NEW YORK -- Phil Jackson has asked New York Knicks season-ticket holders to "remain optimistic" amid what has been one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
In a letter and video message sent out on Monday, Jackson tried to reassure the team's fan base, saying he has a "clear plan" in place for the 2015 offseason.
"While I know this has been a challenging season for our team on the court, I can also tell you that everyone in the organization is working tirelessly to get our Knicks back to a place where we are once again competing at the highest level," Jackson said in a video message obtained by ESPN New York that doubled as a pitch to season-ticket holders to renew for the 2015-16 season.
In the letter, Jackson talked about the roster moves he's made to clear up cap space for free agency. The Knicks are expected to have at least $25 million in cap space this summer.
"We have made key roster moves to free up significant cap space that will provide us greater flexibility to acquire talent in this summer's free agency," Jackson said. "And for the first time in many years, we expect to have a top pick in the NBA Draft this June. These are key steps to building a roster of players that have both the talent and character to win in New York and who, alongside Carmelo Anthony, will become a team that can become a consistent winner."
Jackson briefly acknowledged the failures of this season in the video and letter.
The Knicks will enter play Wednesday with a 14-60 record -- the worst in the NBA. This is the first time in New York's 69-year franchise history that the team has lost 60 games.
NEW YORK -- One day after his New York Knicks made the wrong kind of history, team president Phil Jackson took to Twitter to talk about the rebuild that lies ahead.
We will rebuild a team that fits together-guys that want to compete and play the way bball gods approve.#groundup
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) March 30, 2015
It’s interesting that Jackson would use the hashtag “#groundup” at the end of the tweet. He had an opportunity to start the Knicks’ rebuild from the ground up in the truest sense last summer when Carmelo Anthony hit free agency. If he wanted to, Jackson could have let Anthony walk and entered free agency this summer with a near-empty roster and an incredible amount of cap space.
Instead, after saying publicly that he hoped Anthony would consider a pay cut, Jackson re-signed the All-Star forward to a $124 million, five-year contract. Jackson will now try to rebuild the Knicks around Anthony, who is rehabbing from left knee surgery and is expected to be healthy for training camp.
Jackson will have at least $25 million in cap space this summer. That amount of money will give the Knicks an opportunity to build a roster with enough talent to compete in the Eastern Conference. New York also will likely have a high pick in June’s draft. If they finish the season with the NBA’s worst record, the Knicks will pick no lower than fourth.
The draft pick and cap space give Jackson the ingredients to build a contender in New York. This season, Jackson's first full campaign as Knicks president, the team has reached historic lows. They will have a league-worst 14-60 record when they take the floor on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.
The 60 losses are the highest total in the franchise’s 69-year history.
Ledo back: The team announced on Sunday that it has signed guard Ricky Ledo to a second 10-day contract.
Question: What players would you draft or sign in free agency to fit best around Carmelo Anthony?
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau worries about every opponent.
It doesn’t matter whether the Bulls are facing another playoff team like the Toronto Raptors like they did earlier in the week or a team well out of the playoff race like the New York Knicks on Saturday. Thibodeau was equally concerned about both games.
After putting together a double-digit victory over the Raptors on Wednesday, the Bulls didn’t let Thibodeau down against the lowly Knicks. The Bulls were clicking from the start -- scoring on eight of their first nine possessions -- and ran away with a 111-80 win.
It was another victory that made the Bulls feel like they were building something as they enter the regular season’s final weeks.
“The thing is, everyone is capable of beating you,” said Thibodeau, whose team is on a three-game winning streak and moved to within two games of the Cleveland Cavaliers for second place in the Eastern Conference. “I liked the way we approached it this morning. I thought our guys came out with a lot of energy to start the game and we played tough. There are a lot of things we could do better and we have to keep working towards that, but overall we did a lot of good things in that game.”
Thibodeau stressed leading up to the game he was seeking more continuity from his team. Players have been in and out of the Bulls’ lineup due to injuries all season, and they’re finally getting nearly everyone -- Derrick Rose could even begin participating in contact drills next week -- healthy together.
With only Rose and Doug McDermott (back) inactive against the Knicks, Thibodeau was able to utilize most of his roster and see what some different lineups could do on the floor. For the most part, the Bulls remained in synch all evening. They worked the ball around, played off each other and found the open man. They compiled 28 assists on 43 field goals and had just 12 turnovers.
It’s not always easy to remain focused in a game where a double-digit lead is created in the first quarter, but the Bulls rarely wavered throughout the 48 minutes. Bulls forward Pau Gasol thought that had to do with the team knowing what’s at stake with just eight regular-season games remaining.
“We’re in the final stretch of the season,” said Gasol, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds in 27:33 of action. “We understand the importance of each and every game. So, the sense of urgency and level of focus is a lot higher.”
Bulls center Joakim Noah also liked Saturday’s result, but he didn't want to be content.
“It’s good,” Noah said. “Just got to keep moving and keep getting better individually and as a team. But it’s good. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Despite the momentum the Bulls are generating, they were all for having three days off until their next game. The team will take Sunday completely off and get back in the gym on Monday.
“It’s not going to be tough,” Noah said of taking time off. “We’ll work hard and get ready for the next one.”
The next one will be the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, and Thibodeau will undoubtedly be back to being concerned again.
The New York Knicks made the kind of history on Saturday that Phil Jackson probably wants no part of.
New York lost its 60th game of the season against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night. That’s the highest loss total in the franchise’s 69-year history.
Jackson earlier this month said this of his team: “They’re not talented enough to win a 48-minute game.”
He wasn’t kidding. The Knicks have lost seven straight and 14 of 16.
All the losing and the misery of this season should benefit the Knicks in June.
At 14-60, New York has the worst record in the NBA. They are three games ahead of Minnesota (16-56) in the race for the league's worst record.
If the Knicks finish with sole possession of the NBA’s worst record, they will be guaranteed to pick no lower than fourth in June's draft. They will also have a 25 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick.
So who will they select?
On Saturday, Kentucky’s Towns had 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting in the Wildcats’ win over Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.
The Knicks will surely consider Towns if they end up with a top pick.
According to league sources, there was a stretch in between mid February and March that New York had a scout or executive at Kentucky’s practices or games for approximately 20 of the 30 opportunities.
In addition to the draft, the Knicks will also have at least $25 million to spend in free agency this summer.
So Jackson will have an opportunity to put together a team that can contend for a playoff spot next season.
Losing 60 games, of course, wasn’t Jackson’s plan coming into the season.
He said prior to the season that he believed the Knicks would make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Later, when it became clear that the Knicks weren’t going to contend for the postseason, Jackson traded J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland for two second-round draft picks and two trade exceptions.
Days later, Jackson offered a “mea culpa” to the fan base for the way things went south in his first full season as president. He also explained why he thought the Knicks would be a playoff team.
“In the East, we looked at teams that were under .500 [as teams] that could compete [for the playoffs],” Jackson said. “It wasn’t a really big challenge, a challenge I thought this team was capable of. They obviously weren’t.”
Now, the question for the Knicks is whether Jackson is up to the challenge of turning this mess around.
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, Pau Gasol added 19 points and 12 rebounds, and the Chicago Bulls handed the Knicks their franchise-record 60th loss, beating New York 111-80 Saturday night.
A night after tying the team's previous single-season loss mark, the Knicks dropped their seventh straight and 14th in 16 games.
Jimmy Butler scored 18 for Chicago.
The rookie Mirotic had another strong game, finishing five points shy of his career high. Gasol recorded his league-leading 48th double-double as Chicago won for the fifth time in six games.
The Bulls, who led by 20 at halftime, fell four points short of their most lopsided victory of the season. They pulled within two games of Central Division leader Cleveland and moved 1 1/2 games ahead of fourth-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference.
Andrea Bargnani led New York with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Andrea Bargnani tied a season high with 25 points for the Knicks.
The Celtics led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, but Langston Galloway's 3-pointer with 25 seconds left cut the Knicks' deficit to 92-88.
Thomas then made 1 of 2 free throws with 23 seconds left, and Early did the same with 13 seconds remaining.
The ESPN Forecast panel ranked the Knicks’ front office 30th in a league of 30 teams. The management team of Phil Jackson and Steve Mills came in at 29th; coach Derek Fisher was ranked 30th. Lastly, owner James Dolan came in at 30th.
Below, we’ll take a look at why those rankings make sense and why there is reason to hope that they will improve in the future.
President Phil Jackson; GM Steve Mills (29th): Jackson and Mills thought they’d put together a team that could compete for the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they put together the worst team in franchise history.
That’s probably one of the few redeeming qualities about Jackson’s first year as Knicks president: he’s put the team in good position to rebuild.
Derek Fisher (30th): The Knicks have been set up to lose games since early January, but that doesn’t mean that Fisher is above criticism. The first-year coach struggled to find a consistent rotation, using 20 different starting lineups in the first half of the season.
His defensive schemes have also hurt the Knicks. Fisher wanted New York to focus on defending the paint and stopping opponents in transition. That’s come at the expense of defending the 3-point arc.
The Knicks have allowed opponents to shoot 38.7 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks 30th in the NBA.
The real test for Fisher, of course, will be next season. In theory, he’ll have a roster that can compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
James Dolan (30th): The Knicks owner alienated some of his own fan base by sending an email to a long-time fan, suggesting that he go root for the Brooklyn Nets. Between that and the miserable season, it hasn’t been a good year for Dolan.
Better days ahead? There’s reason to believe that the Jackson and the Knicks can turn things around. They will be armed with at least $25 million to spend and have a high first-round pick in June’s draft.
Furthermore, for the first time in recent Knicks history, it seems like the owner, president and coach are all on the same page.
Jackson has given Fisher the freedom to coach the team the way he sees fit; Dolan has thus far stuck to his promise to give Jackson autonomy when it comes to basketball decisions. It’s anyone’s guess how long this tranquility can last. Dolan has a history of meddling with his front-office people.
But the idea that all three men are on the same page, at this point, bodes well for the future.
Also, the fact that Dolan is a willing spender should help. For all of his warts, no one has ever accused Dolan of being cheap when it comes to paying for an asset that his front office deems worthy.
Question: Do you agree with the rankings? Do you see brighter days ahead for the Knicks?
Our front-office rankings conclude with a look at the NBA's 30 owners.
We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's ownership group. In particular, we asked the voters to rate each team's ownership in terms of their performance in guiding the franchise to overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.
Here's how the 30 owners rank, according to our panel:
Our front-office rankings continue with a look at the NBA's 30 current head coaches -- the league's on-court decision-makers.
We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's coach. In particular, we asked the voters to rate each coach on his guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.
Here's how the 30 coaches rank, according to our panel:
DALLAS -- One by one, the All-Stars from the Phoenix Suns’ "Seven Seconds or Less" era are riding off into the sunset.
First, Shawn Marion announced that he’d retire at this season's end, the Matrix’s 16th in the league. Then Steve Nash officially called it a career, his 41-year-old body failing to allow him to play his 19th season.
But Amar'e Stoudemire, the 13-year veteran whose best seasons came when he was running and gunning with Nash and Marion in Phoenix, isn’t remotely close to being ready to consider hanging up his Nikes.
“I’m the last man standing,” Stoudemire said with a smile while stretched out on the floor of the visitors locker room with a pair of compression boots during the Dallas Mavericks’ recent trip to Phoenix. “I plan on standing for a while, by the way.
“No, no, there’s no way. There’s a lot of youth in these legs. I have a lot of competitive juices still flowing in me. There’s no way I’m ready to be the next man."
At 32 with chronic knee issues, Stoudemire is no longer the athletic freak he was during his high-flying Phoenix days, when he routinely soared high above the rim to catch lobs from Nash and finish in highlight fashion. But Stoudemire remains plenty capable of providing scoring punch off a playoff team’s bench and plans to continue doing so for a long time to come, speculating that he could play five or six years with the proper maintenance.
The Mavs -- who signed Stoudemire for the veterans minimum after he received an All-Star break buyout from the final season of his five-year, $99.7 million contract with the New York Knicks -- will be among the teams expressing interest in him this summer. He’s been productive as the Mavs’ backup center, averaging an efficient 9.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game.
Owner Mark Cuban has made it clear that he’d like Stoudemire to stay in Dallas, comparing him to Vince Carter, another former perennial All-Star who contributed in a reserve role for the Mavs.
“I love Amar’e -- love, love, love the guy,” Cuban said. “There’s not enough superlatives. He’s just a great guy on the court and off. I just love his physicality. He just wants to win and is a great guy.”
Stoudemire chose the Mavs over several other suitors last month, so clearly there’s mutual interest. Money, minutes and maximizing the chances of winning his first championship -- not necessarily in that order -- will likely be the biggest factors in Stoudemire’s decision this summer.
The Mavs will probably offer Stoudemire a significant piece of their midlevel exception. Stoudemire, who says he can “compete at a high level for years to come,” will likely request a multiyear deal.
But there will be plenty of time this summer to have those kinds of conversations. And, as much urgency as he feels to contend for a title now, Stoudemire is certain he has plenty of time left in his career.
“This isn’t it for me, for sure,” Stoudemire said. “There’s a lot of basketball left. There’s a lot of high-level basketball left in me. I feel competitive. I have faith in my body, what I can do on a basketball court on a consistent basis.
“The next step should be the best step, because I want to make sure I leave the game on a high note. That’s the ultimate goal.”