Knicks of Dreams: Inside the culture rebuild in New York

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

If you build, they will come.

That is essentially Leon Rose’s vision for his “Knicks of Dreams,” channeling his inner Ray Kinsella.

The New York Knicks team president has stuck to his summer proclamation that they’re building the right way.

Though it’s a small sample size, the early results have been encouraging.

Basically using the same core as last year in the starting unit, and despite the rash of injuries, Knicks’ new coach Tom Thibodeau was able to make do with what he has on their way to beating a pair of playoff-quality opponents.

The Knicks have a chance to get above .500 for the first time in a long while when they take on the Atlanta Hawks, owner of the league’s second-best offense, Monday night.

Trust Thibs’ process

They were fun to watch when they routed the Milwaukee Bucks at home and pulled out a gut-wrenching win on the road against the Indiana Pacers.

But there were also “growing pains” moments, just like when their starters shot their way to the wrong end of the history with a 0-for-23 three-point mark in a 17-point loss to the Toronto Raptors.

That prompted free-agent acquisition Austin Rivers to plead for patience from the anxious Knicks fans on their team’s page on Instagram.

The next day, he walked the talk and contributed 15 points, including the game-sealing layup, off the bench in a character-building win in Indianapolis. Rivers then took us inside the culture that Thibodeau has been building.

“I’ve never done that. I’ve never commented on a team page. But I just want to let it known that Knicks have great fans. I know they have been waiting a long time to see progress. We’re on the right direction,” Rivers said afterward.

Rivers has nixed offers from several playoff teams, including a reunion with his father Doc Rivers in Philadelphia because he was sold to Rose’s “Knicks of Dreams.”

‘We’re gonna get there’

The younger Rivers said he had not been here long enough to know everything about the Knicks. But there’s one thing he’s really certain about. The Knicks are about to turn the corner.

“I don’t meant to come off as someone who knows everything. But they’ve brought in all these new people from top to bottom, from Leon to Thibs, to players to trainers, I mean everything… the whole nine yards. I just want to let people know that be patient. We’re working so hard. Tonight’s a big win, but we know we still have a lot of work to do.” Rivers said after picking up their third win.

“Every time I get to the locker room, I keep on telling guys we have to keep building, we have to keep building. So we are heading in the right direction. I know we have great fans. We’re doing everything we can, We’re building, and we’re gonna get there,” he continued. “Right now, we just have a whole team that is buying it. It’s the beginning, so, like I said, we have a lot more work to do, but it’s just nice to have good guys, and everybody is buying it.

Building the culture

A couple of months before Thibodeau was hired, he guested on The Platform podcast and had a revealing interview.

“How you build a culture is you have to sell your vision to your best players and your best players have to sell it to the rest of the team,” Thibodeau said in May. “Your first meeting is the most important meeting of the year. You have to begin with the end in mind. What wins in the playoffs, these are the things that you have to do, building habits.”

Thibodeau has relied on his veterans to right the ship. He’s always mentioned Julius Randle’s leadership dating back to as far as before their OTA.

The Knicks’ quiet but underrated offseason has yielded high-character and productive veterans on cheap deals. Rivers, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel are proving to be smart acquisitions by this new savvy front office.

The veterans have bought in to Thibodeau’s vision, and they’re selling it to the younger core of the team. 

“We’re coming together great. It helps when you have great guys. It makes my job, Julius’ job, all the vets who are going to lead this team. It makes our job easier,” Rivers said.

“All the young guys that we have are great. Guys who are not playing are real supportive. Everybody is cheering each other on. That’s what we’ve been trying to instill in the locker room. If you’re not playing, be happy for someone else’s success. You got to act the right way. You have to be professional because you never know who’s watching you, you never know when your opportunity is coming. So right now, we just have a whole team buying in. It’s the beginning,” he added.

Tight-knit group

Theo Pinson, another Knicks’ offseason acquisition, is one of those guys who’s been riding the bench that has been providing a jolt of energy. He’d seen this play out before across the borough when he was the Brooklyn Nets’ no. 1 cheerleader on the bench.

“I think team camaraderie is the biggest thing. The more you like each other off the court, it helps the court, especially with a young team. You go out there and start playing selflessly. You just want to play for each other. You want to see the other person succeed. That’s when everybody eats. As you could see, it help the guys in Brooklyn,” Pinson reflecting on his experience with the Nets.

“That’s also gonna help here. The guys in the locker room, we get along really well. We are already a tight-knit group. Even after the loss to Indiana [in the season opener], we already started talking to each other about what we saw on the court, what we can do better, how we can get each other better shots on the court, how we can finish games. So for us to react to a loss like that early is big time, in my opinion,” Pinson continued.

It showed in their rematch. The Pacers couldn’t bully the Knicks the way they did in the season opener. The Knicks flaunted their newfound chemistry and defensive tenacity.

Playing for each other

Rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley represents the Knicks’ future. The dynamic guard out of Kentucky has successfully returned from a hip pointer that caused him to miss four games.

His playmaking and shotmaking has injected a new dimension to the Knicks’ offense and has stabilized their second unit. 

Viewed by fans as a threat to Payton’s starting job, the veteran guard has taken it in stride and is, in fact, mentoring the Knicks’ point guard of the future.

“I say Elfrid is definitely a big one, just showing me little things that would help me on and off the floor. I have really gotten close with pretty much all the guys. I feel like this team is really tight-knit. We love being around each other. I feel like this group can do something special just because of the type of chemistry that we have,” Quickley said after the Knicks’ Monday shootaround in Atlanta.

Payton has rebounded well from his scoreless performance in their earlier home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s since averaged 18.5 points on 61 percent field goal shooting and 5.8 assists to solidify his stranglehold of the starting job.

It’s just one of those many proofs of the Thibodeau effect in New York.

New image

The Knicks have long been the league’s laughingstock, but Thibodeau’s serious approach to the game has started to change the team’s dynamics and culture.

Their early success has put the league on notice.

Knicks’ biggest acquisition

Thibodeau’s gift of maximizing value out of his players is seen as a curse by his critics.

But for a team lacking in bona fide superstars, Thibodeau is proving to be the team’s biggest acquisition, essentially the team’s superstar.

Rose’s unpopular decision of opting for a coaching retread is paying dividends for this young Knicks team.

“We want to find the right leader that can develop our young players as well as hold everyone accountable,” Rose said in his first public appearance in June. “And take us from development to becoming a perennial winner. We also want someone that we think will be collaborative with the front office and someone that when you’re in that huddle and when you’re looking at that coach’s eyes, every player who’s looking at him knows that person is driving the ship and going to get the job done.”

So far, Thibodeau is getting the job done.

Rose’s vision of bringing back the Knicks’ old glory is starting to come to life. Just like how Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” has brought back to life Shoeless Jackson and his baseball team.

Rivers can see it. Pinson has seen this play out before. Quickley is feeling it. The national media has taken notice.

If you build the culture, the wins and stars will come to Leon Rose’s “Knicks of Dreams.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks add ex-Kentucky Nerlens Noel; Theo Pinson returns on 2-way deal

The New York Knicks continue to fill out their roster with fringe veterans on one-year deals.

After adding veteran wingman Alec Burks and re-signing Elfrid Payton to separate one-year contracts, the Knicks have added former lottery pick and ex-Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel a one-year, $5-million deal, according to multiple reports.

The Knicks are hoping Noel will rekindle his old Kentucky form with new assistant coach Kenny Payne, the man credited for producing NBA-caliber bigs under UK coach John Calipari’s program.

Noel will join his fellow Klutch Sports client Mitchell Robinson to anchor the Knicks’ defensive backbone this season.

Noel, the sixth pick in 2013, will be playing for his fourth team after stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Noel will be the fourth player with Kentucky ties in the Knicks roster, joining Julius Randle, Kevin Knox, and Immanuel Quickley.

Meanwhile, according to ESPN’s front office insider Bobby Marks, Theo Pinson will return to the Knicks on a two-way contract.

Pinson’s $1.7 million team option was earlier declined. His return means the Knicks have filled up their two slots for two-way players, the other being Jared Harper.

As a two-way player, Pinson can play up to 50 games this season.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Brooklyn Nets sign Justin Anderson

Brooklyn Nets, Justin Anderson

Wilson Chandler’s one-way ticket to Walt Disney World has been transferred. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Brooklyn Nets have signed Justin Anderson.

This move comes on the heels of Chandler, who appeared in 35 games this season, telling the Nets that he won’t be present when the 2019-20 NBA regular season resumes in late-July. Chandler was averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Anderson appeared in three games for the Nets this season, playing on a 10-day contract. Across those games he averaged 5.7 minutes per contest. Anderson also played for the team’s G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets.

Across 16 games, 14 of which he started, Anderson averaged 20.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Anderson spent time with the Nets, Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. He was selected by the Mavericks with the 21st pick in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Virginia. The forward is averaging 5.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game for his career.

The Nets recently waived guard Theo Pinson. He appeared in 51 games for the Nets over the last two seasons after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Brooklyn subsequently signed guard Tyler Johnson. Johnson previously appeared in 31 games for the Phoenix Suns this season, averaging 5.7 points per game.

The Nets (30-34) are the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, eight and a half games behind the sixth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, a half-game ahead of the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic and six games ahead of the ninth-seeded Washington Wizards.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving aren’t expected to make the trip to Florida. Durant, recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, recently said on the “Dawg Talk” podcast that he wouldn’t play if he were healthy.

“I feel, me right now, I probably wouldn’t have played because the unknown going into that situation looks crazy right now, seeing so many new cases. It’s just so unpredictable. It’s easy for me to say right now because I’m injured, but I probably wouldn’t have went down there [to Orlando].”

Will the Brooklyn Nets rotate at the point guard position?

Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets have had various players at point guard over the years. It’s a position that generally has good depth in Brooklyn. I mean it makes sense. It’s arguably the most critical position on the court.

The point guard is the first line of defense. He directs the offense and sets the tempo of the game. He’s supposed to be an extension of the coach since the coach can’t be on the court directing things at all times.

This year is a little different for the Brooklyn Nets. There are only two players on the roster that naturally play the position — newly acquired member of the Nets Kyrie Irving and the man who recruited him, Spencer Dinwiddie. You could push the number to three with the addition of Jaylen Hands, but the rookie out of UCLA will probably spend his rookie year developing in Long Island.

So that leaves the question, what happens when one of the two main guys are in foul trouble? Or if both get into foul trouble? What happens during a load management day? Kyrie hasn’t exactly been the most healthy pg in the league, what happens if he has to miss games for an extended period?

These questions gave room for people to speculate specific point guards as viable options earlier on in the offseason. But with the Nets having 15 guaranteed contracts and the roster is more or less set in stone at this point, it’s clear Sean Marks believes the answer to these questions and the depth at point guard are on the roster.

The first person that comes to mind is Caris Levert. The young player has a diverse skill set. He can handle the rock and create for himself. His ability to break down a defender and penetrate, allow him to find the open man when the defense collapses. Levert has played some point guard during his tenure with the Nets, and the organization has liked what they’ve seen. Don’t be shocked to see Levert play someone for short stints this season.

The veteran Garrett Temple is another option at the point guard. Although seldom, he too has experienced at the point throughout his NBA career. Temple, like Caris, would give the Nets a more significant body to throw at opposing PGs, causing lots of matchup problems. And as a veteran, you don’t have to worry about him being overwhelmed with the responsibility of running a team or having someone take him out of his game. He’s seen a lot over the years so he can be a steady hand if need be.

Dzanan Musa is another option that Kenny Atkinson will probably look at to be a primary ball-handler and run the offense. Musa is a player the Brooklyn brass is very high on. They believe the young European player is oozing with potential and that he can be a very versatile piece to the roster. Through his young career in the NBA and before it, he hasn’t shown a knack for creating for others, but he does have a decent handle. He’d be an extremely tall PG for us, listed at 6’9″. During the Summer League, we saw him run the offense a little bit, and as he continues to learn the game, he should get better on that end. He’s probably the least likely option, but I expect to see him tested here during practices or possibly during garbage time.

Finally, the heart and soul of our bench mob, Theo Pinson might have his hand tried at being the floor general. Management might’ve spoken to him about him playing some point because Pinson seems to have his mind wrapped around the idea already. He opened up to Brian Lewis about it saying that he wants to, of course, do his job, but do it while taking care of the ball. He even mentioned playing the point guard position reporting:

I have the ball in my hands [as] the third point guard, knock down open shots — I think that’s the biggest thing for me. We’ve got a lot of guys who can create on our team, so being able to knock down shots and be respectable will just open up the floor for them.

So the Nets may not have that traditional third point guard to go to this season, but they have multiple viable options to hold down the fort if the need arises.