Not unlike any draft prior to Thursday’s 2015 draft, the weeks an days leading up to it were full of mystery, intrigue, and desire.
Just what were the Los Angeles Lakers going to do with the 2nd Pick? Take the prospect that sat atop mock drafts all college season, and build around an out-of-style XXX that stated building around a big man was the way to a title?
Would they move the pick for immediate help, surrounding Kobe Bryant (in what appears to be his final season) with talented vets for one final push?
Or would they trump classic basketball convention, and adapt to the “New” NBA and draft combo power guard D’Angelo Russell, a player that seems to have all the intangibles to help this Lakers team thrive in this new era of small ball?
What on Earth would the Philadelphia front office do if somehow the Lakers did take D’Angelo Russell? Would they really draft a franchise big man, for the third straight year? Would they take the Latvian sensation shooting up draft boards the last few weeks, intrigued by his combination of shooting, slashing, and basketball IQ? Or would they trade out, catapulting a completely different team to the top end of the lottery, possibly altering the rest of the draft selections from #3 down?
By what avenue was Phil Jackson going to start to construct the roster he had completely stripped bare just months prior? Fill a need by drafting highly recruited point guard prospect Emmanulle Mudiaye and shore up the leagues most important position for the next decade? Hope and pray that somehow Okafor slips to the Knicks and thus ushering in an era of New York’s next great Big Man? Would Phil finally take advantage of his perceived basketball connections and construct a trade to bring back multiple assets to help aid in, what has now apparently become, a rebuilding project?
He couldn’t let the merciless New York media, or rabid Knick fan base down. After all, the team’s best player, Carmelo Anthony cited his belief in Phil Jackson (and the $124 million dollar contract) as his reasoning for staying in New York when other teams offered perennial shots at legitimate title contention.
After the Sixers drafted Jahlil Okafor woth the 3rd pick, Phil Jackson found himself in a position of desperation: appease the fans, media, and Melo by drafting a perceived NBA-ready player, such as Willie Cauley-Stein or Justise Winslow. Or take the path less traveled, or lets face it, never traveled by these New York Knicks: Patience.
Patience and “quick fixes” have not served these Dolan Knicks well, and it’s completely understandable why Phil Jackson would approach building this roster from a different angle.
The trials and tribulations of Isaiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, the D’Antoni Era, the king’s ransom Denver received for Carmelo Anthony to “Come Home” have been chronicled so well that it’s impossible to suggest conducting business in the same manner and expecting to yield different results.
That’s the definition of insanity.
Phil Jackson surveyed the landscape, an ultimately decided there wasn’t a player with bigger upside or more sill than Kristaps Porzingis. Sure, Justise Winslow was there, and could have been a solid role-player for the Knicks. Or WCS. But that’s not what picking at the top of the lottery is about. You aren’t trying to secure your 3rd option or 4th option. You aren’t looking for a 6th man. You are trying to find a transcendent player that will help carry your franchise for a decade, not help an injured, aging Carmelo slip into the playoffs.
To even think about passing up on a prospect like Porzingis to pacify Carmelo Anthony, who has clearly made it be known that winning is not in his top 3 priorities as a player, is laughable.
For years, the Lakers played this game with Kobe Bryant. He determined who stayed, who left, and had no problems taking an enormous chunk of the team’s salary cap when he was broken down and couldn’t play. Luckily for the Lakers, they didn’t trade every conceivable asset and draft pick, and were able to select two potential franchise guys in Russell and Julius Randle.
The Knicks don’t have that luxury.
The Knicks’ media and fans will be quick to point out Kristaps’ shortcomings: He’s skinny, he doesn’t know the NBA game.
Guess what? All these rookies need to hit the weights, and mature into their bodies. Most are 19 or 20, just a year removed from High School. If you look back on the past 5 drafts, you’ll be hard-pressed to fin a rookie that excelled his first year. Everyone takes a year or two now.
But often times the wait is worth it. Would you rather have Jimmer Fredette or Kawhi Leonard? Evan Turner or Paul George? Cody Zeller or Rudy Gobert? How about Otto Porter or Giannis Antetokounmpo?
You need to draft that franchise-altering player in most cases. Look back at the last 15 years of Knicks basketball. The only time they had anything close to a franchise player was when they overpaid for a broken Amare Stoudemire, or overpaid via players and draft picks, for Carmelo Anthony. And neither one of those transactions led to an NBA Championship.
Not even close.
Free agency should be used to address the holes of a roster: 3 point shooting, defense, depth. Not the top of the lottery, where franchises would trade 4 first round picks (Sorry Boston) just to get into the top ten.
The Knicks’ should be fine in the long run with Porzingis on board. Had he been an American-born collegiate player, he very well could have gone number one. Luckily for the Knicks, in this case, stepping outside of their box may lead to a future full of promise, hope, and maybe just a ring.