March 18th 2014: Knicks hire Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations
The Knicks brought back Phil Jackson into the organization as the new President of Basketball Operations on a 5 year $50 million contract. The Knicks previously courted him on several occasions (back in 1999 and 2005) to coach the team, but was rejected due to a myriad of reasons (mostly related to the fact that the team wasn’t as talented). Phil spent most of his playing career with the Knicks where he won 2 championships as a player.
Ever since the team relieved Glen Grunwald of his duties, James Dolan went into full pursuit to find a full-time President of Basketball Operations. Steve Mills returned to the organization to become the interim President of Basketball Operations. At the same time, Madison Square Garden recently acquired the Great Western Forum for the main purpose to renovate the arena to serve as an entertainment venue rivaling the nearby Staples Center.
Through the entertainment business and his own musical ambitions, Dolan maintained a long-standing friendship with Irving Azoff. In 2013, both Azoff and Dolan formed a joint venture – Azoff MSG Entertainment LLC – that served to fuel MSG Entertainment’s presence in the live event industries.
It was at one of Azoff’s parties in late 2013 where Dolan met Phil Jackson. Azoff setup the courtship beforehand to help broker the relationship. Phil advised Dolan on certain basketball transactions (including not trading anymore 1st round picks and nixing the Kyle Lowry/Iman Shumpert trade) over the course of the next few months. Things further progressed in March and the team finalized the hire on March 18th.
Phil Jackson’s hire brought massive expectations to the organization. Many expected the team to re-establish their winning culture and use the influence of Phil’s 11 rings to get back to the NBA Finals. Others expected the Knicks to bring back the triangle offense.
In the months after the hire, Phil had several looming questions to answer. After Phil fired Mike Woodson and traded both Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, he was left with a major decision involving Carmelo Anthony. Melo unsurprisingly opted out of his contract at the end of the season. It was assumed that Dolan told Phil that Melo had to be a part of the long-term future of the organization. Therefore, Melo signed a 5 year $124 million extension with a no-trade clause.
Unfortunately, the Melo signing was one of many ill-fated decisions that destroyed Phil’s tenure with the team. Phil hired Derek Fisher with the intention to run the triangle offense. However, the team was not able to grasp the offense and immediately spiraled out of contention before the new year hit. Phil quickly went on a firesale and JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Amare Stoudemire were all gone from the team before the All Star Break. Additionally, Melo suffered knee soreness that required surgery. Due to his desire to play in the All Star Game, he postponed the surgery to after the ASB. The injury and surgery severely impacted Melo’s game to this date on both the offensive and defensive end.
Phil seemed to strike gold in the 2015 NBA Draft with the Kristaps Porzingis selection. However, Phil made a rash decision to fire Derek Fisher midway towards the 2015-16 season after only 1.5 years with the team. Phil later hired Jeff Hornacek as the new head coach.
Phil decided to embark on a win-now mission during the 2016 offseason and traded for Derrick Rose while signing Joakim Noah to a massive 4 year $72 million contract and Courtney Lee to a 4 year $50 million contract. The 2016-17 season also proved to be a mess, but it was mainly due to the fact that Phil publicly criticized Melo throughout the entire season. The side-effect to the Melo drama was that Kristaps Porzingis became disenchanted with the organization and decided to skip the exit meeting.
The final straw occurred during the 2017 NBA Draft where Phil tried to trade Porzingis to various teams and seriously considered to buyout Carmelo Anthony. Dolan rejected both ideas and ultimately both parties agreed to part ways. Phil’s last move was drafting both Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The remaining remnants of Phil’s tenure are Lance Thomas, Ntilikina, Dotson, and Joakim Noah’s contract that has been stretched until 2022. Phil did not trade any 1st round picks during his tenure, though he did give up several 2nd round picks in miscellaneous trades. Ultimately it seemed that Phil was never prepared to handle the responsibilities required to be President of Basketball Operations. His mindset was stuck on being a coach and that overshadowed what everyone else was doing within the organization. His public feud with Melo and the Noah free agent signing added dark stains to his professional legacy within the NBA.
After missing most of training camp and the beginning of the regular season due to a nagging neck injury, Courtney Lee was having difficulty getting acclimated into the Knicks lineup.
So he decided it would be best to get some extra reps in the G-League, where he played for Westchester in their loss to Lakeland on Tuesday night.
Lee posted 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists on an off-shooting night. He took a high volume of shots, trying to find his touch, but finished 7-21 from the field and only 1-9 from three. Being that this game was a tune-up for Lee, the numbers don’t matter as much as the reps.
Lee did not travel with the Knicks for their game on Wednesday in Cleveland. He will return to the lineup in Charlotte on Friday.
The veteran guard requested the time in the G-League to get into shape and rhythm again.
Fizdale was impressed by Lee’s decision. “That was his decision to go to the G-League. I was like, ‘What a pro,’” Fizdale said in a quote recorded by the New York Daily News. “The fact he came to us and said, ‘I’m hurting the guys, I have no legs and I have no rhythm. If it’s OK, can I go to the G League and play some minutes?’”
Of course, the Knicks have a roster decision to make shortly after Allonzo Trier returns from a hamstring injury, if they want to sign him before his 45-day NBA service time expires. The Knicks could let negotiations extend beyond 45 days, meaning Trier would return to the G-League until a contract and roster spot is settled.
It was reported by Adam Zagoria earlier on Monday that the Knicks are expected to convert Trier’s two-way contract to a standard NBA contract.
To eventually make room for Trier, I would expect the Knicks to waive one of their players on a one-year deal (such as Kornet or Baker) rather than complicating their efforts in trying to accomplish two goals by trading Lee: shedding his 2019 salary and creating an extra roster spot. So if you are inclined to connect transactional dots, don’t read too much into this Westchester assignment.
Courtney Lee has recovered from his neck injury and for the first time in this young season saw game action, logging 16 minutes and shooting 1-4 from the field vs. the Wizards. It will be interesting to see how he is deployed in the near future. There may be some incentive to ease him back into the rotation, but also to showcase his health and talent for a possible upcoming trade.
He is a leader and a mentor as our own Michael DeStafano has written. But signing Kevin Durant is the master plan for the Knicks and they’re currently a bit short financially for that goal. As our Knicks Film School Founder, J.B., recently wrote:
“Really, it all boils down to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee.”
There are plenty of salary details in that last link, but the gist is they’re going to need around ~$6.4m more in order to create a max roster spot for Durant and that means someone on the books has to go.
A Refresher on the Lee Situation
If you know this well, feel free to skip ahead to trade scenarios. But here is some context:
Then there was the mysterious injury which complicated things. On the third day of training camp, he took a hard foul from Ron Baker which sent him flying into the support beam under the hoop. Despite getting close to returning more than once, he was held out the lineup until this past week. There was even mention of nerve stuff and spasms at one point. He finally appears healthy again, or healthy enough to return to the lineup, so now it’s about revving the engine back up and finding a team where he fits.
Caught up? Good. Now one disclaimer: I researched this piece before Frank Ntilikina’s name popped up-a few times a day since Thanksgiving in trade rumors. I’m simply not emotionally ready to research much bigger trades that send out Lee with Frank.1But if I did, I’d begin with two and 3-team trades with someone reportedly interested in Frank and someone who might need Courtney So for this piece, these are all trades of the “keep Frank a bit longer” variety.
Now let’s make some calls.
Click NEXT/SWIPE to view trades
The Pelicans have that clock in their heads. They may want to act boldly in order to retain their superstar, Anthony Davis, who might already have that wandering eye.
According to Chris Sheridan, Anthony Davis is considering joining one of the following teams in the “near and distant future”.
There are some players on the Pelicans who aren’t exactly indispensable.
Wesley Johnson is on the books for $6.1m and his deal expires this summer. He makes an ideal candidate to build a trade around.
Wesley is shooting a blistering hot 42.5% from three and holds a more than respectable .572 true shooting percentage. Not exactly the kind of play that gets you shipped out for someone coming off a spooky neck injury. However, Wesley has regressed to career averages recently and may continue to do so.
A player like Ian Clark (eligible for trade on Dec. 15th) or Tim Frazier could be strewn into the deal to make the contracts work.
The margins are slim and the Pelicans may have their sights set higher as teams like Washington or Miami consider major changes. But in the event they whiff there, or if the Knicks sweetened the pot somehow, this might become something they’d consider and would fully clear Lee’s salary.
It has been rumored since the Jimmy Butler trade that the Timberwolves would waive Jerryd Bayless.
They have not done so yet, and it might be fair to speculate that they’re considering if Bayless has any value as an expiring contract before doing so. By trading for Lee, it would give Tom Thibodeau a player he has long had his eyes on, per the Minnesota beat (you remember the Lee for Ricky Rubio rumors).
Perhaps Thibs could extract an asset in addition to Lee. I wondered aloud if this exact deal, pending Lee’s health, is part of the reason Minny hasn’t waived Bayless and heard back from the top two members of the T-Wolves’ beat:2Yes, if you’re new to the Timberwolves beat it is fun that one of their top guys has Wolf in his name…kinda like if Marc Berman’s name were Horton McKnicklesworth
No recent dialogue with NYK. Probably a good bet that MN wants to see Lee play first.
The narrative surrounding this one is too good, isn’t it?
If you looked up Knicks’ Coach David Fizdale’s track record, then you know that he helped JaMychal Green develop into a player who was instrumental to the Grizz’s gritty playoff run in 2016-2017. Green saw perhaps his most efficient season as a pro, and played the third most minutes behind Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol in their first round run.
Green received that compliment, likening him to Udonis Haslem, known as a leader on the 3-championship Miami Heat teams, and where Coach Fiz was an assistant coach. Well, Green recently broke his jaw which gave the exhilarating rookie, Jaren Jackson Jr., an opportunity to flourish. It doesn’t appear that Jackson is going to relinquish his role anytime soon – dude just dropped 36 and 8 on Brooklyn and he turned 19 in September.
Reuniting Green with coach Fiz and letting Memphis welcome back Lee, who enjoyed a couple terrific years in Music City, makes lots of sense. The Grizz have some choices for who to kick in to make the salary match, like MarShon Brooks, Omri Casspi, and Wayne Selden; none of them are exactly tearing it up.
For Memphis fans, they get this guy back:
I think this is my favorite one for both sides as of this writing.
Gasol and Conley really need one more guy on the wing.
Rookie Aaron Holiday is coming on. The Pacers may not feel they need both of Darren Collison and Corey Joseph (each expiring). Parting with one for Lee could create more opportunity for Holiday, while assisting their off-ball perimeter play on each end of the floor with a touch more size. Collison is involved in lots of twitter trades by Pacer fans, often in a bundle for Kemba Walker. Indy has loads of upcoming cap-space, maybe more than they’d “need” given their situation. They could afford ~$12m-$13m for Lee’s talents if preferred deals for players like Terry Rozier or Walker fail to materialize. Indy is Lee’s hometown and they’re a good team so there could be some “do right by Lee good karma” there too. He’d be a really great fit here.
The idea that Lee would want out of New York to join a contender and the Kings name would come up is absurd. But amazingly the Kings aren’t a dumpster fire. They’re on a skid lately, losing 8 of 13, but with no draft pick, and therefore, no incentive to tank, they have reason to remain scrappy. They have cap-space, but not a ton of options to lure players to Sacramento. Lee could potentially provide an excellent replacement for Garrett Temple, a mentor to Buddy Hield, and be a key contributor in a push to make the playoffs, no matter how unlikely.
The Kings are missing an athletic, experienced wing like they once had in former Knick Doug Christie, and they have an unbalanced roster, weighted towards lots of front-court players. Why not Courtney?
The Jazz fall into the “non-expiring Plan B” section of my trade scenarios. Maybe finding someone else to pay all of next year’s salary is tricky, but at least the Knicks could reduce the cost of what they owe to Lee. Remember, they are only about $7 million shy of max space for Durant. Lee is owed north of $12 million, so they could technically take some money back and be ok.
Utah was really ailing, which is why they already pulled the trigger on sending Alec Burks and a couple second round picks to Cleveland for Kyle Korver. But that doesn’t mean they’re done making moves. Especially because Korver doesn’t address one of their biggest needs.
Rudy Gobert feels the NBA rule changes are affecting the Jazz's ability to defend as a unit.https://t.co/2LcUtmULEc
As that piece above suggests, the aggressiveness with which a team can defend high-screens has been limited with “freedom of movement” rule changes. This has hurt the Jazz especially, who had a stifling defense a year ago, and this change further increases their need for specialists on the perimeter.
Thabo Sefolosha was a solid perimeter defender and career 34 percent 3-point shooter, but he’s 34 years old now. He’s coming off knee surgery. And he’s played just 80 minutes this year.
Sefolosha’s expiring $5.2m and Ekpe Udoh’s (Knicks love former lottery picks!) $3.3m gets you the building blocks for this one. But you may need to involve trade exceptions (Utah possesses two, and NY one) or Raul Neto’s non-expiring but paltry $2.2m to make it all work which gets a bit complicated. But the need is there.
When healthy, Lee is a speedier version of Jae Crowder, enabling them some much needed depth. Tim Hardaway Jr. would have really infused life into an offense that now lives and dies with Donovan Mitchell’s creation. Another 3-level scoring counter punch might really have helped. But with Burks in Cleveland now, it’s less likely. All the more reason to talk about Lee.
Gregg Popovich shoved his chips to the center of the table. Rumored to be contemplating retirement around 2020, he all but confirmed as much by seeking packages for talented All-Star DeMar DeRozan instead of asset bundles or developmental projects when he traded Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio has never been a place stars yearn to go, so $13m in 2019 cap space might not be as valuable to them as it would be to say, the Clippers.
Don’t you get the sense that Pop sometimes looks out at Davis Bertans heaving 3’s and thinks “two years of this for $7m per… or pay a little more for guy who can do that but also plays the other half of the game! Especially now that Dejounte Murray is hurt and Danny Green is gone. Man do I miss Timmy.”
Davis Bertans and Quincy Pondexter (expiring) for Lee. Who says no?
This is possible after January 15th since Bertans was recently extended. It would grant the Knicks very close to the amount they’d need to get KD, and offer a moveable contract in the form of a cheap stretch big, who just might rub off some Spurs-magic on Kevin Knox and the other young guns.
Ahh the PuPu Platter. The east is open. The Pistons are currently 4th in the standings. Weird, I know. Because look:
The Pistons' starting lineup with Glenn Robinson III has a net rating of -10.9. The starting lineup with Stanley Johnson has a net rating of -11.8.
Been a long time since the Pistons have had a plus-starting lineup.
How about Lee for Big Dog’s son, Glen Robinson III. Also everyone’s favorite NBA goon Zaza Pachulia and the best part of all…welcoming back José Calderón! That still leaves us a few million short. But man welcoming back Numero Ocho, the guy who you once thought was a solid centerpiece in a return for Tyson Chandler as a triangle point guard!
The trade that began the miserable march towards drafting King Kristaps Porziņģis.
Detroit has had almost impossible luck finding two-way wings who can space the floor and stay healthy3see their rosters over the years. They have even worse luck recruiting great free-agents. A healthy Lee could offer what they once loved about Avery Bradley, who they recently coveted before sending him to LA in the Blake Griffin deal.
As Detroit continues to involve promising rookies like Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown into their rotation, there are even more players on their roster who could become expendable like Ish Smith (expiring) or former Knick, Langston Galloway; although both of them are key members of the Piston’s rotation now. Worth a preliminary phone call to see what they’d be open to down the road.
What about Tax Teams and Title Contenders?
Finally, a team who reasoned that acquiring Lee could put them over the top might consider making a win-now move at the cost of future cap spending. These teams might include the Thunder, Rockets, Celtics, Sixers, Raptors, Bucks or Warriors.
It’s tricky. The Celtics, Warriors, and Sixers are all playing in two competitive time zones, now and in the future. Philly has shot down any rumors of interest in Lee in the past. Maybe a call to see if that’s changed now that Markelle Fultz and Ntilikina might be in play?
The Bucks don’t have much in terms of cap-relief (a deal involving Matthew Dellavedova would only save NY a few million dollars). The Thunder do have one fit in a move for Alex Abrines and Raymond Felton, but major tax issues to address. The Rockets are always creative enough to give a call to as one of the teams who value Lee’s skill-set the most. But because Brandon Knight has two years remaining on his contract, it’s hard to find deals that work.
Because many of the deals in this article cannot even happen before December 15th and January 15th, anyway, it gives Lee a chance to prove he is healthy and rehabilitate his trade value, while giving the laws of attrition a chance to thin out some rosters as injuries have a way of creating new market needs.
Courtney Lee’s return will be comforting – at the minimum – for Coach Fizdale as his team has lost two straight games and had one of their worst performances of the season on Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Lee’s return will bring a true veteran presence to a rotation that lacks a player older than 26 years old.
From a game perspective, Lee can provide some order to a team that often settles for isolation baskets when plays break down and lets their guard down during stretches on defense. At the minimum, Lee can be a guide for our younger players to know where to be on the floor at different times during the game.
However, Lee’s return will also create an undoubted rotation crunch to a roster that’s already had several players accrue DNPs this season. Here are a list of the players (in order of likeliness) that will be impacted by the return:
1) Damyean Dotson
Lee’s return will most likely cut into Dotson’s minutes. Dotson got minutes as an energy spark in the last two games and was already a DNP in the four previous games. Based on where he fit in the rotation before Lee returned, it seems like Dotson’s minutes are in greatest jeopardy.
2) Frank Ntilikina
Frank Ntilikina’s minutes have dwindled over the last four games. He’s often the last guard to enter the game in the 1st quarter, subbing in for Tim Hardaway Jr. Trey Burke has typically come in as the backup PG for Mudiay and will most likely continue in that role. In the last few games, Frank had been relegated to garbage time minutes in the 4th quarter. There is a strong possibility that Lee’s return may also cut into his minutes even further as long as Frank’s playing as a wing.
3) Mario Hezonja
Outside of Hezonja’s strong start against the 76ers, he’s been quiet since being inserted into the starting lineup. Hezonja’s also endured some DNPs before the starting lineup change. Hezonja is slightly safer to retain minutes because Fizdale isn’t ready to change the starting lineup just yet. However, any new starting lineup will likely send Hezonja back to the bench and most likely into DNPs.
4) Trey Burke
Burke’s job as a backup lead guard is safe for the moment as Fizdale’s not ready to make any starting lineup changes. However, Burke’s had a rough shooting stretch since scoring 29 points against the Celtics before Thanksgiving. A combination of bad defense and a rough shooting slump sent Burke to a round of DNPs earlier in the month. A prolonged slump could also send Burke back into that direction with Lee’s return.