Commentary

Brighter future: Knicks or Lakers?

Which struggling franchise will get back on its feet quicker?

Originally Published: March 19, 2014
By J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez discuss which franchise -- the New York Knicks or the Los Angeles Lakers -- has the better foundation for a speedy return to NBA success.


J.A.: Let's not look at Wednesday's ESPN docket of Pacers-Knicks and Spurs-Lakers as mismatches of two conference leaders versus two losing teams. Let's consider this a learning opportunity. With vision, hard work and a little luck, perhaps the Knicks and Lakers can overcome the limitations of their markets and thrive just like the representatives of those burgeoning metropolises in Indianapolis and San Antonio.

OK, that's about as far as I can carry that. Truth is, it looks bad for the Knicks and Lakers to have fallen so far behind two teams with far fewer resources. I bet Chase bank paid more to have that logo behind Phil Jackson at his news conference in New York than Bankers Life paid to have its name on the Pacers' Fieldhouse. And you know the Lakers' deal with Time Warner Cable could pay for not just the Spurs but all of San Antonio. But the qualities that make the Pacers and Spurs successful can't be bought. Indiana purged the problem players after the Malice in the Palace, and found that success can be a byproduct of character. The Spurs, on the other hand, put a premium on stability and didn't stray from their core personnel and make drastic changes anytime something went wrong.

Of these four teams on ESPN Wednesday, the Spurs (winners of 10 straight games) are the team of the moment and the Pacers are the group with the most promising short-term future (remember, Paul George is only 23). But which of all of these teams -- including the Lakers, with their location and legends-laced pedigree, and the Knicks with Phil in the mix -- would you rather be a few years down the road?

Israel: Allow me to begin that answer by saying my position on this is about as stable as a quarterback's position on Mel Kiper's Big Board this year. I can easily be swayed -- largely because my current stance is built mostly on how well Phil Jackson handled that news conference Tuesday announcing him king of New York City. That should give you a little bit of a hint.

My answer is the Knicks. Now, before I take a deep breath, think too long and change my mind, let me explain. First, I'm ruling out the Spurs for the moment because they have aging stars and a legendary coach who likely will leave when one of those stars leaves (Tim Duncan). And after that, their hopes rest largely on general manager RC Buford, which is a great place to start but not enough to convince me he can rebuild quickly in that market without another great stroke of lottery luck. The Pacers are contenders now, and while their core isn't nearly as old, if that franchise doesn't win it all soon, there will be pressure on George to leave that market. And the Lakers don't appear to have the personnel in the front office to inspire confidence from anyone, not even their own franchise player at the moment.

That leaves me with Jackson and the Knicks. I'm already envisioning a 2015-16 roster featuring Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo. I wasn't sold on Phil a few days ago, but I'm getting closer to believing in him now. Though there's a lingering feeling that he's more Bill Parcells with the Dolphins than Pat Riley with the Heat, it's hard to believe anything Jackson has full control over will fail.

J.A.: I'll admit, Phil's news conference has me believing in his basketball philosophy. Then I realized I already believed in his basketball philosophy; he had me at 11 rings. But did you come away believing in his ability to find talented players deep in the draft, or to manage the salary cap? Also, there are some great available coaches, such as Lionel Hollins, George Karl and Avery Johnson, who might have a different way of doing things. If Phil's way is the only way, it could limit the Knicks' coaching pool. I've spent a slight majority of my two decades of NBA coverage around Phil Jackson. He can be as mesmerizing as Kaa in "The Jungle Book." But after a little time to let the spell of that news conference wear off, you'll realize it raised as many questions as it answered.

"

Though there's a lingering feeling that he's more Bill Parcells with the Dolphins than Pat Riley with the Heat, it's hard to believe anything Jackson has full control over will fail.

" -- Israel Gutierrez

Likewise, a little reflection will help you realize that the Lakers' front office isn't as inept as the team's current record indicates. It's easy to forget how much positive buzz they generated when they struck deals to bring in Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The Paul trade was nixed by the league and the Nash and Howard trades didn't work out. But if acquiring a superstar is the first step to competing for NBA championships, they've shown the ability to do so ... and with a first-round pick plus salary-cap room this summer (and/or next if they choose to preserve it) they will have the means to do so. The Lakers might not have the same allure as they once did, but the city of Los Angeles still does. Jackson even provided an inadvertent Lakers recruiting pitch when he talked about his reluctance to leave the beautiful Southern California weather. Jackson didn't really have the option to choose the Lakers over the Knicks this time. Future free agents will. I'd go with the franchise that has a better track record of landing them.

Israel: Those Lakers moves, regardless of they were perceived initially, will be remembered as bumbling missteps. There's just not much there to inspire confidence. The best scenario for the Lakers involves nailing their first-round pick this offseason. Whether it's Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins or Dante Exum or Joel Embiid, if the Lakers get a gem of a talent that they can build around, they can become the Lakers again quickly.

Think about it, the draft is where they've gotten some of their biggest payoffs. Whether it was Magic or James Worthy or Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have Hall-of-Fame level success in the draft. If L.A. manages to score again in this year's draft, suddenly Bryant passing the torch becomes what these next two years are about -- as much as any playoff chase.

If that happens, the Lakers' future seems a lot more promising. If it's paired with a smart free-agent signing this offseason (still not sure who that can be), then maybe the Lakers are my pick here.

See, told you I could easily be swayed.

J.A.: You left out an important aspect: coaching. That's where I'm more suspect of the Lakers. Their past three non-Phil Jackson hires, Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni, have a combined record of 128-124. That's a winning record, but not a winning record, which is the standard in Lakerland. (And the combined 5-11 record in the playoffs is utterly unacceptable).

Similarly, the Knicks haven't hit on a coach since Jeff Van Gundy left in 2002. Can either franchise find a hidden gem like the Pacers did with Frank Vogel? Will either franchise's reactionary fan base allow it to stay with a coach the way the Spurs have with Gregg Popovich? Coaching is a major component of this. If the Knicks had hired Jackson to work on the sidelines -- or even if he dropped hints that he'd be willing to do so -- I'd give them better odds of winning that championship that has eluded them the past 40 years.

But it still starts with stars. And I think we'll see another one in a Lakers uniform sooner rather than later, whether it's in the first round of this draft (a round in which the Knicks have no pick) or the next couple of years of free agency.

"

The Lakers might not have the same allure as they once did, but the city of Los Angeles still does.

" -- J.A. Adande

Israel: I know Michael Jordan and Phil obviously entered their front-office experiences with different track records, but I'm going to have a hard time not comparing those two in their franchise-building attempts. I mean, everyone is looking at Pat Riley as a rival to Phil. Well, so is MJ. Oh, and so is Larry Bird. And his team would seem to be in the best position to maintain its level for the next few years, assuming George or Roy Hibbert isn't lured away.

But I'm still going to stick with New York as being in the best position come four, five years down the road. But there's one element that's still bothering me about it. What's Carmelo Anthony's role in it? If Phil and the Knicks commit to Anthony, he'll essentially have next season to show he can "adjust" his game to play at championship level, to show he can share more and play a game to the Zen Master's liking.

Well, that's going to be difficult to do for several reasons, including: A) It's how he's played his entire basketball career; and b) he won't have a significantly better team around him next year that'll allow him to play differently.

So going into 2015 free agency, when Phil would have to convince free agents to come play with Melo, the promises of a new Carmelo will be based on mostly faith and very little actual evidence. I'd still be a tad more convinced about the Knicks' future if Anthony weren't part of it. But hey, if Phil can convince Jim Dolan to hand over the ultimate power for the New York Knicks, maybe transforming Melo's approach to the game will come easy to him.

I know this much, he'll have to be volume-scoring Carmelo if his current Knicks are going to get past the Pacers tonight. The next few years? We'll just have to wait and see if Jackson has brushed up on the art of Melo maintenance.

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.

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