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2014-15 New York Knicks Preview

(SportsNetwork.com) - The first full season under president Phil Jackson had its ups and downs this past summer.

First, Jackson was publicly rejected by his first choice of head coach, Steve Kerr. Kerr informed Jackson that he was going to take the same offer from the Golden State Warriors.

After wiping the egg off his face, Jackson found his man in Derek Fisher, his longtime point guard with the Los Angeles Lakers. Fisher retired from the Oklahoma City Thunder and took the job, bringing with him an amazing amount of playoff experience.

While that fiasco was going on, Jackson was able to mine a big positive out of the coaching mess. He, along with a max contract offer, convinced Carmelo Anthony to stay a member of the Knickerbockers.

"I am a New York Knick at heart," Anthony said when he signed. "I am looking forward to continue my career in Orange & Blue and to work with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world."

With all of that settled, Jackson now has to try and rebuild a team that went from Atlantic Division champions to interested spectators come playoff time.

Jackson shipped Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert and Shane Larkin. Gone was a former Defensive Player of the Year and a mercurial and very average point guard.

Calderon is a very capable point guard and good shooter. Dalembert can still block shots and Larkin has upside.

"It's a different makeup of the team," said Anthony. "We did bring back some guys that will fit in extremely well with the what we do. We have to bring it all together as one. I think this journey will be fun."

The other major change comes in the form of the triangle offense. Jackson is the master of it, so it stood to reason that his protege would implement it once he put the whistle around his neck.

Anthony should play the triangle beautifully. He is a top-three scorer in this league, not just in terms of production, but also in variety. That versatility came in handy in recent seasons when he played an undersized, stretch four.

That won't be the case this season. Anthony came into training camp much thinner and indicated he saw no reason he would return to that hybrid forward position.

Calderon is a great shooter, but his acquisition could speak volumes about the other major storyline surrounding the 2014-15 Knicks, the 2015-16 Knicks.

Amare Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, the overpriced, oft-injured power forwards, both are free agents at the end of the season. That will open up a lot of money for Jackson to spend this upcoming summer.

In the interim, Stoudemire and Bargnani will have to produce if the Knicks are to get back to the postseason. They could play together if the center trio of Dalembert, Jason Smith and Cole Aldrich doesn't produce.

There is some decent young talent at Madison Square Garden. Iman Shumpert is expected to start at the shooting guard. (He too is a free agent at the end of the season.) Tim Hardaway, Jr. made the All-Rookie First Team last season and Cleanthony Early was a steal in the second round after Jackson wheeled and dealed for extra picks.

And, there's always J.R. Smith.

After enjoying his best season in 2012-13, one that helped the Knicks to the division title and netted Smith a Sixth Man of the Year trophy, his follow up campaign was dreadful. There was surgery, a suspension, fines, untied shoes and lots of 3-point shots.

Reshaping the Knicks roster, after past mistakes by his predecessors, was a daunting task for Jackson. He did a solid job and the main reason for that was the Anthony signing. Had he bolted for the Houston Rockets, or Chicago Bulls, the Knicks would have plenty of money, but no star to build upon.

The Knicks will be the story of the summer with their obscene cap space. Until then, they will be in a pretty similar situation to last season - struggling to make the playoffs at best.

2013-14 Results: 37-45, 3rd in Atlantic. Missed playoffs

ADDITIONS: HC Derek Fisher, G Jose Calderon, C Samuel Dalembert, C Jason Smith, F Quincy Acy, F Travis Outlaw, F Cleanthony Early, G Shane Larkin

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- Jose Calderon SG- Iman Shumpert SF- Carmelo Anthony PF- Amare Stoudemire C- Samuel Dalembert

KEY RESERVES: G J.R. Smith, F Andrea Bargnani, G Pablo Prigioni, F Travis Outlaw, C Jason Smith, C Cole Aldrich, F Quincy Acy, G Tim Hardaway, Jr., G Shane Larkin, F Cleanthony Early

FRONTCOURT: Anthony didn't win a second straight scoring title, but his scoring output didn't slack off too dramatically. After finishing first at 28.7 ppg in 2012-13, Anthony scored 27.4 ppg last season.

Almost every other statistical category improved. He averaged a career-high 8.1 rpg, 3.1 apg and shot 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3- point range. Also, Anthony led the NBA in minutes per game at 38.7 a night.

Again, it's Anthony's versatility in how he scores that makes him so impressive. He's an excellent mid-range shooter, a good long range shooter, a great slasher and a very good rebounder for a wing player.

Anthony gets a bad rap in a lot of circles. In an otherwise pathetic season for the Knicks, Anthony never stopped playing hard. Critics say the ball stops when it gets to Anthony, but that's not totally accurate. There isn't much other offensive options for the Knicks, so he will take more shots than others, plus he gets a bad rap for that. Two of his six seasons averaging three-plus assists came in three of his full seasons with the Knicks.

Anthony's weight loss was sudden, but he's now built for athleticism, more than banging with the big boys. It was a great mismatch for the Knicks having fours cover Anthony, but it had to wear on Anthony to push around with them on the blocks. With his offensive ability, he could easily win another scoring title in the triangle.

Stoudemire is obviously a shell of his former self. He hasn't played close to a full season since his first in New York back in 2010-11. Oddly enough, Stoudemire seems pretty healthy to start this campaign.

In limited time, Stoudemire looked decent last season. He averaged almost 12 ppg in around 22 minutes per game. He still shoots a high percentage from the field.

In the final year of his contract, Stoudemire could be trade bait. He is scheduled to make over $23 million this season to play 20 minutes. That money is very valuable in the offseason for Jackson.

Dalembert is 33 and will be on his sixth different team in the last six seasons. He's averaged 1.8 blocks per game in his career, although the last time he averaged that number was in the 2009-10 season. Dalembert doesn't have much left. An occasional block is about the most the Knicks should hope for.

BACKCOURT: Calderon started 81 games for the Mavericks last season. He averaged 11.4 ppg, 4.7 apg while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 45 percent from long range. Calderon's assist numbers were way down from seasons past. He didn't always play fourth-quarter minutes for Dallas when Devin Harris returned from injury. Calderon's shooting ability off screens should help him in the triangle.

It's also worth noting that the Calderon acquisition could pay future dividends. No, it's not financial since Calderon has three years left at about $22 million. The Spaniard is tight with national teammate Marc Gasol, who is a free agent in waiting this summer, and is also considered to be a perfect fit for the triangle, much like older brother Pau was with Jackson in L.A.

Shumpert is probably the most excited guy in Knicks' camp considering how little he cared for former coach Mike Woodson. Shumpert has found peace with Fisher.

"He sort of seems like he did it before," Shumpert told the New York Post. "I didn't think he'd be that good off the bat. He speaks as if he's been coaching for years."

Shumpert is a strong defender and very pedestrian offensively. His field-goal percentage has dipped every season and his 3-point shooting plummeted last season.

This is a big season for Shumpert. His rookie deal runs out at the end of the campaign. Does he get a long-term deal, or does he become a casualty in Jackson's summer of cap space?

BENCH: J.R. Smith started 37 games last season and averaged 14.5 ppg, which was down almost 4.0 ppg from the season prior. He shot a respectable 39 percent from beyond the arc, but hoisted 6.5 attempts per game. That number is too high.

Smith needs to corral his nonsense. After being warned by the NBA, Smith continued to play games with opponents by trying to untie their shoes during free throws. He was suspended for his behavior, although the stupidity of continuing to do it knows no bounds.

It's a big season for Smith.

Bargnani played a titch over half the season before an elbow injury shut him down. He claims to be healthy, and, like so many Knicks, this is an important time. He's a free agent and hasn't lived up to his No. 1 overall pick status. Theoretically, Bargnani could be alright in the triangle since he has good range for a big man. But he lacks toughness, rebounding skills or defensive prowess.

Prigioni is as steady as he goes.

Outlaw is a worker and journeyman. He came over from the Sacramento Kings and will probably spell Anthony. Although, Early might make more sense considering his age and upside.

Jason Smith is a decent talent whose 2013-14 campaign was cut short in New Orleans because of knee surgery. He might play more than Dalembert if he can stay healthy.

Hardaway was a bit of a revelation last season, his rookie year. He averaged double figures in just 23 minutes, shot 36 percent from 3-point range and defended admirably. He makes Shumpert expendable, or, Hardaway could be expendable himself.

COACHING: Fisher was a respected point guard for a lot of years. He owns the NBA record for most playoff games as a player and can relate to the current player since he was a member of the Thunder just last season.

A few potential land mines exist.

First, Fisher wasn't beloved in his role as president of the NBA Players Association. The other dilemma might be Jackson's meddling. Jackson already told the media he's resisting the urge to tinker with Fisher's practices.

There's a big shadow being cast by Jackson in the Big Apple. Some still assume he will take the coaching duties of the team again, but Fisher has earned universal praise thus far.

"Any time you have a new coach, a new energy comes with that," said Anthony. "Everybody is rejuvenated again."

OUTLOOK: The long-run plan for the Knicks is pretty solid. With the new media deal, the cap will go up and that can only help the Knicks who traded so many future picks they need to build through free agency. They have the lure with the New York market, Jackson and Anthony.

Jackson did a nice job doing what he could under the cap constraints. He got Anthony, that was most important. He'll have money this summer to really get to work, or, he could wait a year when the new money kicks in from the TV deals, and he can make a push for LeBron James, or Kevin Durant.

As for this season, this team is not much better than last year's which missed the postseason. The Knicks could wiggle into the postseason ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, but that's their ceiling.

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