At this point in the year, Knicks basketball is difficult to watch. The team doesn't appear to know which direction they are headed. Built like a squad hoping to compete sooner than later, the failures are abound.
However, the front office simply cannot afford to change this roster around yet again. There will be returning pieces, and New York should use the rest of the season as a trial period for those who intrigue them. They should prepare for next season so they can move away from this one's struggles.
They've seemingly uncovered a few gems to this point. Now it's time to begin putting such gems in position to eventually elevate the quality of this team. That not only means providing certain players with promising looks, but also beginning to phase others out in the meantime.
Here are three things the Knicks need to focus on to ensure they keep their eyes on positive results...eventually.
Unleashing the Kooz
As the Knicks' season has continued its tailspin, Mindaugas Kuzminskas has mostly watched from the sidelines. He's played less than 10 minutes in nine of the last 13 games, including four DNP-CDs. With New York's more youthful players and intriguing prospects receiving opportunities, why has Kuzminskas largely been the odd man out?
The forward is 27 years old, but still appears to have a decent NBA career ahead of him. There's potential to explore. In today's NBA, players are taking longer via somewhat unorthodox paths before making their marks and coming into their own. After years overseas, Kuzminskas has the experience and is ready to make contributions. He needs to develop more consistency from long range, but his slashing ability could really stand to add some electricity to the offense.
What's more, the only way to gain better defensive awareness is getting more experience facing off against others. Whether it be the big league hardwood or through D-League assignments, the Knicks need to help Kuzminskas get more reps in. He's signed through next season and could have a nice impact if given meaningful chances.
Keeping Porzingis happy
Sometimes it's difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the Knicks. Nevertheless, following a five-block performance against the Nets on Sunday, it's very easy to be in awe of Kristaps Porzingis. People call him The Unicorn for a reason. He's such an unique talent; just 21 years old, and the future is bright with him at the center of New York's basketball universe.
Unfortunately, it's worth noting that the youngster is developing within a very uncertain culture. This team is in a state of disarray and it's having a negative impact on Porzingis' long-term progress. He has an opportunity to be regarded as one of the league's top talents, but probably needs to have an idea of what winning and being part of a successful environment tastes like in order to get there.
In addition to keeping Porzingis motivated, the Knicks need to keep him happy. It's still very early, but they can't waste time and abuse their power of employing him early on. The worse things get in New York, the more bitter of a taste Porzingis will have in his mouth. At some point, he'll be able to leave the Big Apple if desired. The Knicks should consider themselves on a timer to create a winning culture that he can be a part of before its too late.
Less playing time for Derrick Rose?
As the Knicks transition toward their future, they need to embrace those who figure to be a part of it. Derrick Rose isn't likely to factor into that equation. With an expiring contract and the Knicks going nowhere fast, Rose's playing time should gradually decrease as the season's end grows nearer. New York isn't competing for anything at this point (perhaps just better position in the NBA Draft lottery), so there's little value in letting Rose bask in the spotlight.
With guards like Chasson Randle, Ron Baker, and Justin Holiday on the bench, they could all serve to receive more minutes and develop substantial roles heading into the offseason. This could give the Knicks a head start toward next season's success. It would give the organization a better idea of the club they could be.
Given his likely exit, it was initially surprising to see the Knicks retain Rose past the trade deadline. There could still be an opportunity to get value back in return. He may have no future as a Knick, but retaining the guard's bird rights could present New York with an advantage in the offseason. As the only team that can offer him a five-year deal in free agency, opponents may be motivated to work out a sign and trade deal that hands something of value back to the Knicks.