Both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis need to leave New York City on the first thing smoking.
When New York Knicks president Phil Jackson used the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft on power forward/center Kristaps Porzingis, he received a ton of flack and criticism. At the time Porzingis was an unknown to the average American basketball fan coming out of his native Latvia. And at 7’3″, 240 lbs., most Knicks fans could only reminisce about the 1999 NBA Draft when New York selected center Frederic Weis whose basketball claim to fame was getting dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Summer Olympics. On that fateful night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York at the 2015 NBA Draft, Knicks fans were ready to erupt with disgust as rumors swirled about New York possibly selecting Porzingis, and when it happened, there was an echo of boos that rained down from the rafters there.
But the skepticism for Porzingis quickly turned to optimism as he showed off his skills as a passer, along with his post game in the Las Vegas Summer League. In Porginzis’ first regular season game with the Knicks, he went for 16 points and 5 rebounds in a 122-97 victory for the Knicks over the Milwaukee Bucks. As a rookie Porzingis would average 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds which included 14 games where he scored at least 20 points, while also recording 21 double-doubles. Porzingis would go on to be named to the NBA’s All-Rookie team while he also gave the Knicks hope as the same fans that wanted him run out of town when he was drafted, were now buying up his merchandise in the boatloads.
Porzingis has gone two show that he isn’t a one-hit wonder as he has instead opted to display his talents to remain on Broadway for the coming years. This season through 15 games, Porzingis is averaging 20.7 points and 7.3 rebounds has been highlighted by a 35-point performance on November 16 against the Detroit Pistons. And even though that small forward Carmelo Anthony is the highest paid player on the Knicks roster this season at roughly $24.5 million, he is being pushed by Porzingis to be the face of the franchise.
Porzingis was 19-years old when the Knicks drafted him and Jackson, along with some international basketball scouts compared his game to that of Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki is a native of Germany and he has gone on to be arguably the greatest European born player in NBA history. Like Nowitzki, Porzingis has the potential to be a quality post player, while he is also a solid rebounder as well as a passer. And like Porzingis, Nowitzki, had his doubters when he came to the United States, but it would not take him that long to amaze folks with his game.
Porzingis has the potential to be a player that can average 25 points and 10 rebounds per contest for the Knicks, while his passing skills are ideal for the triangle offense that Jackson loves to run. Jackson has taken some heat during his tenure as president of the Knicks for his inability to turn the Knicks into a winner, but he appears to have made a slam dunk with Porzingis.
Anthony is 32-years of age and with a bad knee, the Knicks should not count on him to be an All-Star caliber player for that many more seasons. Porzingis on the other hand is young and doesn’t realize how good that he can be as the sky is the limit for him. And as the Knicks are still trying to find their identity in the early stages of this NBA season, head coach Jeff Hornacek has been running more of the offense through Porzingis. Anthony is averaging 23.3 points per game, while Porzingis is checking in with 20.7 per contest which gives you an idea that times are changing at Madison Square Garden.
Porzingis represents hope for the Knicks and their fans as he is indeed a building block for the present and the future as he stands to be the team’s most important draft pick since Patrick Ewing.
X-Toronto Raptors 54-28 (3)
The past three years have seen the Toronto Raptors become the class of the Atlantic Division. The Raptors have focused on basketball fundamentals which has led to more wins and a growing fan base in Canada. The Raptors will begin the upcoming NBA season as the three-time defending Atlantic Division Championships, and after Toronto reached the Eastern Conference Finals last June for the first time in franchise history, the expectations around this team have increased.
Dwane Casey is set to begin his sixth season with the Raptors and in each of his campaign’s in Toronto, the team’s win total has increased. And after the Raptors won a franchise best 56 games last season, they are poised to once again be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
The backbone of the Raptors has been their All-Star backcourt of point guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan averaged a career-high in points last season at 23.5 points per game as he continues to improve as a perimeter shooter. Lowry’s numbers have continued throughout his NBA career as he is emerging as one of the better point guards in the league. Last year Lowry averaged 21.2 points and 6.4 assists per contest and as he intends to test free agency next summer.
Around Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors have developing players such as center Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas has spent his entire four-year NBA career with the Raptors and his numbers continue to improve as he averaged 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds last season. Valanciunas is a prime candidate to average a double-double this season which could make the Raptors that more difficult to deal with. The Raptors signed center Jared Sullinger who could be a solid role player in Toronto after he spent the last four years with the Boston Celtics. And the Raptors first-round pick in center/power forward Jakob Poltl could give them another dynamic as a big man that can stretch the floor with his ability to hit he mid-range jump shot.
Size has been the one thing that has held the Raptors back in recent years, but as this team continues to get better in the front court, their chances of being a title contender are that much better.
Y-Boston Celtics 48-34 (4)
The past two years have seen the Boston Celtics become “The Little Engine That Could” of the NBA. The Celtics are not the most talented team in the league, but they scrap and claw on a nightly basis as they are a team that opponents are not excited to face. Brad Stevens is the Celtics head coach, and it is a post that he has maintained for the last three years. And in each year that Stevens has been in Boston, the Celtics win total has increased. The last two seasons have seen the Celtics make the playoffs, but they’ve been unable to advance past the first round. However will things change for the Celtics next spring?
Last year saw point guard Isaiah Thomas turn into a star for the Celtics. Thomas led the Celtics in points per game (22.2) and assists (6.2) as he earned his first All-Star Game nod. Thomas has solid ability as a point guard being that is able to penetrate, but for the Celtics to take that next step they are going to need a consistent low-post presence.
For the last nine years, center Al Horford has been one of the cornerstones of the Atlanta Hawks. With the Hawks, Horford was a four-time NBA All-Star as he averaged 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds during his time there. But when Horford became a free agent this past summer, the Hawks signed center Dwight Howard which made him expendable. And when the Celtics offered Horford $113 million on a four-year deal, he jumped on it.
Horford gives the Celtics a dependable scorer in the post, and he has already been named as one of the team’s captains which gives you an idea of the respect that he commands.
The combination of guards Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley continue to pester opponents with their frenetic play at both ends of the floor. Both Smart and Bradley are two of the better defenders at the point guard position along with each player providing a change of pace on offense which gives Stevens more options as he preaches versatility with his team.
Veteran small forward Jae Crowder should be able to feed off of Horford’s presence in the front court as he no longer has to be the Celtics primary scoring option in the post. The Celtics have high hopes for their first-round pick in small forward Jaylen Brown. But a sleeper on this roster could be rookie forward Ben Bentil who averaged 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last year in the college for the Providence Friars. Aside from leading the Friars in scoring and rebounds, Bentil also led the team with 52 made three-point field goals, and his scoring ability will be huge off of the bench for the Celtics.
Five of the Celtics first six games this season will be at home, and a fast start could be just what they need to push the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
New York Knicks 41-41
When Phil Jackson became the president of the New York Knicks in March 2014, he brought excitement and expectations to the franchise. But in two seasons under Jackson’s regime, the Knicks have only managed to win 49 games, while the man that he was grooming to be the next “great head coach” in Derek Fisher was fired last season after the team got off to a 23-31 start. Kurt Rambis would be named as the Knicks interim head coach for the remainder of the season as New York went 9-19 under him. But what was even more surprising than the firing of Fisher was that Jeff Hornacek was hired to be the new head coach of the Knickerbockers.
The Knicks will be Hornacek’s second NBA coaching gig after he compiled a record of 101-112 in nearly three seasons as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. Hornacek was never able to lead the Suns to the postseason, and the highlight of his time in Phoenix was when the team won 48 games during the 2013-2014 NBA season. However it is really going to be very interesting to see how the marriage between Hornacek and Jackson will work since Jackson is notorious for hiring coaches that will solely run his triangle offense which isn’t a specialty of the Knicks new head coach who prefers a more uptempo style of offense.
The hiring of Hornacek smells of Knicks owner James Dolan once again putting his nose into the day-to-day operations of the team which makes you wonder if Jackson’s days at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue are numbered? And even though that the Knicks can be described as the best circus in town, this group must find a way to co-exist in order to make a roster that has individual talent work as a team.
The centerpiece of any potential Knicks success is small forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has been with the Knicks since 2011 and he has given New York a face of the franchise while helping them reach the postseason on three occasions. Anthony also led the NBA in scoring during the 2012-2013 NBA season, but since then his offensive numbers have dipped. Anthony is 32-years of age with a bad knee. And although that Anthony can still fill up the bucket, the clock is ticking on he and the Knicks to win a championship together.
The Knicks are hopeful that power forward Kristaps Porzingis will be able to build off of his solid rookie campaign. Last season Porzingis averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. Porzingis came into the NBA being compared to Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki, and he could be a player that could average 17 points and 10 rebounds this season under Hornacek.
This off-season has seen the Knicks bring in an array of veteran players. The Knicks signed former Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah to a four-year deal that is worth $72 million, while also signing guards Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee. The Knicks would also acquire point guard Derrick Rose from the Bulls to complete their roster overhaul. But unfortunately for the Knicks, these are moves that should have been made five years ago.
In 2011, Rose was the NBA’s MVP as he was one of the league’s brightest stars. However since then knee injuries have derailed Rose’s once promising career. Noah was Rose’s teammate in Chicago where they helped the Bulls to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference when they were healthy. Noah was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 as his toughness and grit defined that era of Bulls basketball. But like Rose, Noah has been dealing with injuries as foot and shoulder issues have limited his effectiveness over his final two seasons in Chicago. The Knicks will be the fourth different team that Jennings has suited up for and he is seeking to find the explosiveness that he had earlier in his career. Like Jennings, Lee has bounced around the NBA as the Knicks will be his seventh different team. Throughout Lee’s career, he has been an underrated defender that should be able to provide a spark off of the Knicks bench for Hornacek.
The Knicks will look to push the pace of play more this season under Hornacek, but the most important thing for New York is to have everyone on the same page as it will be very interesting to see how this motley crew comes together as the season progresses.
Philadelphia 76ers 29-53
It’s no secret that the Philadelphia 76ers have become the worst franchise in the NBA. The 2011-2012 NBA season was the last time that the Sixers finished with a winning record and it was their only winning campaign over the last seven years. The last three seasons have seen the 76ers combine to win 47 games, and to give you an idea of how bad that it has been in Philadelphia, ten NBA teams won more games than the Sixers last year alone than they were able to accomplish over the last three campaigns. Last season was just about as bad as it could get for the Sixers as they managed to go just 10-72 which led to some wholesale changes.
Sam Hinkie was relieved of his duties as the 76ers general manager after he oversaw the worst stretch in franchise history. Former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo was brought in by the Sixers as an advisor and his first order of business was to name his son Bryan as the team’s new president and general manager. The younger Colangelo has a proven track record of putting a team together from his time as the general manager of both the Suns and Toronto Raptors as he was named as the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2007. Now Colangelo is tasked with making the Sixers respectable once again and they could be a team on the rise.
Brett Brown is set to begin his third season as the Sixers head coach and although that the man who hired him in Hinkie is no longer running the show in Philly, he will still be calling the shots on the sideline.
The Sixers will begin the upcoming NBA season on the wrong foot as they will be without the services of small forward Ben Simmons. Simmons was the first overall pick of the NBA Draft this past summer after he averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in one year for the LSU Tigers. But a foot injury will keep Simmons out of action for at least three months which will postpone his NBA debut.
The inability for the 76ers to win games in recent years has led to selecting early in the NBA Draft, but Hinkie rolled the dice on players that weren’t healthy. In 2013, the Sixers obtained the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel from the New Orleans Pelicans, but he missed the entire 2013-2014 NBA season after he recovered from a torn ACL that he suffered in college. In 2014, the Sixers used the third overall pick of the draft on center Joel Embiid, but injuries have prevented him from participating in an NBA game. Last year the Sixers first-round pick was center Jahlil Okafor. Unlike Noel and Embiid, Okafor was able to suit up as a rookie for the Sixers as he averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds in 53 games before a knee injury cut his rookie campaign short. However all three players are healthy and it should give the 76ers a huge advantage in the front court.
The good things for the folks in Philadelphia is that it can’t get any worse than it has already been. Colangelo is working to bring a competitive team to the City of Brotherly Love and the 76ers should be an improved team this season.
Brooklyn Nets 22-60
Last year was a sign of things to come for the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets lost 61 games last season which was the third worst record in the NBA and the icing on the cake was that they didn’t have a first-round pick to show for their futility. The Nets are still suffering from the moves that were made by former general manager Billy King as most of their recent and future picks are now property of the Boston Celtics after the team’s failed attempt to become an instant title contender in 2013 when they acquired aging players such as power forward Kevin Garnett and small forward Paul Pierce. The Nets run at a title was short lived as they are coming off of their worst campaign since 2010 when they were still the New Jersey Nets.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has finally realized that winning an NBA Championship is not an easy process and instead of the quick process, he has finally decided on the slow, methodical process. Prokhorov has hired Sean Marks as the Nets new general manager and he’ll be tasked with making Brooklyn respectable.
Marks played for 11 seasons in the NBA and he won a championship as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. Marks has spent the last four years working in the Spurs front office and he is looking to bring some of that winning formula with him to Brooklyn.
Marks’ first order of business was to hire a new coach in Kenny Atkinson. The Nets will mark Atkinson’s first head coaching gig in the NBA, but he has had stints as an assistant coach in the league with the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. And now that Atkinson is running the show in Brooklyn, you can expect him to preach ball movement for the Nets.
One of the few bright spots that the Nets have on their roster is center Brook Lopez. Lopez is coming off of one of his best NBA seasons as he averaged 20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in 73 games for the Nets. Lopez gives the Nets a solid presence in the post, but trading him to a contending team could return draft picks to Brooklyn that will be needed in order for them to turn things around.
Aside from Lopez, the Nets are a team that is mainly comprised of youngsters that are thankful to be on an NBA roster and veterans that are attempting to hold on. This past summer the Nets signed point guard Jeremy Lin to a three-year, $36 million deal as they are hopeful than he can give them a dose of “Linsanity” as he did when he suited up for the Knicks in 2012. Rookie shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead is a native of Coney Island and he won’t be fazed by playing in front of the hometown fans as he could have a positive impact on this team.
The Nets will be fighting an uphill battle all season long as they have finally come to grips of the reality that is their rebuilding process.
This past summer at the 2015 NBA Draft, I like many people questioned the decision by the New York Knicks to draft power forward Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks came into the NBA Draft owning the fourth overall pick, and after winning just 17 games in the previous NBA season, New York was in need of an impact player. When Porzingis walked across the stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York to shake the hand of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, he was greeted loudly by a chorus of boos. It is very difficult for a fan of the Knicks to be optimistic about this team being that they have seen the front office in New York miss so many times in the NBA Draft as this is an organization that is still clinging to their last NBA Championship that was won back in 1973 along with the fact that they call New York City home.
When Porzingis was drafted, he gave fans of the Knicks flashbacks of Frederic Weis whom the team drafted in 1999. But Knicks team president Phil Jackson preached patience on Porzingis as he was only 19-years of age at the time that he was drafted while assistant coach Kurt Rambis compared him to a younger version of Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki. But make no mistake about it that Porzingis is making the most of his opportunity with the Knicks.
During the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas, Porzingis averaged 10.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as the slender 7’3″ native Latvian was beginning to get his feet wet against NBA-type talent. But as usual in the Big Apple, there were still skeptics about the ability of Porzingis to get it done when the bright lights of the NBA regular season were on.
But in Porzingis’ first regular season game in the NBA, he went for 16 points and 5 rebounds as the Knicks smoked the Milwaukee Bucks 122-97. And five days later Porzingis earned his first career double-double when he went for 13 points and 14 rebounds in a 94-84 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. As the season has gone along, Porzingis has continued to improve which was evident by him dropping 29 points and 11 rebounds on the Charlotte Hornets on November 17, 24 points and 14 rebounds versus the Houston Rockets on November 21, and 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Miami Heat on November 23.
For the season, Porzingis is averaging 13.0 points per game along with leading the Knicks in rebounds (8.1) and blocks (2.1) as he is a big reason why the Knicks have nearly eclipsed their win total from last season while they are also thinking about making the postseason in the spring.
Porzingis’ game is perfect for the triangle offense that the Knicks implement under Jackson and current head coach Derek Fisher. Some folks might call it the “European-style” of basketball that Porzingis plays, but you can see that he is indeed a student of the game. The triangle offense is a system that is predicated off of ball movement and Porzingis is a solid passer while also being able to play in the post as he is more of a point forward. And for the first time in a long time, the Knicks appear to have a franchise cornerstone as Porzingis appears to be the team’s best draft pick since Patrick Ewing in 1985.
Porzingis has captivated the Knicks fan base as his merchandise has been selling like hotcakes due to the fact that he has given them hope. We saw this a few years ago with the Knicks during the 15 minutes of fame in regards to “Linsanity” as the fans rallied around point guard Jeremy Lin, but Porzingis appears to be the real deal.
Porzingis is also on track to be the NBA Rookie of the Year and he would become the first Knicks player since Ewing in 1986 to win the award. Small forward Carmelo Anthony might be the current star of the Knicks, but Porzingis is the building block for the organization and he has given Jackson some options. Porzingis has a team friendly rookie deal that will run through 2019 as Jackson will continue looking to add more players who will help to transform the Knicks into legitimate title contenders. And although that Anthony is the Knicks leading scorer at 21.8 points per game this season, it is wishful thinking that Jackson could move his contract due to the fact that he is 31-years old with a bad knee. After this season, the Knicks will still owe Anthony nearly $80 million through 2019 when his contract expires and between now and then it could become dead weight.
But Porzingis’ ability to pass, score, and rebound is making him into a star in New York City and around the NBA as his game should be attractive to pending free agents as far as potentially joining the Knicks. Porzingis has also shown that he is not afraid of the spotlight as he wanted to play for the Knicks and he echoed that to the team before they drafted him last summer which is a welcoming sight due to the fact that many players cannot handle the pressure that comes with playing in New York City.
There is plenty that still has to be written in the book of Porzingis, but the first chapter has captivated basketball fans in the Big Apple while he is making Jackson look like a genius while most of us doubted his ability to get things done in the front office.
Last year when Phil Jackson became the new team president of the New York Knicks, he was looked at as a savior. Jackson played 12 seasons in the NBA and he helped the Knicks win their only two NBA Titles in franchise history. Jackson would then go on to win 11 NBA Championships as a head coach which is more than anyone else in league history. So when Knicks owner James Dolan appointed Jackson to his current post last year, the folks in New York City expected the Knicks to become instant winners, but that hasn’t been the case.
Jackson’s first move in New York was to name Derek Fisher as the Knicks new head coach. Fisher played for Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers and the two helped the franchise win five NBA Championships. And when Jackson and Fisher entered Madison Square Garden, they came in as if they were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as they were attempting to save the Knicks from themselves.
But in the Knicks first full season under Jackson’s regime, the team went 17-65 which was the second worst record in the NBA. And in typical Knicks fashion, the ping-pong balls didn’t bounce in their favor at the NBA Draft Lottery as they were left with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Jackson spent this past season raving about point guard D’Angelo Russell to the point that he was fined by the NBA for publicly discussing a player that had yet to declare for the NBA Draft. Jackson was so enthralled with Russell that he never mentioned any other top prospects that the Knicks would be interested in selecting. The Lakers had the second overall pick which they used on Russell. But the calamity of errors that is the Knicks would be completed when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced their pick.
The Knicks selected power forward Kristaps Porzingis this past Thursday night and the boo birds reigned supreme at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York to the point that it sounded like Madison Square Garden. Porzingis is a 19-year old native of Latvia that Jackson compares to Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowtizki. But the folks in New York were expecting the Knicks to select a more established college player from the United States as Porzingis invokes memories of Frederic Weis in 1999.
One person that is not a fan of the selection of Porzingis is Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony.
As a result of Jackson’s influence, Anthony re-signed with the Knicks last summer to the tune of $124 million over five years. Jackson promised Anthony that he would build a contender around him and even though Anthony has backtracked publicly about his displeasure of the Knicks taking Porzingis, the die has been cast as he is not happy. And although that the Ringling Brothers Circus no longer comes to Madison Square Garden, Knicks owner James Dolan (himself included) has the best clowns in town working in the front office who actually believe the garbage that this team can contend for an NBA Championship in the near future.
Jackson’s famed triangle offense has only worked when Michael Jordan and current Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant suited up for him. Jackson has never drafted a player and turned him into a star and the same can be said about him building a team from the ground up. Dolan has given Jackson full autonomy with the Knicks and as long as Dolan is willing to write the checks, Jackson can care less if the folks in the Big Apple like what he is doing. Fisher is Jackson’s apprentice with the Knicks and he is already a defeated man as Jackson handed him a beaten up Trans-Am to restore in the Knicks that instead are ready for a scrap metal yard. Anthony is 31-years old and he is coming off of knee surgery. Anthony wants to win, but he should have taken less money to join the Chicago Bulls last summer as they would have given him a more realistic shot to win. Jackson may not care what people think of his moves or lack thereof, but he’ll still has to convince the media, Anthony, and the season-ticket holders in New York why this team is ready to make a push for the postseason. Training camps in the NBA are set to open in three months and already you can write the Knicks epitaph for the 2015-2016 season before it even starts. By the looks of things, Jackson is becoming just another basketball icon that associated himself with the Knicks only to realize that they are a sinking ship that is flush out of lifeboats and it is a very long swim to shore.