Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

FIEGE: Knicks’ Trades Fall Flat

Phil Jackson is the self-proclaimed “Zen Master” of the NBA. It is hard to argue with the title and the quirks that are associated with it, especially when considering his 13 championship rings. It was this reputation that brought great expectations to the New York Knicks’ fan base when it was announced that the team’s former champion power forward would be joining the front office in an executive role. Nearly a year later, it is apparent it will take more than the adoption of the triangle offense or the appointment of Derek Fisher as head coach to solve the franchise’s problems.

Despite having re-signed scoring superstar Carmelo Anthony to a five-year, $125 million contract this past summer, the Knicks have already given up on this season, as their 5-35 record — the club’s worst winning percentage of all time — would suggest. At the beginning of the season, I could not have predicted such a catastrophic implosion — the team’s roster is comprised of decent individual players, and its leadership has proven to be competent in the past.

Yet, in retrospect, the root of the Knicks’ problems becomes clear — Jackson and Fisher failed to instill a winning culture in the program, a failure that has been amplified by Carmelo’s questionable health and the players’ unwillingness to adapt to Phil Jackson’s treasured offensive system. As a result, a dramatic three-team trade, between the Knicks, the Cavaliers and the Thunder, which was finalized last week, signaled the beginning of the end for the current version of the Knicks.

Essentially, the trade indicates the Knicks’ intention to clear house in order to initiate a rebuilding phase. They sent the injured Iman Shumpert and the mercurial J.R. Smith to Cleveland, receiving three players with expiring contracts and a future second-round draft pick in exchange. As part of the deal, the Knicks also waived center Samuel Dalembert, and the Cavaliers sent shooting guard Dion Waiters to the Thunder.

With the NBA trade deadline looming on the horizon, aging players such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani seem to be next on the trading block. Even the team’s younger players, like Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Shane Larkin could be available in trades, as they have been underperforming so far this season.

Where does this leave the Knicks’ future? Regardless of the rebuilding process that they go through, Carmelo Anthony will be the face of their organization for the foreseeable future. The combination of an inflated contract and a unique skillset that plays to the strengths of the triangle offense almost guarantee his future as a Knick.

However, the Knicks’ future still has a number of key uncertainties. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson is rumored to be a key trade target for Phil Jackson. However, I find it hard to envision the Knicks putting together a satisfactory offer for the Thunder. Oklahoma City has a need for defensive-minded role players to complement their elite scoring trio of forward Kevin Durant, guard Russell Westbrook and forward Serge Ibaka — a need that the Knicks cannot fill.

Looking past this season, the Knicks will not have a significant presence in upcoming drafts, outside of their own first round picks. However, with their current status as the worst team in the league, they are in the ideal position to make a run for Duke’s Jahlil Okafor or China’s Emmanuel Mudiay, both of whom are regarded as potential franchise players, in this spring’s draft. Regardless of what the Knicks end up doing, it seems likely that they will be outside of serious contention for at least the next few seasons.

As far as the Cavaliers and the Thunder are concerned, this trade merely confirms their insecurities with regard to their championship aspirations, instead of shoring them up. The Cavaliers are undoubtedly happier to have gotten rid of Dion Waiters than they are to have received J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Smith fits the same shoot-first profile as Waiters, sans the ego. While Shumpert’s defensive prowess is sorely needed for a team that currently ranks as the 24th best defensive team in the league, his success there will depend on how quickly he shakes off his rust after being sidelined for two months and how quickly he develops a good rapport with team leader LeBron James.

Waiters’ presence on the Thunder is a headscratcher. A franchise that has been plagued by ego disputes between Durant and Westbrook in the past has no room for a player who has proven to be unwilling to accept the roles given to him.

Deemed a “blockbuster” at first, this trade fails to live up to its billing. It did not cement either the Thunder or the Cavaliers as title contenders, nor did it provide the Knicks with any real building blocks for the future. Odds are, however, that these teams are not quite finished making moves just yet.

Max Fiege is a freshman in the College. OUT OF OUR LEAGUE appears every Tuesday.

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