Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Knicks: Work Just Beginning for Jackson, Fisher

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It’s a long, exhausting road to relevance that the New York Knicks are currently on and we aren’t close to nearing the end. Fans all over the city breathed a collective sigh of relief as superstar Carmelo Anthony decided to stay put in the big apple, signing a five-year deal believed to be worth more than $120 million. But Melo is just the first piece to a puzzle that will take time to craft into a finished product.

Carmelo had an array of suitors and some with better basketball situations currently than the Knicks but perhaps the long-term picture will tell us he made the right decision. Of course, there were 120 million reasons for Melo to pick New York but there were also a couple of factors that you can’t put monetary value on.

Winning in New York is unlike winning anywhere else and like Melo said, he wants to help build a winner in this city with this team. When considering the fact that the Knicks haven’t won a championship in over 40 years, the idea of once again making Madison Square Garden the mecca of basketball is an alluring concept that Carmelo just couldn’t pass up. Another factor aside from financials is playing under Phil Jackson, who Melo referred to as “a champion who builds championship teams.”

Carmelo’s faith in Jackson goes hand in hand with the faith the fans are putting in him. The altogether thirteen-time NBA champion has passed the early tests of being an NBA executive—he got the Knicks into the draft and acquired a player in Cleanthony Early that many would call a steal in the second round. In the same deal he also got rid of Raymond Felton and offloaded Tyson Chandler’s contract while upgrading the point guard position with Jose Calderon.

It’s a good start, no doubt. The one trade alone basically equals or surpasses the output from the Steve Mills/James Dolan brain trust already.

But amidst what felt like a century-long wait for Carmelo to decide where he wants to play next season, we stopped thinking beyond NBA free agency for a little while. At least in the big apple, anxiety and then excitement over Anthony’s return has temporarily hidden a fundamental fact about the New York Knicks: as a team they’re not ready to contend.

It’s exciting to have a player of Melo’s caliber back in orange and blue. The Knicks need him and he makes the team infinitely better despite what the detractors say. But let’s face facts: the Knicks are in a below average conference but are an average team within it. The landscape of the conference has changed but there are still quite a few teams that are several steps ahead of the Knicks.

Vast improvements are needed if New York is to get themselves out of joker’s punch lines and into any kind of NBA prominence. While fans in New York have reason to be excited for the possibilities that await it’s necessary to be cautious and accept the situation this team is currently in. The Knicks aren’t ready to compete at the highest level and very likely won’t be at any point in 2014-15 barring a massive surprise move from Jackson. There’s reason to have faith in this leadership group looking forward but remaining grounded in the present with the realization that the Knicks are nowhere close is the best way to monitor the maturation process of this organization as it happens.

Jackson got the big fish he wanted in Anthony, but so many question marks remain. He and rookie head coach Derek Fisher haven’t even begun to get their hands dirty in their attempt to turn this once-proud franchise around. Without the ability to make many significant roster moves, the upcoming year will be one of acclimation, implementation and experience gaining for everyone in the organization from top to bottom.

For starters, Fisher and associate head coach Kurt Rambis have to insert the triangle offense the Knicks will employ and teach the players (especially Anthony) the inner workings of the philosophy that’s made Jackson famous. There are also needs at several positions including center ever since the Knicks traded away Chandler. But with the financial restrictions on the team, we can’t speculate about personnel at this point and have no choice but to wait and trust Jackson in his search for bit pieces to compliment Anthony.

Are the Knicks more viable than they were just a few months ago? No question.

In my mind New York should be a playoff team in a wide open and weak East that no longer has one definitive superpower. The roster itself and talent level of the team isn’t too far above, it at all, the level they were at a year ago but it takes no rocket scientist to tell you that Knicks team had no business being 37-45. Yes, that team was bad and ultimately undeserving of the playoffs but the 2013-14 Knicks lived by Murphy’s Law—what can go wrong, will go wrong.

It’s extremely hard to imagine the upcoming season going as woefully as the one left behind in April…or at least we all hope so.

The situation on Broadway should only strengthen as the culture shift continues and the players learn how to execute the system. By this time next year, we can only hope that marquee free agents (at least one) will want to play for Jackson and with Carmelo.

With all of that said the playoffs aren’t the goal in New York—being a consistent winner with a chance to compete for a banner is. For all this to come together, Phil and coach Fisher can’t get complacent now; the goal will never be reached that way. We may be excited now due to Anthony’s return but it will wear off quickly if the product on the floor isn’t showing signs of moving forward. The honeymoon is over and work is just beginning for Jackson, Fisher & Co. to make the Knickerbockers a winner again.

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Tags: Basketball Carmelo Anthony Derek Fisher New York Knicks Phil Jackson

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