In a message that is sure to be soothing to some Knicks fans, Derek Fisher said on Monday that he's confident New York will be back in the playoffs next spring.
"I believe in our guys," Fisher said in Las Vegas after the Knicks’ summer league team practice, according to published reports. "Even if nothing else changes, we’re good enough to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but we have to go out and prove it."
Fisher was speaking publicly for the first time since Carmelo Anthony announced that he’d re-signed with the Knicks. New York doesn't have much financial flexibility to add talent this offseason. But the addition of Anthony alone should help the club return to the postseason.
Last season, the Knicks were riddled by injuries and hampered by chemistry and coaching issues. They limped to a 37-win season and missed the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
If the Knicks stay healthy, there are several reasons to be confident that they can make the playoffs in 2014-15:
• Jose Calderon is expected to be a strong fit in Phil Jackson's triangle offense.
• Carmelo Anthony should be freed from carrying such a heavy load on offense.
• J.R. Smith and his knee are expected to be healthy from Day 1 (last season, Smith was coming off of knee surgery and seemed to be hampered by its affects through the first two months of the season).
• Iman Shumpert should be able to produce consistently in an offense that isn't so isolation heavy and reliant on a ball-dominant player to initiate things.
• Tim Hardaway Jr. may thrive as a threat from the perimeter in the triangle offense and should be able to excel at attacking the rim in the open floor and as a cutter in the half-court offense.
These, presumably, are some of the reasons that Fisher is optimistic about the coming season.
"My opinion is, based on our roster and who we’re going to become, we can compete for playing in the playoffs and playing for a championship in the Eastern Conference," Fisher said. "When that happens, putting dates on it, that’s not my job."
Fisher doesn’t subscribe to the doom-and-gloom theories for the Knicks espoused by some. This season's Knicks, this theory states, are all too similar to the team that won 37 games last season.
"A lot of people feel everybody around Carmelo needs to be different," Fisher said. "I don’t necessarily agree with the mindset. We have some very good basketball players on our team."
Of course, the Knicks’ success will still depend largely on Anthony. To that end, Fisher feels optimistic that the Knicks’ new offense will take some of the scoring burden off of Anthony’s shoulders.
Since 2012, Anthony’s first full season in New York, only Kevin Durant and LeBron James have accounted for more points on their respective teams. Anthony has scored a whopping 23 percent of the team’s points over that time span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I haven’t gotten to that point analyzing his individual game in terms of strengths and weaknesses," Fisher said of Anthony. "What I most thought about it [was] how much easier the game will be for him. We won’t just give him the ball and say, ‘Save the day.’ We’ll utilize guys around him to be successful, build trust, build chemistry, build a fun way to play for guys, and that will make our defense better.
"That’s what he wants. ... He wants to be in an environment where everybody is effective. He wants a balanced basketball team."
Fisher said he and Anthony weren’t particularly close during their playing days. But both men are assuredly on the same page when it comes to ending the Knicks’ 42-year title drought.
"He wants to win. He's a winner. He's won a championship at the college level. He's only missed the playoffs [once] in his career,” Fisher said of Anthony. “That's who we want to be. That's who I've always been, and that's not going to change now that I'm a coach -- eating, sleeping, dreaming about winning.
"At the end of the day, it's the best team that ultimately wins the championship. We hope to be there one day, but right now, we have to start at the beginning, and that's becoming a team."
A team that Fisher believes will be in the playoffs next spring.
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