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How the New York Knicks can improve in 2016

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Is there a franchise in the NBA more excited to turn the page on 2015 than the New York Knicks?

The calendar year has been a rough one for New York, to say the least.

Not that you need any reminders, but the Knicks completed the worst season in franchise history in April and couldn’t attract any top free agents in the summer.

Things started trending in the right direction in November, when New York got off to a solid start fueled by strong play from rookie Kristaps Porzingis and a well-rounded effort from Carmelo Anthony.

“I try to forget about what happened at the beginning of this calendar year. ... ” Anthony said. "But we’ve come a long way.”

So where do they go from here? The Knicks end the calendar year at 15-18, within striking distance of one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. But they’ll need to improve in several key areas in the new year to remain in the hunt.

Below, we take a look at three New Year’s resolutions for Derek Fisher's club:

1. Bolster the backcourt. As noted here earlier this month, the Knicks have been looking to add to their backcourt via trade and free agency.

So who can they add?

New York is one of several teams that has looked into signing free-agent guard Tony Wroten, sources say. The degree of their interest in Wroten is unclear at this point.

Detroit’s Brandon Jennings is also on the Knicks' radar, but the club wasn’t impressed with what they saw from Jennings during Detroit’s loss to the Knicks on Tuesday, according to sources familiar with their thinking.

Jennings was playing his first game in nearly 11 months after rupturing his left Achillies, though. So the organization's opinion of Jennings can certainly change if he returns to form.

The Knicks also have been monitoring the D-League for potential additions. They have an open roster spot so they can add a player without making a corresponding roster move. In light of Cleanthony Early's knee injury from Wednesday’s shooting, the Knicks may need to add someone ASAP.

Jimmer Fredette of the Westchester Knicks is one candidate. Fredette has played well for the Knicks' D-League club (23 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds) and Phil Jackson is a fan of Fredette’s, according to a source, but that doesn’t guarantee him a roster spot with the Knicks.

Scouts around the NBA also have been impressed by D-League guards Elliot Williams (28 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists), Toure' Murry (14 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists) and Sean Kilpatrick (26 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists).

It's worth noting here that the Knicks can sign a player to a 10-day contract starting Tuesday. The trade deadline is Feb. 18. So New York has plenty of time to make a decision. But the club may have a sense of urgency because it ranks last in the NBA in points in the paint and points in transition -- two areas where a backcourt addition may help.

2. More time for a certain foursome. Fisher said Thursday that his team is still looking for a lineup to use in the final minutes of close games. Did he find a potential combination Tuesday?

For a brief stretch in the fourth quarter against Detroit, Fisher used Robin Lopez, Anthony, Derrick Williams and Lance Thomas together. The results weren’t great, as the Knicks were outscored by seven points in the seven minutes they played together.

But the combination is intriguing.

Playing Williams, Anthony and Thomas together gives the Knicks an inherent advantage on defense: It allows them to switch on opponent's pick-and-roll plays without creating a debilitating mismatch. The Anthony-Thomas-Williams trio also allows Lopez to stay in the paint/near the rim more often.

It's a lineup that probably can work only against teams with bigger shooting guards because the 6-foot-8 Thomas or the 6-8 Williams would need to match up with the opposing 2-guard. But it may be worth taking a look at a little more often in 2016.

3. No quick fixes. It seems as though the Knicks are trying to strike an awkward balance this season.

On one hand, they’re trying to compete for a playoff spot. On the other hand, they’re building for the future.

Can they accomplish both simultaneously? I guess we’ll find out.

Given their predicament, it's hard to see the Knicks adding a player who will impact their cap situation this summer. They want to have as much cap space as possible to add free agents to the roster.

But New York also has a strong incentive to make the playoffs this season; the club's first-round pick is going to Toronto via the Andrea Bargnani trade. They certainly don't want to miss out on a lottery pick to any club -- let alone send one to a division rival.

So it will be interesting to see how Jackson approaches the trade period.

Past Knicks regimes, often at the behest of owner James Dolan, have at times looked for a quick fix via a trade or free agency. It hasn't worked well.

Jackson doesn't seem to be taking the same approach. He appears committed to a long-term rebuild. The Zen Master would be wise to remain on that path as the trade deadline approaches.