Coming into last offseason, the biggest objective for the Knicks was to provide Carmelo Anthony with the support he needed and deserved. The star forward took a leap of faith by re-signing with New York and trusting Phil Jackson the previous summer. It was time for the Knicks' president to come through on his end of the bargain.
With a wealth of cap space, the team's biggest pull was Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, in addition to drafting Kristaps Porzingis and (trading for) Jerian Grant. Clearly, Jackson didn't help the Knicks make quite the splash many expected them to, but it's worked out, nonetheless.
Afflalo and Porzingis have headlined a rather clutch supporting cast for Anthony, coming through more than most expected them to. As the team's second-leading scorer, Afflalo is averaging 14.2 points on an ever efficient 47% from the field, 37% from beyond the arc, and 86% from the charity stripe. He's been an ideal secondary scorer, but has still proven to easily shoulder the load on offense when Anthony ices over or is forced to sit out.
Porzingis' own respective prowess has proven him to be a clutch performer as well. He's posting 14 points, 7.9 rebounds, and two blocks per contest, serving as a versatile performer and impacting the game in different ways. His popularity has risen to earn him the fourth most popular jersey in the NBA, and he's even garnering some All-Star Game consideration much earlier than expected.
Both players fit rather well in New York. Porzingis is obviously just beginning his career, but even in the case of Afflalo, it's easy to see him playing alongside Anthony, Porzingis, and Co. for years to come. The guard holds a player option for next season.
Porzingis and Afflalo's production is putting some very positive pressure on Jackson, who will have decisions to make about the Knicks' roster this coming offseason.
Aside from Lopez, whose contract length and salary was more or less predetermined by the market unfolding before him, Jackson made a conscious effort not to overpay for "big" names or offer unreasonable contracts. He aimed to provide the Knicks with some healthy flexibility.
Porzingis rising up as a likely perennial all-star, sooner, rather than later, not only gives the Knicks a reliable and productive performer, but also a very attractive recruiting piece to entice prospective players. Should the likes of Afflalo and Derrick Williams decline their player options, the team will have just under an estimated $15 million in cap room. All of that cannot go to one single free agent, if the Knicks prefer not to fill out the rest of its roster with minimum contracts.
Initially, perhaps the Knicks were gearing up to target somewhat of a "big name" free agent in 2016. But it appears as though they are close enough to real contention as currently constructed. New York should want Afflalo to exercise his option. If he doesn't, re-signing him should be a priority. Williams' scoring boost off the bench also makes him an appealing player to return. The Knicks should also be prepared to explore re-signing Lance Thomas this summer.
But have no fear. The Knicks are in fact headed in the right direction, and should at this point, know full well what they still need. Boston Celtics' point guard Isaiah Thomas has run circles around Jose Calderon multiple times over the last two seasons. While he's emerged as a deserving all-star and might not be available, its clear New York is in dire need of a floor general who can penetrate, distribute, defend, and read opposing defenses like he does. A similar point guard should undoubtedly be a target.
Jackson might not have the most attractive assets to offer teams when exploring a potential trade, but they are flexible pieces, nonetheless. Included are the likes of Calderon's soon-to-be expiring contract, Kyle O'Quinn, and Cleanthony Early's favorable upcoming team option. And while Lopez has shown some flashes of positive production here and there, he hasn't proven to be outright crucial to the team's success just yet. A productive center with a reasonable contract and three years left on his deal may be appealing for other teams.
Such players (in addition to potential future picks, within reason) should be what Jackson looks to move in hoping to improve his squad. Luckily for him, he got it right with Afflalo and Porzingis. Plenty had doubts in Jackson's draft selection, but the big man has passed his test so far with flying colors. Despite being considered a backup signing of sorts, Afflalo has also helped the Knicks soar to new heights.
Both players, alongside Anthony, have the Knicks gunning, not only in a positive direction, but an obvious one. What comes next should be clear.