The Knicks have a 19.9 percent chance of winning the NBA Draft Lottery for the right to pick No. 1. And judging by team president Phil Jackson’s opine, Tuesday, that’s about as much chance as the Knicks have of being a contender next season.
Jackson held court at the team’s facilities and addressed what was a catastrophe of a season – where the off-court news was seemingly more entertaining than anything on the court.
“We don’t expect to go to the championship next year. I mean, that would be talking crazy. But we really do think progressively we’re going to get better,” said Jackson. “I don’t think teams move as rapidly as that in this league. I think you have to take substantial steps and that’s what we want to do.”
Jackson did acknowledge that he’ll certainly do his part in trying to rebuild the Knicks as quickly as possible. And with a pending top pick and cap space this summer, he feels the franchise can take incremental steps forward.
He added that while it’s “inevitable that free agents will be overpaid,” the team will make prudent moves.
“There’s going to be a million guys out there being chased,” Jackson said. “We know we have a limited amount [of cap space] and have to do some very judicious shopping. We’re not going to the dollar store, but we may not be at one of the bigger ones.”
There may be some hope for Knicks fans, assured Jackson, as All-Star Carmelo Anthony should be fully recovered from knee surgery by the start of next season. Anthony’s return, plus any hopeful improvements, should at least make the team more competitive than this season’s putrid 17-65 outfit.
An 11-time NBA champion as a head coach, Jackson was known to always have a stacked roster. But during his current run as a neophyte roster builder, he’s finding it’s not so easy to have a Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, or Kobe Bryant at his disposal. At this rate, it might even be difficult to have a Greg Monroe, Rajon Rondo, or Jimmy Butler join his squad.
Nevertheless, Jackson assured that he and Anthony will do all they can to recruit talent to the Big Apple,
“I think we have $30-some million” in cap space,” Jackson said, adding he knows how critical the early free agency period from the end of June to the end of July is to his plan. “That’s going to be our challenge. We are a league that’s dominated by personalities, by talent, and getting two or three players with talent changes your direction quickly. We’ve all seen that … We’ll do our diligence. And I know he [Anthony] is interested [in recruiting]. He’s involved.”
It’s not a big secret that today’s NBA stars love playing in the Garden – they just don’t like calling the Garden home for 41 games. There’s a big difference in putting on a show a couple times a season as a marquee road talent, and being an actual member of the Knicks, and hearing the jeers nightly.
Jackson said that’s where Anthony’s testimonies will be crucial.
“We know we have some reputation out there that we can hopefully use to sway players about where to play ball,” Jackson reasoned.
While Jackson wants players to call New York home, he shockingly left the door open to reason that he may not actually stick around to see the fruits of his labor.
When asked if he could foresee himself laying the foundation for the future, but not remaining with the team for “five, six, seven years,” his answer took some aback.
“Yes. In one short sentence, yes,” said the 69-year old Jackson.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for outsiders to hear as the Knicks plan their future. Then again, if Jackson’s effort this past season was any indication, the word “ring” and Knicks won’t be said in the same sentence too much in the future.
- Jackson on the topic of tanking: “The idea wasn’t even proposed or talked about.”
- The Knicks signed Jackson to a five-year deal that was reportedly worth $60 million.
- His maiden voyage as an NBA executive was an utter failure, but that hasn’t ruined the Zen Master’s sense of humor: “I was really bothered I didn’t get the Executive of the Year Award. It really bothers me. … But there’s a learning process. Hopefully, I learned some of the ways and the means.”
- The Knicks have only five players under contract for next season — three of whom are guards.
- Jackson noted that the Knicks will consider trading their draft pick – if they are slotted outside of the top-two picks: “Yes, we’ll consider everything … When the [Draft Lottery] picks come on the 19th of May, everything starts to germinate from there. Do you move a pick 1, 2, 3, 4? That’s questionable. Do you move a pick 5, if that’s the alternative end result, and use it as a chip? Maybe. So, there’s a lot of options that are out there.”
- Unless the Knicks are blown away with a trade offer – or if they fall past the second pick – look for Jackson to pick one of the heralded big men, Kentucky’s Karl Anthony-Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor: “Bigs are a priority for us in the draft, because the defense has to be anchored by having someone in the lane … We want to grow a star through this system that will be here for 15 years in a career.”
- Obviously, Jackson said, he’s looking for that transformational player – the same type of player that the Knicks were blessed with three decades ago: “We love the fact that 30 years ago Patrick Ewing, who I think the Knicks were third in the lottery system at that time, came out first and he was a player with this organization for over 15 years. That moved the franchise in a way in which everybody recognizes. And we think there are a couple players in this draft that might be able to do that. So we’re certainly not going to walk away from a situation like that, even if it takes the fact that we might have to sit on our hands for a year in the growth process and watch Carmelo come back off an injury and then regenerate for another year after this.”
- Jackson reasoned he’s not long for attending the June 25 draft in New York: “I don’t want to be there and do it I’ll submit my colleagues to go there and watch what goes down.”