NEW YORK (AP) — When Phil Jackson went looking for players last summer, the best ones available had the same thoughts about joining the New York Knicks.
No thanks. No way.
Jackson should know as well as anyone that a team needs multiple stars to win championships, as he did in all of his 11 championship-winning seasons as a coach. Now as a team president, he still has just Carmelo Anthony.
But though that may mean the Knicks aren’t championship material, they believe Jackson did well enough to make them winners, not just rebuilders coming off the worst season in team history.
“If rebuilding for us is based on the fact that we don’t have a certain caliber of player on our roster quote-unquote other than Carmelo, so people assume that we’re rebuilding,” coach Derek Fisher said. “But was Atlanta rebuilding last year when they didn’t have that quote-unquote player on their roster?”
“So it just depends on who your team is and we think that our group, as we figure some things out, will be more competitive than maybe what people think.”
Players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe couldn’t be enticed to come to New York, but Jackson found interest in another tier of players. The Knicks signed Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, Kyle O'Quinn, Kevin Seraphin and Sasha Vujacic, players who don’t stand out individually but might fit nicely on a team.
“We want to win, so we didn’t go out and sign six rookies,” Fisher said. “We signed quality veteran players because we’re trying to win right now.”
Jackson said before last season he thought the Knicks could compete for a playoff spot, and they ended up going 17-65. He’s staying away from predictions this time, as did Anthony when he reported for training camp after missing the second half of last season following knee surgery.
But Anthony was adamant that they could be competitive by just a few days later, and is seeing progress as they approach the season opener.
“We’re moving in a good place,” he said. “Some good things that we’re doing, some things that we can get better at, that we will get better at with some time.”
Here are some things to watch with the Knicks:
PORZINGIS’ PROSPECTS: Jackson used the No. 4 pick on 20-year-old Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 forward from Latvia who has range well beyond the 3-point line. Knicks fans are optimistic but cautious, recognizing his potential but fearing the bust factor after getting little or nothing from Europeans Frederic Weis and Andrea Bargnani.
FOCUS ON FISHER: Fisher had a miserable first season as coach and a rocky start to the second after missing a practice following an altercation with former teammate Matt Barnes in Los Angeles. He insists he’s focused on his job, but his team could keep further pressure off him by playing well.
CARMELO’S COMEBACK: Limited to a career-low 40 games last season before left knee surgery after the All-Star break, Anthony has looked sharp and completely recovered during the preseason. Many of the players Jackson added play power forward, which could allow Anthony to spend more time at his natural small forward spot and take less of a pounding.
JACKSON’S JOB: Jackson, at Fisher’s request, plans to spend more time around the coaching staff this season to offer his expertise, saying perhaps he stepped back too far last season in his first full year as an executive.
WATCHING WILLIAMS: The second overall pick in the 2011 draft has averaged just 9.3 points playing for Minnesota and Sacramento, but looked comfortable while providing some surprising scoring punch during his first preseason with the Knicks.