Thursday marks the most important draft for the Knicks in 30 years, and while they were initially disappointed in getting the No. 4 pick, there’s still talent to be had.
Team president Phil Jackson addressed the team’s draft needs and summer free-agency plans, noting that Thursday night begins his blueprint of changing the franchise’s fortune.
"There was kind of a malaise hanging over the ball club [last season] that they couldn’t break through ... It was a negativity that went around, so we had to pull the plug on the season in January,” said Jackson when asked about the culture surrounding the Knicks. “From there on, we had to put together a team to play together on the fly. Talent-wise we just couldn’t sustain, and we knew that losing was part of the [rebuilding] equation.”
Immediate help could be on the way should the Knicks stand pat at No. 4 and address any number of their needs. Point guard and a big are currently the most glaring positions of need.
Should the Lakers bypass a big man and select Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell, as has been rumored, the Knicks may actually come out as winners. The Timberwolves will likely select Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns at No. 1, and it’s highly unlikely the 76ers will take Duke’s Jahlil Okafor with the third pick, as the Sixers are already full of young – albeit, injury-prone – bigs.
No doubt the Knicks would run to the podium to draft the former Duke center should he be available.
Whomever they draft, Jackson promises that player will love playing in the vaunted Triangle offense – especially if that player is as multifaceted as the aforementioned top-three prospects.
“We play a style of ball that benefits the players. It’s full participation. We don’t have guys standing in the corner waiting to shoot 3-pointers, or bigs just setting picks and running the pick-and-roll,” said Jackson. “We want to have guys who make plays and are participating fully in a basketball game – and it takes guys with the right attitudes to want to make plays and make everyone better all-around.”
Certainly, Towns, Okafor, and Russell possess such skills, and they are the primary targets of the Knicks, according to reports.
The Knicks, however, have been a notoriously curious franchise as they are rarely forthcoming with their intentions. They currently own the No. 4 pick, yet they mostly worked out players that were projected to go in the teens – sessions that were closed to the media for the first time in years.
About the only thing that can be considered close to a guarantee is that should the first three picks be Towns, Okafor, and Russell, the feeling within the facilities is that Jackson will look to trade down into the mid-round, acquire picks and assets, and settle for Triangle-friendly players like either of Kentucky’s versatile big men in Willie Cauley-Stein or Trey Lyles, or Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.
The real wildcard of the night is Kristaps Porzingis. If the top three prospects are gone, and the Knicks want to trade out of No. 4, the Latvian sensation could be the bargaining chip Jackson needs to gash a desperate team that is high on the 7-foot offensive wizard. The Magic are sitting at No. 5, with the Kings, Denver Nuggets, and Detroit Pistons directly behind. All four are reportedly high on Porzingis, which means Jackson could be fielding several offers.
Teams will be trying to climb over one another in hopes of landing Porzingis. And while his ceiling is extremely high, and he’d be a great fit in the Triangle, don’t look for Jackson to select him. Jackson turns 70 in September and he wants to build a competitive squad now, so taking a player like Porzingis, who will need a couple of years to mature, isn’t feasible.
- Jackson addressed the speculation that he’s not long for this gig, and won’t last the entire length of his five-year deal: “It doesn’t make any sense. I moved to New York to be a part of the day-to-day aspect, to be a part of the recruiting. I have a five-year contract, and it’s a long [rebuilding] process, and I anticipate being around here until we complete that phase.”
- He also believes that New York is still a destination for many players – he just needs to find the right ones: “I think people like playing in New York – and hopefully it’s not just coming here to play as a visiting team, and that they want to be a part of the home team playing here.”
- Carmelo Anthony can be the all-around threat, if he wants to, said Jackson: “Carmelo at some point early in the season, I talked to him about how active he could be [on offense and defense]. We know he’s a prolific scorer, and a team needs that in end-game situation. But the other aspects, defense and rebounding, we know he can do that, so he needs to get back to that aspect. … and give us more flexibility to play either the three [small forward] or four [power forward] in regards to matchups.”