Time to get to the NBA free agent losers starting with the Knicks

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There simply wasn’t enough negativity in last week’s NBA column.

The offseason recap was far too positive. The Pacers got so much love that there weren’t enough words allotted to disparage those teams that took steps backward.

I guess prescribing that you hop on the ‘under’ in fading Golden State’s regular season despite its acquisition of Kevin Durant could be considered contrarian, but upon reflection, there was a little too much optimism involved.

The gambles the Bulls made were even humored. Sure, there’s a chance things work out for them, but that would require veterans with extensive injury histories and stubborn streaks staying healthy and playing nice. And yes, I guess I did write that you should go under the 47.5-win total.

Still, last week came off Pollyanna-ish. Perhaps my mood was more optimistic. Because of the love shown to the Jazz, there wasn’t enough space to trash the Knicks. Fortunately, we can pick up where we left off and talk solely about those teams worth criticizing.

Speaking of the Knicks, they do make for an easy target. Phil Jackson’s archaic views that the 3-pointer is a fad and that his triangle could still resonate if executed properly has made him a big fish worth frying, especially now that his grace period has unmistakably expired. He’s gambling on the knees of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, knowing that the desire to be great will be there.

Rose, especially since he’s being mercilessly mocked for mistakenly thinking the “superteam” concept applies to his Knicks, has everything to play for. He’s in a contract year, in a new locale under the biggest of media microscopes and will be just 28 years old when the season begins. Instead of being ridiculed, the former MVP should be revered. Unfortunately, he’s been written off.

Rose played 66 games last season, the most since he played 81 of 82 in being named the NBA’s most valuable player back in 2011. He’s not that guy anymore. His weaknesses are magnified since he’s no longer the dynamic athlete he once was, so all his improvement going forward will lie in becoming more efficient. We’ll see if he has that in him, but between he and Noah, there should at least be increased passion brought to the floor.

Noah is as New York as they come. He’s city-born and then returned to play his high school ball in Brooklyn. I met him as a rookie and he reminded me of guys I used to play against in the neighborhood. He had the chip on his shoulder. He’d be the perfect leader throughout his career, something he’d already displayed as the emotional cog that guided the University of Florida to back-to-back National Championships. There were more talented guys on that team, but he was the driving force.

With Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Rose and Courtney Lee in place, that’s again the case on both counts. He’s got more talented teammates, but Noah will have to be the glue. He’s now on the wrong side of 30 and coming off a season-ending shoulder injury that limited him to 29 games. His absence, more than any other variable, was why the Bulls missed the playoffs this year. Still, Noah has missed 15 or more games in six of his last seven seasons, so there are no promises he’ll be able to stay healthy in New York.

There’s the gamble. The man who has won 11 championships as a head coach is falling short as an executive, so he overpaid the one guy who can galvanize the group he’s assembled by getting them to overachieve. If he’s healthy, which is of course a huge if.

Can the Knicks win 43 games? Sure they can. They’ll probably go 42-40 to devastate those optimistic enough to ride with a rejuvenated Rose and Noah, but I think New York will be better. Considering the point of this column was to get at teams that avoided scorn in last week’s soft column, the fact I’ve come to this conclusion should tell you something.

Don’t write the Knicks off as a lost cause. Hiring Jeff Hornacek to coach is another major upgrade, and there are now far more talented people who actually care involved in the product.

We did call the Heat losers last week, expecting them to be a sub-.500 as they rely on younger players to improve as they aim to become major players in next season’s free agency chase, but they’ve definitely got company.

Sacramento continues to be a disaster under Vivek Ranadive’s ownership. Trading down and winding up with a project of a center in Georgios Papagiannis helped blow the draft, although I did like the Malachi Richardson pick. The future of DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay remains in limbo and there’s no reason to think that franchise can excel at anything, which includes surpassing what’s likely to be a low win total. It’s not worth the risk.

The other team that decidedly took a step back was Orlando, which dealt for Serge Ibaka on the final year of a guaranteed deal with no assurances that he’ll ever be the same as he was at his peak. He looks like the mileage he’s put in throughout his career has caught up with him, which made acquiring him for the steep price of ex-franchise cornerstone Victor Oladipo curious at best. Even though they also signed shot-blocker Bismack Biyombo, it’s hard to get behind what the Magic did this summer.

Website: VegasInsider.com

About the Author

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national sportswriter for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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