51 Q: Can the New York Knicks make the playoffs?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can the New York Knicks make the playoffs?

This past summer, New York Knicks decision maker Phil Jackson tried to walk a fine line.

He attempted to balance rebuilding the franchise to compete for titles long term with improving the roster enough for next season that they could make the playoffs.

In trying to do both, he may have done neither.

On the bright side for Knicks fans, Jackson didn’t mortgage the future for a quick-fix, a New York tradition that put the team in this hole in the first place. That is at least a step in the right direction.

Whether you think he did a good job building for the long-term ultimately depends on what you think of rookie Kristaps Porzingis. If you think he’s another Euro bust, or even is going to develop into a solid NBA rotation player, then you also think Jackson swung and missed going for the home run with the No. 4 pick when better guys were still on the board. If you think Porzingis can develop into a franchise cornerstone player, then you think Jackson has them on the right path. The only thing everyone can agree on with Porzingis is that we are two to three seasons away from knowing who is right about him. He’s got skills, but he’s a project.

Aside KP, what move did Jackson make this summer that speaks to the longer-term? They struck out on Greg Monroe and other top free agents. Jerian Grant looks like a good pick, but he’s going to be a solid rotation point guard not a star (and if the Knicks continue to run the triangle that’s not the most crucial of positions). Maybe they can retain Robin Lopez long term. But the only potential big score is Porzingis.

What about the other side of the line Jackson tried to walk — can the Knicks make the playoffs next season?

Probably not.

They will certainly be better, but the playoffs will remain out of reach.

Last season the Knicks won 17 games. Last season it took 38 wins to be the eighth seed in the East, a number that likely climbs a little next season — let’s say just to 40 wins. That means the Knicks need to be 23-wins better to make the cut. That’s a lot of wins, and teams that make that kind of leap in one season usually have a very good reason for it. To use the other New York team as an example (although they were in Jersey at the time), the Nets got 26 games better the season they traded for peak Jason Kidd.

I like the Knicks’ off-season moves better than many, but adding Lopez, Arron Afflalo, and Kyle O'Quinn is not 23-win jump impressive. It’s some solid singles, not a home run. You can be sure Sasha Vujacic isn’t the answer.

Phil Jackson was brought in to land guys that can improve a team 23-games, such as LaMarcus Aldridge, not tell those players he wants them to play out of position then not even meet with them. For more than a year, Greg Monroe was thought to be a lock for the Knicks and he chose Milwaukee instead — those are the targets the Knicks and their fans expect to land. Or at least be in the mix for.

(What was even more odd with the Knicks’ summer acquisitions was giving Afflalo and Derrick Williams player options for next season — why sacrifice potentially $12.6 million in cap flexibility next summer to retain those two guys?)

If the Knicks are going to make the playoffs, three things need to happen.

1) Carmelo Anthony needs to stay healthy and have a monster season. At age 31 he is coming off knee surgery that kept him out of more than half the Knicks games last season. He’s going to have to prove he’s still an elite scorer who can be efficient. More than that, he’s going to have to fit in with the triangle offense and not be a ball stopper. He’s got to lead by example, at both ends of the court.

2) The Knicks need to play some defense. The Knicks were 28th in the NBA in defensive rating last season (points allowed per possession) and if they are going to make the playoffs that needs to improve to somewhere near the middle of the NBA pack at least. Lopez protecting the rim should help, as will Afflalo on the perimeter. The Knicks need to be stronger on the defensive glass. One other area that needs improvement — defending the three-point line. The Knicks allowed the second highest percentage of made corner threes in the NBA last season, and the highest percentage of made threes above the break. In a league with more and more shooters, the Knicks need to defend the arc far better.

3) Someone needs to step up and be a reliable second scoring option. Here’s a fun question: After Anthony, who were the next three highest points-per-game scorers for the Knicks last season? If you guessed Andrea Bargnani (14.8), Alexey Shved (14.8), and Amar’e Stoudemire (12), well, then you cheated. Because nobody would guess that. But those were the guys, which explains why the Knicks scored the fewest points of any team in the NBA last season. And now all three of those guys are gone. This season players like Afflalo, Langston Galloway and others need to become reliable options on the offensive end.

The reality is that the Knicks likely miss the playoffs next season, but that is not the only thing they are playing for.

They need to be impressive enough that come next summer the big name free agents out there — starting with Kevin Durant, who has people in his camp that want him to consider the Knicks — actually take meetings with and give serious thought to the Knicks. Right now, for top free agents the Knicks are an afterthought. Elite free agents are getting paid and getting endorsement money anywhere they go, what they want to see is a team turning the corner, on its way to winning. Monroe saw that in Milwaukee, not New York. The Knicks need to be good enough to change that perception, to be seen as a team just a player or two away.

Making the playoffs would help that perception, but it’s not a necessity.

However, if they suffer through another ugly season, Jackson and the Knicks front office have some serious and significant changes to consider.

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.