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.
Tuesday’s Draft Lottery passed, and left in it’s wake; Hope for one of the leagues most down-trodden franchises, a key ingredient to a fabled institution’s rebuild, another key asset for the NBA’s red-headed stepchild, and absolute misery for the New York Knicks’ baffled franchise and fanbase.
#1 Pick: Minnesota Timberwolves
For the Timberwolves, life post-Kevin Love s better than most could have imagined a season ago. What Kevin Love brought to the table night-in and night-out was never going to be something replicated by his eventual replacement:
Those aren’t the stats of a good NBA player. Those are the stats of an ALL-NBA caliber player, and rarely does a team receive a 1:1 return when trading a superstar. The best a franchise can hope for is, well “Hope”.
And now Minnesota has “Hope” in spades.
Not only did they receive the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, and former #1 pick Anthony Bennet, they now have the first pick in an extremely top-heavy draft. They can go any way they want: Go big with a defensive-minded center in Towns, or offensively gifted in Okafor. No good? Okay, how about choosing between a pair of guards in Russell and Mudiaye? Maybe something different? Sweet-shooting Latvian big man Porzingas. If he IS your cup of tea, or perhaps Willie Cauley-Stein, then swap picks, move down 2 or 3 spots, get YOUR guy, and other asset (maybe a young player like Nik Stauskas or Ben McClemore, How about Kenneth Faried?)
The point is, Minnesota holds all the cards, for once. If things play out the conventional way, they’ll have a team fielding Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Shabbazz Mohammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Anthony Bennet, not to mention players like Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, and Nikola Pekovic which could be easily moved for more youth and picks.
Oh, and they also have one of the NBA’s greatest locker room guys ever in Kevin Garnett. Wiggins and potentially Towns will get to see first hand what it takes to become a superstar in the NBA from one of the greatest to ever play. They will learn accountability. They’ll learn hoe to play tenacious defense. How to get into the opponents heads. How to squeeze the most of of their talents and potential. KG’s presence cannot be overstated enough. They will receive invaluable information from Garnett that will help shape them not only as players, but as men as they begin their ascension into the leagues upper elite.
#2 Pick: Los Angeles Lakers
How the mighty have fallen.
Uu until a couple of seasons ago, no one cold have predicted this. The lakers had just traded for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to team with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Everything seemed to work out perfectly for L.A. like it always does. Whether trading for top-tier talent, or always swooning elite free agents to sunny California, the Lakers were about to make a run to the Finals again.
But as well all know now, theres a first time for everything: Howard played hurt and fled the Lakers and Kobe’s constant ire for Houston. Nash’s body began breaking down the moment he left the Sun’s miraculous training staff. Kobe hasn’t been healthy in years, and Pau finally left the negativity of the L.A. media for the cold winters in Chicago.
The rebuild-on-the-fly routine hadn’t worked in the Lakers favor this time, leading 2014-2015 being their worst season in team history. The silver lining?
The second overall pick in an increasingly good draft.
The Lakers lucked out and drafted a potentially special player in Jordan Clarkson, and have Julius Randle as their long-term pieces going forward. The team should and will more likely than not draft whichever player falls to them between the two big men: Towns or Okafor. Either will do as they both fit needs and could be dubbed as the Next Great Lakers Big Man.
The #2 pick benefits the team in more than just the draft. Knowing the team will have a 3 good young players going forward means that it’ll be easier to persuade a star free agent to sig there. If not, they have the valuable pieces to send back in a sign-and-trade scenario. Kobe appears to be headed into his final season, so he shouldn’t be viewed as a detriment to potential free agents any longer who would have to be able to co-exist with Bryant.
It seems the days of placating Kobe Bean Bryant are over, and the team will be better for it the sooner it comes to that realization.
#3 Pick: Philadelphia 76ers
Oh what a tangled web we weave when we don’t want our team to succeed.
It’s easy to be upset with Philadelphia for not putting the best possible product on the floor overnight for fans to consume. But the fact that they are playing within the rules, and have a transparent plan, and are executing it without wavering is something that other, much more established franchises cannot say. One could easily question what exactly the Knicks, Lakers, and Kings are doing.
You can not say that about the 76ers.
That said, they fell into a pretty decent situation, where they will not have to draft a highly rated big man with their lottery pick for a third year in a row, as they are both most likely gone by #3 This allows them to draft a player for more or less “need”, although they have the caveat that the player will also be the best available as well, which works firmly within their plan.
The team is already setup for future success, be it a championship, or simply a perennial Playoff team. Noel and Ebiid are, worst-case scenario, solid starting-caliber NBA players. Saric, stashed overseas, is at least a serviceable 6th man type, with tremendous upside if he figures it all out. They also have a few intriguing young pieces such as Covington and Wroten that should either help fill out that future roster, or could be packaged with their plethora of picks for a veteran, or to manipulate their draft position. This years #3 pick is going to get them another starter. Thats a decent team that can sell the fans on patience and hope.
The lesser discussed asset is their cap space, because it seems unfathomable right now that any free agent of consequence would choose to play of the Sixers. But if they are able to sign a player like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, or to a lesser extent Khris Middleton to bloated, front-loaded contracts, they would have an incredible team with a long, bright future ahead of them.
And luckily for them, the front office put them in a position to be players in the offseason for many years to come, just waiting for a superstar to become available, like Houston with James Harden, Boston with Kevin Garnett, or New York with Carmelo Anthony.
Speaking of which……
#4 Pick: New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are a team clinging to hope, and nothing else, more than any other franchise.
The hope that the player they could draft at #4 could become a franchise player.
The hope that a marquee free agent will want to join forces with an aging Carmelo Anthony in New York.
The hope that Phil Jackson will figure it all out and bring the genius he brought to coaching to running an NBA franchise.
The hope that paying Derek Fisher, a first time coach, all that money was not a huge mistake.
The hope that some other franchise will give the Knick everything, plus the kitchen sink, in exchange for that #4 pick, re-ignitning the franchise, and city, and proving all the losing was worth it.
Ultimately, the hope is that for once during his tenure, James Dolan will not step in and completely flip things upside down to try yet another “quick-fix” all while mortgaging the future of the team.
The hard truth of the problem with the New York Knicks is this: James Dolan and the Knicks worst enemy is James Dolan and the idea of the New York Knicks.
If you were new to the sport of NBA basketball, and did a quick survey of internet articles, merchandising, general NBA “news”, you would come to the following conclusion:
Lebron James sucks and is the best player since Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant is in charge of the NBA elite franchise: The Lakers. Steph Curry is the People’s/Player’s Player. The Celtics are involved in all trade scenarios. The Sacramento Kings are about to do something phenomenally stupid. The New York Knick are the most storied franchise in professional sports and every player is dying to play in the Mecca so the team and continue their championship-winning ways.
If the 76ers are bad on purpose to receive the most chances picking at the top of the draft in order to have as many chances to draft a transcendent player as possible, you could say the Knicks themselves things just didn’t break their way this season and they are in the lottery by complete, utter bad luck. They would much rather be competing for the 8th Playoff spot every year (which is about the best the team could have hoped for the past 15 years) than to be building through the draft year-after-year.
This is a problem.
An adopted mantra for many NBA teams supports the idea that, as team, you either want to be competing for titles, or ping pong balls. Being stuck in the middle, just missing the playoffs, is the worst position for a franchise, and ultimately, their fans.
When a team sneaks into the Playoffs (And we use the term ‘sneaks’ very loosely. of the 30 NBA teams, 16 make the post season every year), ownership gets to make some extra money from hosting more NBA games, all of which sell out. On top of that, players get their Playoff bonuses depending on how their contracts are written up, and most importantly, the fans get to root for their teams the same way fans of championship caliber-teams get to annoy everybody every season. The casual fan can stay up all hours of the night, determining the perfect road map to getting their team into the finals. A few stellar game from their star player, or a bad break of luck with an injury to an opposing team has the momentum to swing a series. Any team, at any time can have their luck changed and find themselves 4 wins from a title, theoretically. ON top of that, suddenly the team becomes much more attractive to potential free agents, who can now envision themselves as perhaps the final piece to the franchise’s Playoff puzzle.
But when a team wins just enough games to not have a negative stigma attached to itself, but loses just enough to not be invited into the Playoffs, then their course to become better just got a little more complicated. With a lottery pick, they have the means (with a little luck of course) to draft a player that can become anything, from solid, to transcendent. For every Greg Oden, there’s an Anthony Davis. But for every Kyrie Irving, there are hundreds of Derrick Williams littered though NBA history. But the best avenue to get a Kevin Durant or Lebron James is to have draft picks and actually use them to select players. And these players typically are found at the top of the draft, available to the worst of the worst.
The Knicks, somehow, for some reason, see themselves as team that constantly needs to trade in whatever chips they have to chase that championship, except that never realize that they can barely chase that final Playoff spot first. The the is in constant financial and roster trouble, trading away draft picks and young players with untapped potential, for known quantities, no matter if the player fits the team needs or not. And it happens over and over and over, and it’s most likely about to happen in a couple of months when they trade their 4th overall draft pick for another cast off player from a team that no longer values them.
It’s going to happen. The question isn’t “If”, its “When”.
On paper, the names always seem tantalizing. The front office, media members, fanatics with instantly recall a career highlight of said player, as if thats the version that the Knick with acquire and unleash upon the league. Andrea Bargain, Amare Stoudemire (his knees were so shot, Phoenix passed on re-signing him and insurance companies wouldn’t cover them. The Knicks response? $100 million dollars!), Metta World Peace, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Baron Davis, and so-on and so-on. The list is long, these were just a handful from the last few years that came to mind. And sure, each one had at least one moment that sent the New York media into a frenzy, which they use for temporary justification of their signing. But soon enough, each time, the story stays the same. The player is overpaid, ultimately underperforms by the Knicks bloated expectations, their names are dragged through the mud. Eventually, they get out of NYC and either retire, or have a few good years elsewhere, which leads Knicks fans again lamenting why they never played that way for their franchise.
All the fortunes the Knick have amassed, both good and bad, for the last 15 seasons can be attributed to owner James Dolan. He spends recklessly, exchanges assets for players with reckless abandon, uses the media to take jabs at not only players, but people within the Knicks organization, which he was responsible of hiring in the first place. The entire 2000s were bad contract after bad contract, not to mention Isiah Thomas’ sexual harassment scandal at MSG, which even Dolan himself knew would have to slowly be undone if they ever wanted a shot at Lebron James in free agency in 2010.
He hired basketball lifer Donnie Walsh to come in, shed contracts, make smart player acquisitions that did not negatively affect their cap situation going forward, to set the team up for a sustainable run at the championship, and much more importantly, to carve out a roster and max cap space that could entice Lebron James to leave Cleveland, the only NBA team he’d ever know, from his home state of Ohio, once he hit free agency in 2010.
And boy did Walsh execute his job excellently.
But alas, Dolan reverted back to his own ways once Lebron signed with Miami and the relative horror of not signing a max player that summer began to sink in.
He ordered that Amare Stoudemire (knees be damned!) be signed for a max contract, believing he could help lure other free agents to NYC. Sure enough, that following season, Carmelo let the Nuggets’ front office know that he intended to walk as a free agent, preferably to New York. Upon hearing this, Dolan once again decided it as wiser to surrender a truckload of assets for Carmelo Anthony, rather than wait 6 months for him to sign outright. Those assets helped NYC to a surprise start to 2010 with a rejuvenated Amare Stoudemire playing like a league MVP, before, of course, his knees gave out on him.
Against Donnie Walsh’s wishes, Dolan called for the trade, sent over most of his team to Denver, and got his white whale. Donnie did’t stick around much past the destruction of his cap friendly roster, and the Knicks have been without direction since.
That was to change at the Draft Lottery. With an inexperienced and expensive President, as well as head coach, the Knicks were about to put their stamp on the rebuild with an elite big man to build around, like Ewing, David Robinson, Olajuwon, Shaq, Duncan, Dwight, and Anthony Davis.
Some things just aren’t meant to be. The New York Knicks were the lone team to move down the draft board that night. But if James Dolan’s history tells us anything, it’s that it won’t matter much in the end anyway. The pick will ultimately be moved, a new savior will come to town. MSG will be rocking for a little while, until that #4 pick blossoms elsewhere.
And the Knicks will begin to clear cap space to make a run at that player when he enters free agency in almost a decade.