Who’s Gotten Better, The Lakers or Knicks?

Who’s Gotten Better, The Lakers or Knicks?

The Lakers and the Knicks are two of the most fabled franchises in NBA history, not to mention two of the biggest markets in the league. But the two teams have disappeared from relevancy in the last couple of years with disappointing seasons. The 2014 season was the first time in league history that the Lakers, Celtics and Knicks missed the playoffs in the same season.

 

While Boston made a quick recovery last season, the Knicks and Lakers sunk lower, with the Knicks owning the 2nd worst record in the league and the Lakers not far behind at 4th worst. And by the way, let me add that both teams had the worst season in their franchise’s history in 2015. But after the 2015 draft and the current free agency period, which team got better?

 

Not Everything That Glitters is Gold

 

The Lakers bombed out of the free agency race once again this summer when the biggest name on the market turned them down. Blazers’ forward LaMarcus Aldridge was this summer’s top prize, but even after getting first crack at Aldridge and having the best recruitment slogan in “L.A. to L.A“, Aldridge decided to sign with the San Antonio Spurs. Sources said, the Lakers’ presentation was centered more on the off-court glitz and glamour of Hollywood more than winning NBA titles.

Unlike the Lakers, the Knicks didn’t even get to first base with Aldridge as the All-Star forward cancelled a scheduled meeting with the Knicks before signing with the Spurs. Other targets like Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan also chose to “avoid” New York while Greg Monroe, the biggest name who seriously considered signing with the Knicks, chose to go to Milwaukee- the 35th biggest TV market in the country. With these series of events, the notion of going to big market cities to make a big splash is now but a myth. The NBA’s top free agents aren’t just looking for fame and fortune, they want to win NBA championship rings.

 

Settling For Spoils

 

 

 

Spurned, the Lakers got three notable veteran free agents instead: Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams. Make no mistake though, these are three very good players who have proven their mettle in the NBA. They are not just superstars though, not in the caliber of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love or LeBron James who were all free agent targets this summer.

The Knicks responded by signing Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn and Derrick Williams to reasonably priced contracts. Again, these weren’t the top names in the market, but they are solid enough to help Carmelo Anthony get more than the 17 total wins they had last season. Said Knicks’ President Phil Jackson, via sbnation on 7.9.15:

“We are fortunate to add these four new players to our roster. They bring to the team veteran leadership, talent and youth. These men, in addition to our rookies from the NBA Draft, will make for a very competitive team this coming year. We are all looking forward to the season, as we welcome them to the New York Knicks 2015-16 roster.”

On the other hand, GM Mitch Kupchak gave his take on their new veterans, via nba.com on 7.22.15:

“It’s a tough league. It’s a tough conference. We’ve tried to do our best to identify and create a young core, and also bring some veteran players around a young group. Not only can those veteran players hopefully contribute, but they have solid character, and they can be mentors for our young players. We’re gonna do our best to win as many games as possible, and it’s very difficult to do that with all young players. So part of what we tried to do was surround our young players with some veteran players that would be good mentors and also give us a chance to win a bunch of games.”

Two things from these two statements: young players and competition. Let’s take a look at both.

 

Contrasting Reactions

 

While there were many who were surprised that the Lakers didn’t pick Jahlil Okafor, there were a lot of cheers when they picked D’Angelo Russell who last season became the third freshman in NCAA history to average 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. However when the Knicks made their pick at #4, after the Sixers selected Okafor at #3, the reaction was different:

That crowd reaction said it all for Knicks’ fans. Kristaps Pozringis is the 7-foot Latvian prospect who caught a lot of attention in pre-draft camps and workouts (even the Lakers). But because of his reed thin frame and the history of European top picks than went bust ( Darko Milicic and Andrea Bargnani are two), a lot of people were disappointed with Phil Jackson. However, Pozringis somewhat proved his detractors wrong in the Summer League and in fact he is ranked by ESPN at #5 in its Rookie Impact list:

“I think the widespread notion that Porzingis is a project is somewhat overstated. While the box score can’t necessarily capture his issues dealing with stronger opponents, Porzingis was a productive player in a competitive ACB league in Spain last season. And he held his own in Vegas, averaging 18.4 points and 3.1 blocks per 36 minutes — albeit with just 5.7 rebounds per 36.”

The ESPN ranking on Pozringis is just a machine-computed prediction. But wasn’t this the same formula that Kevin Pelton used to predict the Knicks’ 37 win season in 2014? It’s hard to challenge that, but let’s wait and see. Aside from Pozringis, the Knicks have young players like Jerian Grant, Langston Galloway, Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Cleanthony Early who can make a difference. For the Lakers, they also have last year’s #7 pick Julius Randle, the surprising Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Kelly and Larry Nance Jr. who could be a factor for them.

Both the Lakers and Knicks have very talented rookies and young players. The question is whether they will jell with the veterans. That’s the job Byron Scott and Derek Fisher will have to do and being former court generals with championship experience, they should do just fine at the very least.

Looking at each team, the Knicks do have a better shot at making the playoffs because we all know how the West is tough and it’s even tougher now. the East has gotten better though with the player movements and all but generally, if one of these teams make the playoffs next season, it will likely be the Knicks.

 

Boils Down To Their Stars

 

2016 could very well be Kobe’s swansong season with the Lakers. We’re not saying the NBA or pro basketball because Kobe Bryant has hinted that he wants to continue playing after this season although his Laker contract ends after 2015-16. But regardless of What Bryant does after this season, the fate of the Lakers will depend on how he returns from injury. Same with the Knicks:

 

Carmelo Anthony has never been out of action this long. Everybody knows he is raring to get back on the floor and start winning again. Like Kobe, Anthony is one of the greatest competitors in the sport. He will be looking to redeem himself and put the Knicks back on the NBA map.

When asked if his team can make the playoffs, Bryant told Mark Spears of Yahoo Sports:

“Of course it can. Absolutely. We have talented players in their respective positions. We have some really young players. How exactly will the pieces of the puzzle fit? We really don’t know. We are going to (training) camp trying to piece this together just like every other team does.”

Anthony meanwhile, is busy getting back his shot on the court. But he made it very clear:

Yesterday was failure, tomorrow is still up for grabs. How far Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant can return to peak form will most probably be how far their teams will go. Knowing both, and injuries aside, it’s going to be worth the wait.

 

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Shane Acedera

Shane Acedera

I've always believed that it's never too late to chase your dreams. So here I am chasing mine- writing sports articles. It's pure passion, love for the sports and a unique way of expressing my thoughts.
Shane Acedera

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