Phil: Melo, Knicks can compete in East

The Knicks won just 37 games last season. They don’t have a draft pick -- yet -- and don’t have any cap space to chase free agents.

So, there’s a theory out there that the Knicks will have to suffer through another year of mediocrity in 2014-15 while they wait to rebuild in the summer of 2015.

Phil Jackson doesn’t necessarily subscribe to that theory.

The Knicks president said last week that if the team re-signs Carmelo Anthony, he thinks the 'Bockers can be back in contention in the Eastern Conference next season.

“I do. I think it has to have kind of a refreshed attitude,” Jackson said. “I think they call it a beginner mind. Needs a beginner mind to start over again. In the process to bond together, that’s what teams do that are successful and come back with ‘OK we can do this. We can collectively get ourselves back on the same page, same breath and same idea of selfless behavior, whatever our roles and get out there and play the game that’s competitive.’ There should be ample opportunity for this team to come back into competition next year.”

On one hand, Jackson said what you would expect him to say here. Of course he’s not going to say that the Knicks can’t compete next season.

But on the other hand, there is a reason for the Knicks fans to be optimistic about 2014-15: just call it the Phil Jackson effect.

Jackson has had an immediate impact in the first season of his previous two NBA jobs.

In the season before he took over as head coach of the Bulls, Chicago went 47-35. In Jackson’s first season on the bench, the Bulls improved to 55-27.

In the season before Jackson took over in Los Angeles, the Lakers went 31-19. In their first season with Jackson on the bench, Los Angeles finished 67-15 – an increase in winning percentage of 19 percent over the previous season.

Of course, Jackson was coaching those teams. In all likelihood, he won't be coaching the Knicks next season -- his first full term as president of the Knicks.

Jackson, it should be noted, also had Michael Jordan in Chicago and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Putting the obvious differences between Jackson's previous jobs and his Knicks gig aside, there’s another reason for the Zen Master to be optimistic about the Knicks next year: the weakened state of the Eastern Conference.

For much of last season, many of the Eastern Conference “contenders” were hovering around .500.

The third and fourth seeds in the East -– Toronto and Chicago –- finished with 48 wins. That total would have been good enough for a ninth-place finish in the Western Conference.

So the Knicks will be competing against the weaker of the two NBA conferences next year.

Of course, plenty can happen between late June and opening night. So it’s pointless to try to project the Knicks’ roster as it stands today against other teams in the Eastern Conference.

But even if the roster remains largely intact, there’s reason to think the Knicks will be better than the 37-win output they produced last season.

New York was heavily impacted by injury last year. Tyson Chandler was limited to 55 games due to various injuries, including a broken leg. Raymond Felton missed 17 games due to injury. And J.R. Smith missed the first five games of the season due to a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy and then needed time to fully recover from offseason knee surgery.

So if the Knicks can avoid those health issues and re-sign Anthony, there’s a reason to believe in Jackson’s optimism.

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