While the citizens of New York celebrated the acquisition of Derrick Rose, the front office executives in Chicago snickered. New Yorkers were and still are jubilant over the idea of the 2011 NBA MVP playing at the Garden, while Gar Forman and his staff were more than excited to the back of Derrick Rose, let alone getting a quality return for him. This trade on its own, in a weird way, defined the last 4 decades of Knicks basketball. It's a trade that creates a whole heap of buzz, but one that will prove ultimately fruitless.
Listen, everyone knows the risk/reward factor Rose presents. He's still an incredibly talented basketball player, that at his peak could be a franchise player if everything goes well. But his injury history is worrying. He may have played 66 of the 82 games in this past season, but in none of those 66 games, did Rose look like he actually trusted his body. Watching him play last season, was like watching someone drive a Bugatti Veyron, but trying to do it without wearing out the tires at all. He didn't wear out the tires too much, but he was driving around at like half speed.
I don't very much like the Derrick Rose trade at all. But what I dislike about it more than anything, over the assets they gave up, the risk taking they took and everything else, is the random change in direction that this trade represents.
Last season, the Knicks took what seemed to be a necessary step in their long road back to contention. In the 2015 NBA Draft, they picked Kristaps Porzingis, 19 years old at the time. That draft pick made it seem as if the Knicks were ready for a full-scale rebuild, a normal rebuild that 29 NBA teams would have taken. A rebuilding project that would involve the acquisition of assets, young talent, draft picks, cheap contracts and stuff like that. What the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz have done for the past few years, a process that have them in the playoff picture and in the case of the Celtics, on the verge of being in the realm of NBA contenders.
When the start of the 2015-16 season rolled around, it was shown that the Knicks lucked out. That aforementioned rebuilding process was about to be expedited, because unlike a lot of rebuilding processes -- funnily enough, like the Jazz and Celtics -- the Knicks got a superstar with their first lottery ticket. Kristaps Porzingis was everything the Knicks had been hoping for: a guy with limitless potential, perfectly suited to the new age NBA. This was their chance.
With Porzingis, that rebuild could be built around the 20 year old. Porzingis is still years away from being in his prime and he looks like his peak tops out as a perennial all-star. So why not make Kristaps the face of the franchise, blow the rest of the hapless roster up around him -- including Carmelo Anthony -- and build a super young core around the Zinger, to compete for not only one championship, but for multiple.
Now that's what their plan should've been, as soon as they discovered how good Porzingis was. After they got their ultra young franchise cornerstone, there was no need for Carmelo Anthony. By the time Porzingis hits his peak, how old will the now 32 year old be? 35? 37? Hell, might he be 40? By that time, it's doubtful that Anthony will be even half as good as he is now. In an ideal world, Melo would be 5-10 years younger, so he and Porzingis could be in their primes at the same time and potentially become contenders that way. If both of these great players were at their peaks, they would be among the Eastern Conference powerhouses.
But the fact is they aren't and the decision to keep Anthony on the roster, with his comically inflated salary, even after they realized Porzingis was ready to lead them for the foreseeable future, was as daft a decision as Phil Jackson has ever made. This is because as I wrote, Porzingis and Melo are in two completely different stages in their career. You cannot build around both of these guys at the same time, due to their ages. This pair will not be in their primes together and thus, cannot eventually compete for a championship, what should be your ultimate goal in the NBA. together. At least, without significant (and when I mean significant, I'm talking big) help.
I might be drawing a blank here, but has there ever been a team that has actually been successful in trying to go down both the rebuilding path and committing themselves to 'win now' mode? There's good reason behind that and it's because it doesn't work. Trying to keep and build around a guy who's at a point in his career where he's ready to go ring hunting, next to a developing Latvian who's probably 2-3 years away from being where he needs to be for the Knicks to even be a playoff team, is absurd.
The Knicks were in a position last season to commit to a 'win now' philosophy. They could've packaged their pick in a deal for someone of all-star caliber, used that player and a decaying Melo to make legit runs at big fish like LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and anyone else they fancied. But no, Phil Jackson stood still, signed some mid-tier free agents to good contracts and made it seem like he was ready for life after Melo, ready to build around young talent like Porzingis. Last offseason's dealings made it seem like the Knicks were finally ready to abandon their years of mediocrity and face a rebuilding project like a man. By not committing to a win now strategy, they should've went full fledged into blowing up the team and constructing the roster around youngsters.
Last season, they were unwilling to do this, which was at least defensible considering they didn't have their own draft pick. Bottoming out and tanking is pretty hard without a draft pick, after all. But not doing it this offseason, is inexcusable. They've seen what Porzingis could be able to do as the centerpiece of a franchise, so there should be no questions about that, they have their own draft picks from here on out and they saw Melo's decline before their own eyes, removing any sliver of hope that Porzingis and Anthony could potentially share each other's primes. They had all the evidence they needed to set their sights on the future.
But what did they do instead? Well, they did exactly what Isiah Thomas would've done if he were still in charge of the Knicks (and we all know how that went). Phil Jackson decided that instead of going down the path of Porzingis, he would re-enter 'win now' mode. That's exactly what he's done by trading for Derrick Rose, a guy that is past his best, will be 28 by the time the season starts and like Anthony, will be well past his prime by the time Porzingis is a world beater.
The Rose trade, regardless of what you think about the value, makes it impossible to justify trading Carmelo Anthony, which should have been step one of this rebuild. If you trade Anthony now, you are right back where you were prior to the Rose trade. The Knicks have commited to winning now with this move and if you don't believe me now, wait till the Knicks go out into free agency and splurge their cash on one of Dwight Howard or Joakim Noah. Or as I would call them, another 30+ year old that is far past his best.
Sure, winning now sounds great. All Knicks fans want to win now, it's what makes them Knicks fans. Sure it would feel great to win 40-45 games, instead of lumbering down in the low 30s, but where exactly does having 3 guys past their prime on massive contracts get you? Does it get you anywhere past a first round exit? Does it get you to the playoffs at all, considering the recent form of Melo, Rose and Howard/Noah? All it's doing from my point of view, is wasting away the years you could've made a solid, future-proof foundation for years to come, that could've actually competed.
When all of this crap is over, Phil Jackson and his Knicks are going to be left with a wonder-kid in his mid 20s, who will be in the same situation Carmelo Anthony has been in his entire career. When this existing core, barring of course, Kristaps Porzingis, eventually decays away, Porzingis will be left on a team that gives him no supporting cast at all, because they decided to ditch the idea of building for the future, for winning a mediocre amount of games in the short term.
I often laugh at Knicks fans for their unrealistic expectations. I often defend Phil Jackson's decisions. But his directionless management has gone too far.
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