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2015-16 Season Preview: New York Knicks

New blood will look to change the Knicks' culture. (Getty Images)

New blood will look to change the Knicks’ culture. (Getty Images)

To say that the 2014-15 season was an absolute disaster for the New York Knicks would be a gross understatement.

They suffered through their worst season ever, registering the fewest wins (17) and lowest winning percentage (.207) in the 69-year history of the franchise. Nothing seemed to go right, including Carmelo Anthony’s season-ending surgery to repair a damaged left patella tendon. Although Madison Square Garden remained filled almost to capacity most games, the team was a disaster to watch on a regular basis — and that was before team president Phil Jackson cleaned house midway through the season. The trade of Iman Shumpert & J.R. Smith to Cleveland, coupled with the respective releases of Amar’e Stoudemire & Samuel Dalembert, left Derek Fisher and his coaching staff scrambling for any glimmer of hope.

That glimmer came in the form of a complete roster turnover during the summer.

In a strange twist, the nightmarish season became a blessing in disguise. It help the Zen Master set into motion the process of rebuilding. It is a term that Knicks fans are none too familiar with, given management’s penchant for spending big on the free agent market and trading away draft picks left and right. The big name free agents are appealing, no doubt, but when you are coming off of the second-worst record in the league, building a team with legitimate NBA talent should be on the mind.

And that’s exactly what Jackson has delivered leading up to the season opener Wednesday in Milwaukee. By letting players like LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe sign big-money deals elsewhere, New York was able to spread its cap space around to fill various needs up and down the roster. Sideshow Bob Robin Lopez (4 years, $55 million) leads the charge for the new blood infusion as eight players will suit up in the orange & blue for the first time. The identical twin brother of Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez, Robin will never light up the scoreboard with points; instead, his bread-and-butter comes from being the lunch-pail player who isn’t afraid to mix it up inside. He will rebound and defend with the best big men in the game and help mask any defensive mistakes by his teammates on the perimeter, a la Tyson Chandler when he signed in 2011 and won Defensive Player of the Year. Aaron Afflalo (2 years, $16 million), Derrick Williams (2 years, $10 million), Kyle O’Quinn (4 years, $16 million), Sasha Vujacic (1 year, $1.3 million) and Kevin Seraphin (1 year, $2.8 million) help to fill out a roster full of unsung players who will never chase after the headlines, but will do the little things on the court to make the team more complete.

No new additions will have more riding on them, though, than the two rookies being brought in. Taken with the 4th overall pick in the draft, Kristaps Porzingis will be the ultimate symbol of Phil Jackson’s patient approach to building a winner. The 20-year-old Latvian has impressed the organization with his overall development, from his preseason stats (7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 43% 3PT) to adding muscle to his slender frame (20 lbs. since the NBA Draft). What’s most impressive, however, is his demeanor and fearlessness. Porzingis has handled the pressure of playing in New York very well, most notably using Jackson’s Shawn Bradley comparison as motivation to continue improving in all aspects of his game. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders and is primed to transition easier to the NBA game than most Eurpoean players. Jerian Grant, the 19th overall pick acquired in a draft-day trade for Tim Hardaway Jr., will also look to be an impactful player right away. A legacy player (Harvey Grant’s son, Horace Grant’s nephew), he has quickly become comfortable running the pick-and-roll with O’Quinn and Williams and formed great chemistry with backcourt mate Langston Galloway. If he can do good things right away, he will no doubt challenge Jose Calderon to start at point guard.

For all the improvements that New York has made, their success this year and beyond falls on the shoulders of their $124 million franchise player. Carmelo Anthony is entering his 13th year in the NBA and is one of the league’s great stars. He can carry the scoring load at any moment and will his team to wins as a result. However, he has yet to experience any sustained playoff success as he’s only advanced past the first round twice in his career. Anthony is not considered a selfish player, but his most glaring flaw is the fact that he hasn’t really made anyone better. What sets the legendary players from everyone else is the idea of stopping at nothing to win at the highest level. From Russell to Magic to Jordan to LeBron, the greats find ways to elevate their teammates’ games to levels unseen in order to win a championship. As great and determined as Anthony is we haven’t seen him kick it into that extra gear, and until he does he will never win a title. If there was ever a season for that mentality to kick in, this is that season. This may be the season that determines whether the “Melodrama” from 2011 and opting for the max contract in 2014 was worth it. If you’re a fan, you should want to see how he handles playing with his most talented supporting cast in New York. Can he take that superstar leap and lead the Knicks to championship contention? Or will it be the same old ‘Melo who struggles to win in the first round going forward?

2015-16 PREDICTION: 39-43, 8th in Eastern Conference. Time will inevitably tell how good the New York Knicks can be this season and in the near future. The lack of a bona fide second scorer will hurt them, especially if it turns out that Anthony isn’t healthy. But with the way this roster is constructed, good times appear to be on the horizon at MSG. It will certainly make for some exciting basketball.

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