Can a fading Rose revive in the right Garden?
The New York Knicks are hoping so, after team president Phil Jackson’s somewhat surprising move on Wednesday to deal one solid piece and another younger one, with seemingly good potential (which Jackson acquired around this time last year), for the possibility that former Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose can regain much of the form that once made him a the National Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player and a three-time All-Star.
It’s likely a boom or bust move that was probably worth trying, but which also comes along with a fair amount of risk.
WHAT COULD DRIVE KNICKS FANS CRAZY
Merely on the surface, the trade looks like what New York has unsuccessfully done in the past. Jackson’s hefty compensation of $60 million over five years was doled out by spendthrift team owner James Dolan with the expectation that Jackson would set the Knicks on a more patient and more responsible rebuilding course that would be a departure from the myriad of failed quick-fix attempts that were ineffectively tried by Jackson’s front office predecessors.
In that sense, it’s the type of trade that ex-Knicks president Isiah Thomas might have received a lot of backlash for, whereas Jackson conversely appears to be mostly getting praise for putting the future on hold in favor of a win-now mentality, especially with New York having to get past a deepening Eastern Conference which featured the NBA champion Eastern Conference Cleveland Cavaliers as one of six teams in the East that won at least 48 games this season.
After being drafted first overall in 2008, Rose became the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2009, before he became an All-Star each of the next three seasons, while become the league MVP in the middle of that impressive three-year run.
But as debilitating injuries severely derailed what seemed to be the beginning of a Hall of Fame career, Rose, in the last of those three years, missed 43 games, then sat out the entire year to follow and all but 10 games the year after that, before missing 31 games last season and another 16 this year.
In all, the numbers are anything but pretty and show why the bloom might very well be off New York’s Rose.
After playing in 240 of the Bulls’ 246 regular season games over his first three years in the league, Rose missed a whopping 244 of Chicago’s 410 regular season games (60 percent) in the past five years as his productivity and efficiency has sagged, while he lost his earlier explosiveness.
So it’s understandable why some Knicks fans might look at that and have a “here-we-go-again” attitude toward the trade, particularly when New York didn’t exactly steal Rose from the Bulls without sending back some decent value in return.
While giving up guard Jose Calderon was addition by subtraction, starting center Robin Lopez continued a pretty good career as one of the few productive, bright spots (at each end of the floor), on a bad, 32-win team, during his only year with the Knicks.
Thus, might Jackson have been wiser to hold on to Lopez for longer, as a key piece in New York’s rebuilding process, or could he have turned Lopez’s value into more than a former star who for the moment, is on the decline, and who might soon be washed up? Perhaps, but time will tell.
And what if backup guard Jerian Grant, whom Jackson traded the Knicks’ former first-round pick, Tim Hardaway Jr., for, on draft night a year ago — in what turned out to be a good move, only to deal him to Chicago now — develops into the type of future, dynamic young point guard that New York could have better used a few years from now, more than a damaged goods Rose now?
Again, only time will eventually answer that question.
One other thing that might irk Knicks fans is Jackson’s stubbornness with his earlier coaching search when it came to his insistence on New York keeping its triangle offense, at least in large part.
With former longtime Knick assistant and ex-Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau available as the best option to lead New York from the sidelines, Jackson neglected to reach out to Thibodeau mainly because he wasn’t a “triangle guy.”
Well, neither is Rose, as a player. And with the move to the Knicks’ newest head coach, Jeff Hornacek — who isn’t strictly a triangle coach by any means — the reasoning for not so much as interviewing Thibodeau can be a bit maddening to the Knicks faithful, knowing that New York is now ultimately no longer so tightly tethered to triangle anyway, along with the knowledge that a better coach in Thibodeau (who was very interested in returning to Madison Square Garden) might have been able to once again coach his own former Bulls point guard in New York (perhaps along with another soon-to-be ex-Bull in Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah, should the Knicks pursue one of those big men in free agency this summer, as Lopez’s replacement).
WHY KNICKS NATION MIGHT LOVE THE DEAL
Although there are plenty of negative things to speculate on with Jackson’s latest trade, there are perhaps just as many reasons, or more, for Knicks fans to be hopeful about the deal.
One of those is that Rose will still only be 28 years old, on October 4, just days after the next NBA season starts.
With Jackson giving picking up the hefty sum of $21.3 million for Rose next year, it’s only for next year.
That, and the fact that star forward Carmelo Anthony will be entering his 14th season, at age 32 — in the third year of a five-year deal — are the two biggest reasons the trade was probably worth the gamble for Jackson and New York.
If Anthony were four or five years younger, the comparisons to the poor decisions that Thomas or other Knicks front office personnel made in years past would be more in line.
However, if there’s one thing the Knicks saw with Patrick Ewing — who never played with a true second superstar — it’s almost impossible to win an NBA title with only one star.
While adding Rose may never produce that type of situation for Anthony, it may be the closest Anthony gets to that in an every shrinking window as his own prime winds down.
If in the worst-case scenario, Rose gets hurt and misses significant time again, the Knicks can use his big dent in cap space to go another route via free agency next season. Yet if he remains healthy and continues to work as hard to get close to the player he was (as his former college coach, John Calipari believes he will), Anthony’s still-highly productive game could be lifted back to the near-dominant level it was whenever he played with other quality point guards.
After all, Anthony won the only scoring title of his career and finished third in the NBA MVP voting, behind only LeBron James and Kevin Durant, when he played with Jason Kidd three years ago, and the other best years of his career were alongside other reliable point guards, like Chauncey Billups and Andre Miller.
And as much as Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting this season) benefited from playing with Lopez, he’ll probably grow even more despite Lopez’s loss, with the significant upgrade at the point guard position that a healthy Rose could provide.
Raising Anthony’s game to that level and helping Porzingis in that way could also make New York a more attractive free agent destination next summer, even if it means replacing Rose after a year for someone like 2017 free agent-to-be, Russell Westbrook.
Another consideration is that the Knicks’ new point guard playing on only a one-year deal at 28 years old, after years of injuries, should greatly motivate Rose, who whether he might receive it from the Knicks or another team next summer, could be facing his last opportunity to secure the final big contract of his career. Should Rose stay healthy during the upcoming season, that will only work to New York’s advantage, whether or not he’d remain with the Knicks beyond 2016-17.
New York also got guard Justin Holiday and a second-round draft pick for next year from Chicago. While neither is expected to yield much, Holiday is a taller guard (at 6-foot-6) who will at least be coming off of his most productive season yet. And as many other teams have proven, second-round picks could sometimes be highly valuable (see Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, Manu Ginobili, to name but a few current later-round talents, and even going back further, the Knicks’ new coach, Hornacek,when he produced a good career after being taken with the 46th pick three decades ago).
Although it might have been nice to have Thibodeau coaching Rose in New York, if Jackson can use the sizable salary cap space the Knicks still have left, and can acquire a fourth main piece (in addition to Anthony, Rose and Porzingis) like Pau Gasol or Noah, that would only provide the rare added benefit of two new primary acquisitions coming to a new team with the prior experience of having played together. Plus, if it’s Noah, the Knicks would not only get back some of the hustle, grit and toughness that Lopez provided, but they’d be getting a New York City native who might be amped up to play professionally for the first time on a regular basis in his hometown.
Finally, Knicks fans can feel a bit more secure that although Jackson has yet to bring the Durant-like caliber free agent in the way that Dolan really hired Jackson for, New York’s president once again showed the ability to quickly either right a wrong or change course rather than stubbornly sticking with what wasn’t working or what he eventually thought might not pan out.
When Jackson deemed the Knicks’ squad two years ago to be a playoff team, he wasn’t afraid back off of that, after an awful start, to tank the season to the point of New York’s worst year ever (17-65), which ultimately led to the fourth pick and Porzingis in last year’s draft.
Earlier this season, when his handpicked-choice of Derek Fisher wasn’t working, Jackson didn’t wait long to replace him with assistant Kurt Rambis. And when faced with extensive criticism from the media and fans alike over reports that he wanted to keep Rambis as the head coach for next year, Jackson — while stubbornly not interviewing Thibodeau and others — showed more open-mindedness than previously thought with hiring Hornacek (who is expected to run only a comprise of sorts between the triangle and the more up tempo system he ran in Phoenix).
That trend continues now with Jackson’s willingness to roll the dice on Rose while giving up a pair of pre-30-year-olds (in Lopez and Grant) that he acquired himself.
THE BOTTOM LINE
One main concern, even if Rose has a great year offensively for New York, if Anthony and Porzingis play very well and if Jackson brings in that reliable fourth main piece to replace Lopez, is whether the Knicks might be good enough defensively and off the bench to seriously challenge in the East.
And of course, Rose could end up an injured or even healthy but a less-than-productive bust, while Lopez continues to remain solid and Grant becomes the player Jackson believed in when he traded for him.
New York could even bring in Dwight Howard, via free agency, who despite his great talent and ample size, could once again fall victim to his usual bad attitude, and upset the whole thing, even if Anthony, Rose and Porzingis are clicking.
However, the most likely scenario is that whether it’s Gasol, Noah or someone else, Jackson will find someone to fully or mostly fill Lopez’s role with about the same productivity and intangibles, and that Grant probably won’t become more than a great backup point guard or mediocre starting point guard in the league.
If that’s the case, it’s worth the shot at giving Anthony — at this late point in his career – something that Ewing was close to but never quite had as sidekicks in New York.
And if it all blows up, there’s always next summer, with the Knicks not tied to Rose for more than the upcoming season. By then, Anthony will be going into his 15th season at an age that was the same number on Ewing’s jersey. There will be other options then, but the window for Anthony will be even smaller. Yet if it never works out for him, New York still figures to be able to build around Porzingis and cap flexibility down the road in a post-Anthony era.
That’s why even if Rose stinks, the Knicks’ future can still smell sweet.
Thus, it’s worth the risk to possibly give Anthony — who’s already had more than 70 teammates and five different head coaches during his five-plus seasons in New York — the help he’s needed all along.