The New York Knicks are one of the most storied franchises in the NBA and play in the largest media market in the United States. In addition, Forbes had the Knicks at a $3 billion valuation back in January, 2016, which was good for No. 1 in the NBA at the time. Despite the fame and fortune, the team hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2012-13 season and hasn’t made the NBA Finals since 1999.
To help turn the team into a championship contender, team owner James Dolan hired former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson to be the Knicks’ team president in March of 2014. While Jackson brought with him 11 championship rings, he hasn’t yet figured out how to put together a successful roster in New York.
During his first offseason, Jackson fired head coach Mike Woodson and replaced him with one of his former players with the Lakers, Derek Fisher, who had no coaching experience and had only recently retired from the NBA. Jackson would go on to sign star Carmelo Anthony to a max contract that same offseason and made a minor trade for Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw from the Sacramento Kings.
In January of 2015, the Knicks were part of a three-team deal that sent Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dion Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Knicks received a 2019 second-round pick, Lance Thomas, Lou Amundson, and Alex Kirk. Thomas turned himself into a solid bench player this past season, but the Knicks have received essentially nothing from the rest of the players in the deal.
A little over a month later, in February of 2015, New York waived Amar’e Stoudemire. While he had become a shell of his former self to due knee injuries, Stoudemire was still averaging 12 points and 6.8 rebounds at the time of his release.
With New York’s newfound financial flexibility, Jackson entered the 2015 offseason with hopes of turning his team into a contender. Unfortunately, none of the big name free agents had any faith in the Knicks as a winner and chose to sign elsewhere. That forced Jackson into signing guys like Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, Arron Afflalo, and acquiring Kyle O’Quinn in a sign-and-trade agreement.
One bright spot for the New York Knicks and Phil Jackson from last offseason was the selection of Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Porzingis averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game during his rookie year as he finally created some excitement for Knicks fans.
After starting the 2015-16 season promisingly, the Knicks fizzled out and Jackson ended up firing Fisher after 23-31 record through 54 games. Phil then hired assistant Kurt Rambis to take over the reigns for the rest of the season as New York would finish with a 32-50 record overall.
Jackson knew entering this offseason that he must do something big to improve this roster. His first move was to hire former Utah Jazz player and Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek to take over on the bench. Hornacek went 213-101 in parts of three seasons with the Suns, but was fired in 2015 after the team started 14-35 due to a ridiculous string of injuries.
With a new voice leading the squad, Jackson next turned his attention to the roster and on Wednesday pulled off a trade with the Chicago Bulls for Derrick Rose. The Knicks sent Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant to the Bulls in exchange for the 27-year-old former NBA MVP.
While Rose certainly isn’t the player he once was due to injuries, he is coming off his healthiest season since 2010-11 and will enter the 2016-17 season essentially playing on a one-year deal which should give him extra motivation to play well.
With Rose, Anthony and Porzingis, the Knicks finally have a core that free agents might be enticed by and, according to the New York Daily News, it led Jackson to tell Rose that his next target in free agency is the biggest name on the board, Kevin Durant.
— NY Daily News Sports (@NYDNSports) June 23, 2016
Durant is set to be courted by a number of teams this offseason which includes, but is not limited to, the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Those three teams were the top three seeds in the Western Conference playoffs last season and held three of the top four records in the entire NBA.
It may seem like a long-shot for Durant to choose the Knicks over those three teams, but New York does have number of benefits it can pitch to Durant. On the basketball side, he will get to play with two other established stars and a budding star in Porzingis while playing for one of the most storied franchises in the league.
On the financial side, the Knicks can offer a max contract, the top media market in the nation and the ability to make even more money in endorsements than Durant does now. Financially, there isn’t a better option for Durant than the Knicks, and although he has said it will be purely a basketball decision, it could become a factor in his decision-making process.
However unlikely it is that the Knicks are able to sign Durant, Jackson finally has the team in a position stable enough to even be considered. As things stand right now, New York should be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference next season and if Durant shocks the world and chooses the Knicks, then the sky is the limit for a franchise that has been mired in losing for quite some time.
[Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images]