain a robust demand for those tickets.

It is this consistent demand for tickets and for merchandise and other revenue streams that the team has at their disposal which has diminished the need for them to return the team to a playoff level.

However, just because the Knicks are more immune to the financial implications of rebuilding the roster, does not mean that the fan base is not disillusioned or frustrated. The hard core fans have voiced their concerns over several types of platforms regarding the state of this team. The inactivity of the organization at the trade deadline last week has done nothing to diminish those concerns.

The Knicks front office tried to orchestrate their latest reboot in a half-baked manner. They opted to keep Carmelo Anthony last season rather than trade him, which is a quizzical move for a team that missed the playoffs and had a young star in the making in Porzingis. Most teams in the NBA that are in that situation trade away their veteran players in exchange for draft picks or other assets which will complement a younger star player.

Then, the Knicks entered this year with some concern that the playoff drought was becoming too long, so in an effort to get to the postseason this year, they added Joakim Noah, Jennings, and the talented but often injured Derrick Rose. They added a bunch of veteran players to try to complement Anthony and Porzingis and get to the playoffs, and it was a huge failure.

The only silver lining in this entire situation is that the Knicks have a first round draft pick in this summer’s draft. This will enable them to select another talented young player to the roster to complement the rest of the team. The unsubstantiated rumor that the Knicks and Phil Jackson are mulling the outright release of Rose from the team probably does not hold much weight.

That type of roster move would be almost unheard of in the NBA, and although it might make sense to a degree, it would be an embarrassing concession of a roster decision that has gone terribly wrong for the organization. The Knicks would basically pay Rose to stay home for the final six weeks or so that are left in the regular season.

Conversely, and in fairness to the Knicks, the trade market for Rose is nonexistent and he has not given much effort lately especially on defense, and his contract expires at the end of this season. It is a strange situation for sure, but the entire Knicks season has been strange.

The plan going forward is that they need to determine a new plan for the beginning. They were not able to trade Carmelo Anthony so that may be where they start the process for next season. They could attempt to move him in the offseason if the free agency process creates holes on the rosters of other teams, which invariably that does take place.

The front office could decide to keep Anthony or decide that the trade market for him is too undervalued, and attempt to bring in younger complementary role players to fit around Noah (who will still remain here due to that contract), Carmelo, and Porzingis. The rumor mill swirled on Tuesday (though CBS Sports confirmed this information) that the Knicks are targeting Jrue Holliday in free agency this summer.

Holliday, currently with the New Orleans Pelicans, would provide an instant upgrade at point guard, especially because Jennings was just released and Rose will not be returning to New York next season. The priority placed on a player of his caliber makes sense, but the ability of the Knicks to sign him could prove to be difficult.

The Knicks have other decisions to make in free agency this summer, they consistently chase the veteran players, when they should embrace the full rebuilding process. The team is at a crossroads and it may get worse before it can improve on the court.

In the end analysis, the Knicks front office must pick a strategy and stay with it, they must either fully strip down the roster, or find players that complement Porzingis in the short term. They just have to make a decision on a direction and not go halfway down a few different paths and then changing course. I have no idea what the plan is, it seems neither does Carmelo, and in time we will find out if it is business as usual or if they will fully commit to getting this team onto a path that leads to a more promising future.