With the release of Brandon Jennings and a likely season-ending injury to Joakim Noah, Knicks have a newfound freedom to explore what this team could be like next season. There's room to acquire somewhat of a taste. Noah figures to be around, but his inability to play big minutes leaves a question mark around his pending impact. As for Jennings, New York had seen enough after signing him to a one-year deal. This simply wasn't the right fit for him.
Win or lose, New York needs to continue examining which of their already in place pieces are worth keeping moving forward. That's what the next month plus should be about. There's an opportunity to answer questions regarding the future. Will this stay of execution past the trade deadline prove Carmelo Anthony can take somewhat of a backseat and play a supporting role to Kristaps Porzingis? Derrick Rose still leaves something to be desired on the court, but does do some positive things. Can he still fit and be retained at a reasonable price this offseason? Which of the team's youngsters have the potential to flourish in an expanded roles? Here's a look at some opportunities that could prove to be small stepping stones for this team as they plan ahead.
Balanced point guard play: With Jennings in town, the Knicks had two offensively minded floor generals who both looked to score. He and Derrick Rose simply weren't the best match, despite how talented each one was.
Rose has a level of explosiveness that is often unmatched. Though removing Jennings from the equation takes away some firepower, Ron Baker can be regarded as more than just merely a prospect. He has the ability to make reasonable contributions now, even as he continues to grow. Baker's a level headed player who is so gritty and physical on the defensive end. For a point guard, he's certainly not afraid to apply pressure and get in the face of a defender. Such balance at the position should allow Rose to focus on attacking the basket because Baker can provide a necessary pick-me-up when the team needs some intensity on the defensive end. Baker may not be as talented as Jennings, but his skill set still steadies New York at the one.
Unleashing the Kooz: The Knicks' release of Jennings was done, in part, to open up opportunities for the Baker. This team needs to keep exploring the potential of its youth. Noah's injury should also give Jeff Hornacek a chance to take more liberties with his rotation, opting to go small more often. As such, Mindaugas Kuzminskas should receive ample opportunity to shine.
The forward can easily wait on the wings for passes to come his way for open looks. He spreads the floor, but is much more versatile than that. Kuzminskas' ability to put the ball on the floor and attack is special for a player his size. He's a greater slasher who just needs a bit more polish to his game. Still relatively unproven on the NBA side, he certainly catches opposing defenses off guard. His offense can provide the Knicks with a boost in small doses, but it'll be an increased awareness on the defensive end that will help him stay on the floor for longer stretches. When talking about development, that's his opportunity.
How can New York fix team chemistry? Especially taking Jennings' recent comments into consideration, it's clear team chemistry is a problem. These players may like each other and get along off the court, but on the court, it sometimes simply doesn't mesh. It can't help matters much if the team doesn't know what (or if) they're still fighting for at this point in the year.
Many in the media have called for Phil Jackson to speak out on the state of his team. Perhaps the fans deserve to have some clarity, but the players on this team deserve it even more. It'd be beneficial for Jackson to speak to this team. As a coach, serving as a motivator was one of his biggest strengths, though he did so in unorthodox ways. With his judgement as an executive in question, Jackson should tap into what he's done best over his career to help light the fire under this squad. If they had an idea of where they were headed, at least the players could then focus on giving this organization what it wants. Right now, this team plays in disarray with a discontent towards the triangle. How many players must Jackson usher in and out before he realizes he should be doing more to help those who are already present succeed?