By Liam Beatus
In last year’s evaluation of the Knicks, I criticized the selection of Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick of the draft. Porzingis showed himself to be more NBA-ready than the scouts and draft experts predicted. His toughness separated him from other European busts, more like Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol than Andrea Bargnani and Jan Vesely.
This year, Phil Jackson moved aggressively in free agency and made his mark on the team.
Naming Jeff Hornacek as the new head coach: B
Neither the best candidate available nor my favorite candidate (Patrick Ewing), overall Hornacek is a good hire. A 14-year shooting guard and prolific three-point shooter (40%), Hornacek contributed to Phoenix Suns teams early in his career alongside Tom Chambers and Kevin Johnson. He cemented his legacy as the wing scorer for Stockton and Malone’s Utah Jazz team in the late-90s that reached the finals twice, but never beat Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
Hornacek earned his first coaching job with the Phoenix Suns in 2013 and made an impressive run with a young team. With only six players from the previous season’s roster returning, the Suns posted a 48-34 mark, missing the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoffs by one game. Hornacek finished second in NBA Coach of the Year voting and the team showed promise. In 2014, the Suns competed for a playoff spot, but major roster changes at the trade deadline hurt the team, which ended a few games below .500. The organization’s plan for the future became foggy. Last season, the front office’s refusal to accommodate Markieff Morris’s demand for a trade led to a disastrous start for the team and Hornacek’s dismissal.
Widely regarded as a solid coach, notwithstanding his problems in Phoenix, and not the first choice of the team’s fans (Tom Thibodeau), the Knicks will not vie for a championship. As long as the triangle offense does not get in the way, Hornacek should be a pleasant surprise.
Trading Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, and Jerian Grant for in a deal for Derrick Rose: A
Give Phil Jackson credit, this is the second year in arrow that he pulled off an impressive trade. Did you forget the first one? The Knicks sent Tim Hardaway to the Hawks (who already had plenty of talented three-point shooters) to select Jerian Grant. Grant, the 19th overall selection, did not play significant minutes behind — you guessed it — Jose Calderon (Knicks fans can collectively sigh together). At 34 and well past his prime, Calderon’s contract seemed to be immovable until the Knicks packaged him for a former MVP. Phil Jackson traded arguably the worst starting point guard in the league for a former MVP. While Robin Lopez, the key piece in this deal, enjoyed his best season in 2015, he was still a replaceable asset.
Rose qualifies as a legitimate threat at point guard. While not the same player who won the MVP Award in 2011, Rose showed he could still score and facilitate at a high level at the age of 27. He started in 66 games, the most since his MVP year, and avoided any major setbacks that would keep him on the bench. An unselfish player, he will feed Carmelo on the wing or in the post and keep the ball moving in an offense. If Rose plays well again, the team can make the playoffs. If he falters, with only one year left on his remaining deal, the Knicks can let him go next off-season. His acquisition should put smiles on the faces of long-suffering fans of the Knicks.