The Knicks’ first full season with Phil Jackson at the helm of basketball operations has been a disaster almost from the jump. In recent weeks, there’s been talk that Jackson is open to trading the Knicks’ upcoming lottery pick, which is almost certain to be in the top four. Jackson spoke to reporters on Thursday and was noncommittal on the possibility, talking up the value of both draft picks and free agency.
He also called the season a “project gone awry,” which is a charitable way of putting it.
Jackson wants the turnaround to be quick. He said it’s hard to project how a 19- or 20-year-old rookie will develop so signing veterans who can help immediately is the plan.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to look at what advancement can be gained in the short term, how quickly we can recover and get back in the hunt and chasing what we consider the right way to go and that’s get a championship,” Jackson said. “We know what the first-round pick is going to mean for us. But we also know that we’re going to build on our team on free agents.
“Like a third of the league is going to be free agents next year. That’s where our priority stands. Although I think you get movers or franchise players from a draft.”
It’s a tough spot to be in. On the one hand, Carmelo Anthony is 30, under contract for four more seasons, and will be coming off knee surgery that has shut him down since the All-Star break. Considering how much money they’ve committed to him, contending while he’s still in the tail end of his prime should be a priority.
On the other hand, the top players in the draft — among them Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl Towns — could be superstars, and they’ll be on cheap contracts for the next four seasons. Trading a pick with that much promise, especially if it ends up being the top overall selection, would only be worth it for a handful of players. And considering Kevin Love cost the Cavs No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins plus other pieces, it’s unlikely that the Knicks would be able to get a superstar for just the pick without giving up other assets, which they aren’t exactly in a position to do right now.
It absolutely makes sense for Jackson to shop the pick just to see what kinds of offers he gets. But unless he gets a Godfather offer for a player like Russell Westbrook or DeMarcus Cousins, which isn’t at all likely, it makes the most sense to hang onto the pick, draft a young player, and add veterans in free agency.
With this being a lost season for the Knicks, this draft pick will be the first true test for Jackson.