Both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis need to leave New York City on the first thing smoking.
There is no denying that New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony is one of the better players of this era. Anthony was the third overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets and as a rookie he averaged 21 points per game. For Anthony’s NBA career he has averaged 24.8 points per contest as he is a 10-time All-Star and a three-time gold medal winner with the United States Men’s Basketball team in the Summer Olympics. However an NBA Championship has alluded Anthony throughout his 14-year career and he has nobody to blame but himself.
Anthony entered the NBA as a member of the star studded rookie class that included Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James, Chicago Bulls shooting guard Dwyane Wade, and former Miami Heat power forward Chris Bosh. Anthony had success with the Nuggets as each season in Denver saw him make the NBA Playoffs, but the team was only to advance past the first round once. And as the story was beginning to get stale for Anthony in Denver, he was seeking a way out, but he missed his best opportunity.
In 2006, Anthony signed a five-year extension with the Nuggets for $80 million. However when James, Wade, and Bosh, signed their extensions with the Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Toronto Raptors respectively in 2006, they only signed three-year deals with an option for a fourth year. In 2010, James, Wade, and Bosh would all become free agents, and they shocked the basketball world when they decided to join forces in South Beach for the Heat. James really wanted to team up with Wade and Anthony who are his closest friends, but he would settle for Bosh. And after seeing this transpire Anthony would get himself out of Denver in 2011 as he was traded to the New York Knicks which would be the equivalent of reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Anthony would be given a hero’s welcome upon joining the Knicks as he helped them reach the playoffs for the first time in seven years. But whereas Anthony was simply able to help the Knicks reach the postseason, James and company were able to win back-to-back NBA Championships in 2012 and 2013. Prior to joining the Knicks in 2011, Anthony would sign a three-year extension with the Nuggets which set him up to become a free agent at the same time as Wade, James, and Bosh. But when James couldn’t get his way in Miami which included hoping to have Bosh sign with another team, he decided to return to Cleveland. After flirting with joining the Bulls, Anthony would ultimately re-sign with the Knicks to the tune of $124 million for five years. But one of the main factors in Anthony deciding to remain in New York was due to the fact that the Knicks were able to offer him more money than other NBA team. Anthony now has his money, but it hasn’t brought him any closer to winning a championship. And unless you’ve been locked away without any access to television or the internet, you see that the Knicks are an organization that is in complete disarray.
The Knicks have an owner in James Dolan who is now best known for having the team’s former starting power forward in Charles Oakley physically removed from Madison Square Garden earlier this month. Team president Phil Jackson has been unable to replicate the success that he had as a head coach in the NBA which saw him win 11 titles as his time in New York has been a complete disaster. All Jackson has done with the Knicks is to be stubborn about the team utilizing his beloved triangle offense, give out large contracts to aging players, and publicly criticize Anthony. Jackson’s public criticism of Anthony is his way of attempting to force the All-Star out of the door. But this would involve Anthony waving his full no-trade clause which was given to him by Jackson. And since that isn’t happening anytime soon, these two are stuck with each other.
The trade deadline in the NBA came and went last week without the Knicks making a move. Jackson would love to trade Anthony, but the only two teams that the small forward would be willing to waive his no-trade clause for are the Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers. However the Clippers don’t have the assets that the Knicks want, while the Cavaliers weren’t willing to make a straight up swap of Anthony for power forward Kevin Love which means that Anthony is stuck in basketball purgatory.
And now that James is in contention for his fourth NBA Championship, while Wade won three in Miami, and Bosh has two as he is currently semi-retired, Anthony can only count his millions. The Knicks paid Anthony, but with a record of 23-35 this season, New York will more be watching the playoffs from home for a fourth consecutive year. Anthony will be 33-years of age in May, and the clock is ticking on his chances to win a title as he flirting with being put into the category of great scorers who didn’t have what it took to win a title. Anthony does have the option to once again opt-out next summer. However Anthony would be passing up on nearly $28 million, but would he be willing to throw caution to the wind in order to take less money and be a part of a championship team?
Only time will tell if Anthony will ever get his chance to hoist the NBA Championship, but as time continues to tick away on his career, he has nobody to blame except himself for the predicament that he is currently in.
Sources: Sports-reference.com, Spotrac.com
The New York Knicks are one of the NBA’s original franchises, and their home has been dubbed as “The World’s Most Famous Arena”. The Knicks have called Madison Square Garden home since 1968 and they’ve had some good moments there which included Willis Reed’s epic performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals that catapulted New York to their first title. The Knicks would win their second NBA Championship in 1973 and continue to be a solid team which included trips to the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999. But when the Knicks were eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in 2001, little did they or any else know what coming down the pike.
19 games into the 2001-2002 NBA season, head coach Jeff Van Gundy resigned as the head coach of the Knicks and since then they’ve employed ten different head coaches. Included in that list of head coaches who couldn’t get it done for the Knicks over this stretch are some Basketball Hall of Famers such as Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, and Isiah Thomas. But unlike the Knicks of the 1990’s, this organization has not come close to being a championship contender and there is only one man to blame for that.
Since 1999, James Dolan has been the man who claims ownership of the Knicks. Dolan also owns Madison Square Garden, along with the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League, and the WNBA’s New York Liberty. But unlike the Rangers who appeared in the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, or the Liberty who’ve won four Eastern Conference Championships since their inception in 1997, the Knicks are at the other end of the spectrum.
Dolan has become the poster boy of the Knicks ineptitude as they’ve become one of the NBA’s laughing stocks. The Knicks have consistently mortgaged away their future for quick fixes which has done nothing more than set them back further, while also annoying an already furious fan base.
Since the end of the 2000-2001 NBA season, the Knicks have only had three winning seasons and with just 27 games remaining here in the 2016-2017 campaign, another trip to loserville appears to be on deck. But aside from the losing, it is how things are going down for the Knicks.
Since 2014, Phil Jackson has been the Knicks team president. Jackson did bring some excitement with him to the Garden since he won 11 NBA Championships as a head coach, and two more as a player with the Knicks. But when Jackson joined the Knicks, he didn’t have any previous front office experience and it is showing.
As the Knicks president, Jackson is married to the triangle offense which brought him success as a head coach. Jackson’s first hire with the Knicks was making Derek Fisher the team’s head coach. Fisher was fresh off of an 18-year playing career in the NBA. But like Jackson, Fisher didn’t have any previous experience for the post that he was ready to assume. Fisher’s saving grace was the fact that he played for Jackson and was familiar with his triangle offense.
In Fisher’s first season with the Knicks, the team went 17-65 for their worst season in franchise history. In Fisher’s second season, the Knicks were showing improvement as they were 23-31. But Fisher would be fired by Jackson for off-the-court issues which included his missing practice due to the fact that he could not make it back from California as he went to visit his girlfriend. The Knicks would go 9-19 for the rest of the season under interim head coach Kurt Rambis, while Jackson would set his sights on a new head coach.
But there would be a twist in Jackson’s search as Dolan who previously claimed that he would no longer meddle in the Knicks day-to-day operations, wanted a hand in picking the team’s next head coach.
Jackson was focused on another head coach who would run the triangle, but the Knicks would ultimately settle on former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek has been known to run an uptempo offense, but was open to using some of the fundamentals of Jackson’s triangle. But with Jackson and Hornacek not on the same page, the results have shown in the Knicks record.
The Knicks are currently 22-33 which includes dropping 23 of their last 31 games. The Knicks continue to slide in the standings as they are currently in the 12th place in the Eastern Conference and 3.5 games behind the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot. And a disgruntled fan base has to sit by and watch this team crumble before their very eyes.
Jackson has assembled the Knicks current roster and on paper, this would have been a good team five years ago, but the majority of their key players are washed up.
When Jackson joined the Knicks, he knew that he was going to have to convince small forward Carmelo Anthony to re-sign with the team. And in the summer of 2014, Anthony decided to remain in New York as he and the Knicks agreed on a five-year deal for $124 million. Part of Jackson’s sell job to Anthony was that he was going to put a team capable of winning a championship around him. But Jackson has been rebuffed in free agency by superstar players, and he has had to settle for washed up players such as center Joakim Noah and point guard Derrick Rose. Jackson’s greatest claim with the Knicks was drafting power forward Kristaps Porzingis in 2015, but his recent treatment of Anthony leaves something to be desired.
On multiple occasions Jackson has publicly criticized Anthony for his style of play. And on multiple occasions, Anthony has privately spoke to Jackson seeking to have this style of “communication” eliminated, but apparently to no avail. Jackson appears to be a man that is trying accomplish two things. First, Jackson has come across in a mode where he is attempting to get Anthony to waive his no-trade clause, while also trying to get Dolan to fire him with neither of these dreams set to become a reality anytime soon for him.
The only two teams that Anthony appears willing to waive his no-trade clause for are the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers. And whereas the Clippers don’t have the trade assets to accommodate the Knicks, the Cavaliers have no interest in making a deal as New York wants power forward Kevin Love in return which isn’t happening, thus Jackson and Anthony are stuck with each other.
Jackson also drew the ire of Cavs small forward LeBron James when he used the term “posse” to describe his business partners such as Maverick Carter earlier this season. Jackson is continuing to put his foot deeper into his own mouth and this only adds to the hypocrisy of Dolan.
In the past Dolan has gone out of his way to censor Knicks commentators such as Walt “Clyde” Frazier due to his criticism of the team. And part of Dolan firing Larry Brown as the Knicks head coach in 2006 was over his public criticism of players.
However Dolan’s time in operating the Knicks has been marred with lapses in judgement. We’ll never forget Anucha Browne-Sanders’ sexual harassment suit against the Knicks, Dolan, and Thomas in 2007 following her termination. A jury would ultimately rule in favor of Browne-Sanders which would cost Dolan and Madison Square Garden $11.5 million, along with public shame. Browne-Sanders’ claims of sexual harassment were initially directed at Thomas who Dolan decided to stand by which only made things worse. Dolan let his ego get in the way as it would have been very simple for him to cut Browne-Sanders a check for at least $7.5 million to make this problem go away without bringing public embarrassment to his organization, but that wouldn’t be the case.
Dolan’s ego continues to get the best of him as last Wednesday night saw former Knicks player Charles Oakley physically escorted out of Madison Square Garden and arrested. Oakley and Dolan will never be confused as far as being kissing cousins due to the fact that Oakley has been publicly critical of how the Knicks are being operated under Dolan. But Oakley is not saying anything that Knicks fans are saying on the streets of New York City aren’t spewing as they want to see this team win.
The altercation last Wednesday began during the first quarter of New York’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers when MSG security at the request of Dolan approached Oakley while he was seated a few rows behind the Knicks owner. Oakley who was known as a very intense competitor during his playing career immediately became agitated. And after a security member put his hands on Oakley, a scuffle ensued.
The result would become an embarrassing episode for Oakley, the Knicks, Dolan, MSG, and the NBA. Oakley would be arrested and charged with three counts of third-degree assault. Following Oakley’s arrest, the Knicks would make a statement on the matter which was capped off by the notion that the former player should “get help”.
Since then Dolan has fired the head of MSG security Frank Benedetto and banned Oakley from his arena indefinitely. But if Oakley was the aggressor and the one at fault as Dolan has publicly claimed, why did his head of security get shown the door?
Dolan has claimed that Oakley is an alcoholic and was intoxicated at the time of the incident. However Oakley has denied being intoxicated, while he has claimed that MSG security was on him the moment that he sat down. And it is Dolan that must be reminded that he was the one and not Oakley who was checked into a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol abuse in 1993.
At the end of the day this is something that the Knicks may never recover from under Dolan. Oakley is a Knicks legend as he was the heart and soul of the team during the 1990’s. Basketball fans in New York City embraced Oakley for his rugged style of play as he fought the likes of Charles Barkley, Xavier McDaniel, and Rick Mahorn. Oakley is one of those people that will tell you like it is whether you want to hear it or not which is why he is loved in the Big Apple. But since he spoke the truth about the Knicks and Dolan, he has been given the dry shave.
Dolan has reached out to former Knicks such as Allan Houston and John Starks as they’ve worked for the organization in the past, but not Oakley or Hall of Famer center Patrick Ewing. Ewing is currently an assistant coach for the Charlotte Hornets as the Knicks have all but refused to bring him back in a coaching capacity. Another former Knicks player in Mark Jackson has reached also out to the Knicks in the past as far as being a head coach, but like Ewing he was denied.
Instead of Dolan putting his ego aside in order to broker a meeting with Oakley, he has gone the route of appearing to be a bigger jerk in the eyes of Knicks fans as he’s decided to throw his weight around by sending his “goons” after Oakley, and subsequently banning his from MSG. And with the way that Jackson is treating Anthony, along with Oakley being handcuffed at the Garden, why would any talented NBA player be willing to sign his name on the dotted line in order to join the Knicks?
There’s a possibility that Oakley could sue Dolan and Madison Square Garden and he would have a strong case in his favor. Oakley sat down to watch the game and then MSG security approached him at his seat. But if Dolan expected Oakley to be that much of a problem, why was he allowed in the building in the first place? It wasn’t one member of MSG’s security team that approached Oakley, but several members which was not going to deescalate the situation. An MSG security official then put his hands on Oakley which caused him to react in a physical way. And once Oakley was restrained, Dolan rose up from his court side seat in the manner of a pleased mob boss who had just seen a planned hit orchestrated to perfection.
It also doesn’t help Dolan’s case due to his past drug and alcohol issues, the Browne-Sanders case, or the fact that some Madison Square Garden employees were terminated after they couldn’t make it to work due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
We’ve heard the term “starting over” thrown around in the Knicks direction before, but the only solution for the franchise at this point is to have NBA commissioner Adam Silver take the team away from Dolan. The Knicks play in the NBA’s biggest media market and they’ve failed to consistently be relevant for nearly two decades which doesn’t help the league. Penn Station is right under MSG, but the Knicks are the train wreck as the owner, team president, head coach, and star player are not on the same page as the results can be seen on a nightly basis when they take the court.
The Knicks are 22-33, but it is not farfetched to say that this team could struggle to win 10 games for the remainder of the season. Dolan is in a fantasy world as he feels that only a select few fans are displeased with the way that he is running the franchise, while Jackson has taken the term “out to lunch” to another plateau. Hornacek appears to be a nice man who walked into an impossible situation, but he should have known better since Madison Square Garden became a graveyard for basketball careers a long time ago. Anthony had the chance to get out of New York City nearly three years ago. However since the Knicks could offer Anthony more money than any other NBA team, he decided to stay.
The Knicks are so pathetic to the point that longtime season-ticket holder Spike Lee is willing to help Jackson “pack his bags” in order to leave town. But since Lee is a paying customer that is putting money into Dolan’s pockets, he not Oakley can be critical of the Knicks putrid performance.
As I stated in a previous blog post that the Ringling Brothers might be shutting down their circus which has come to the Garden for years, but we still have the Knicks. And at this point not even the Keystone Cops of the Three Stooges could hold a flame to Dolan’s Knicks are far as being clueless.
After 146 years of entertainment the Ringling Brothers Circus is shutting down. The circus provided laughter and excitement for all ages as it has always been pure entertainment. For many years one the of the best venues for the Ringling Brothers show was New York City’s Madison Square Garden as it in the heart the Big Apple. And even though that we won’t see the Ringling Brothers make their way to the Garden anytime soon, there is another circus that has taken its spot.
It’s hard to describe the New York Knicks as a basketball franchise. The Knicks last NBA Championship came in 1973 and although that they’ve come close hoisting the title a few times since then, they have specialized in the art of frustration.
In 2014, Phil Jackson was named as the Knicks team president. Jackson won 11 NBA Titles as a head coach, and two more as a player with the Knickerbockers. But Jackson never ran an NBA front office before coming to the Knicks and he was going to have to learn on the fly under the microscope of the biggest media market in the world. However since joining the Knicks, all that Jackson done is to tarnish his legacy.
Jackson is adamant about the Knicks operating under the umbrella of his triangle offense which led to all of his titles as a head coach. Jackson’s first order of business was to hire a head coach in Derek Fisher who played for him with the Los Angeles Lakers. With Fisher not having any prior coaching experience in the NBA, Jackson expected his transition to be a work in progress which it was as New York would go 17-65 in his first season. 64 games into Fisher’s second season he was fired after reports of him missing practices due to fact that he could not get back from Los Angeles in time where his girlfriend was surfaced. There were also reports of Fisher being linked to women who were involved with some players on the Knicks roster which would lead to him possibly losing the locker room.
Last summer Jackson was looking for another head coach to run the triangle, but Knicks owner James Dolan chimed in on the next hire which led to former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek taking over the team. Hornacek runs more of an uptempo style of offense, while Jackson still wants the Knicks to operate the triangle which has been a recipe for disaster.
Through 44 games the Knicks are 19-25 which includes going 3-12 over their last 15 games. And just like the Knicks were before Jackson arrived in New York, they are a team that is going in circles.
The Knicks have a star player in small forward Carmelo Anthony who is not going to lead New York to the NBA Title that people were hoping for when he was acquired from the Denver Nuggets in 2011. Anthony is an isolation ball player that needs 20-25 shots per game in order to effective. Jackson’s triangle offense relies on ball movement which is not the case when Anthony is on the court. Jackson had a chance to get from under Anthony in 2014 when he became an unrestricted free agent. But since the Knicks could offer Anthony more money than any other team, he was convinced to stay in New York by the likes of his wife La La Anthony and Jackson.
Jackson sold Anthony on the dream of teaming him with other star players which would lead to championships. But this season what the Knicks have is a roster that lacks star power, while it is comprised mainly of players that were good five years ago.
Last summer the Knicks acquired point guard Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls. Rose was the NBA’s MVP in 2011, but he has never been the same player since he suffered a torn ACL during the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Rose is averaging 17.5 points and 4.5 assists for the Knicks this season, but the explosiveness that he had with the Bulls is gone. The Knicks also signed Rose’s former Bulls teammate in center Joakim Noah to a four-year deal for $72 million. Noah was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 as he was a catalyst in regards to the Bulls success as far as being a consistent postseason team. But with back and feet injuries, Noah isn’t the same player that he was in Chicago as he has still managed to average 5.6 points and 9 rebounds in New York City. The Knicks do have their building block of the future in power forward Kristaps Porzingis who was Jackson’s first draft choice with the team. Porzingis is the Knicks second leading scorer at 19.4 points per contest, however an Achilles injury currently has limited his effectiveness.
But the Knicks biggest issues this season have come on the defensive end of the court. New York is 25th in points allowed as they are surrendering 108.3 points per game. In watching the Knicks play defense, there isn’t any communication or intensity which is hard to fathom with Noah on the team. However aside from Noah, the Knicks roster isn’t littered with players that dig in on the defensive end which means that their chances of winning will be hindered. And all of this falls under the category of a lack of leadership for this franchise.
The Knicks find themselves led by a meddling owner in Dolan, a team president in Jackson who is trying to do the old “bait and switch” by discussing his issues with Anthony publicly to the media as opposed to the player so that he’ll request a trade, and a head coach in Hornacek whose style of play doesn’t fit with how Jackson wants the team run. Anthony is an aging star with a bad knee who most people are finally realizing won’t lead the Knicks to an NBA Title, while Rose couldn’t pick up a phone to notify the team about his going back to Chicago to deal with a family issue as he went AWOL for New York’s 110-96 home loss on January 9 to the New Orleans Pelicans. And just as the Knicks have been a mess since 2001, they aren’t getting any better under Jackson’s watch.
There should be a sign in front of Madison Square Garden which reads “doomed to fail” as some of the best basketball minds in NBA history such as Larry Brown, Donnie Walsh, and now Jackson have all failed to clean up the mess that is the Knicks. Attempting to turn the Knicks into a winner is the equivalent of reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic as either the front office tries to build a winner overnight through various trades, or they don’t properly evaluate young talent. Jackson is too set in his ways which were successful for him before, but it is not going to happen in New York. Anthony is another in a long line of All-Star caliber players who upon arriving to 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue were unable to live up the unrealistic expectations that were put upon them. And at the end of the day all that the Knicks have to give to their fans are higher ticket prices to go along with a mediocre product on the court.
But all isn’t lost for the Knicks as they currently find themselves in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and 2.5 games behind the Bulls for the final playoff spot. However even if the Knicks are able to turn things around and make the playoffs, what good would it do them just to extend their season for four more games in order to be swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers? Success continues to be hard to achieve for the Knicks as long as the owner, team president, head coach, star player, and the majority of the roster aren’t on the same page. The only winners in this ongoing Knicks saga are the members of the media as they’ll have plenty to write about while they will continue to poke fun at and criticize this team. However watching the Knicks is worth the price of admission and then some as it is indeed the best circus in town.
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.