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In Phil Jackson’s Defense, New York Knicks Are Headed In Right Direction

Photo courtesy of AP

When the New York Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick of the 2015 NBA draft, the fans greeted the selection with a rounding chorus of boos.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, a well-known Knicks fan, took to Twitter to express his outrage:

Smith also reported on Mad Dog Radio that Anthony wasn’t too keen on the decision:

I talking to my sources last night. All they said was, he’s furious. He’s livid. He feels completely hoodwinked and betrayed by Phil Jackson. He feels like he was lied to, like he was sold a bill of goods. He knew that he couldn’t get as money anywhere else, and he’s willing to concede that he wanted his money. But he didn’t know it was going to be like this. He didn’t know it was going to be this bad. And he can’t believe that his second season under the Phil Jackson regime, he has to look forward to it being worse than even last year was.

The problem with all this complaining is that Smith (and other Knicks fans like him) are creating an artificial choice between winning now or winning later. It presupposes that winning now is actually an option that Jackson considered and rejected.

The reality is that it’s not. And if there’s anything that Knicks fans should have learned after decades of trying to do quick fixes, it’s that there are no overnight rebuilding projects.

Consider the teams which have won the NBA title lately.

The Golden State Warriors drafted Klay Thomson and Stephen Curry high in the draft and Draymond Green as a second-round pick. They traded Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut back in March of 2012 and were booed for doing it. They signed Andre Iguodala in free agency.

They fired a winning coach in Mark Jackson, which was another decision criticized by many.

The San Antonio Spurs, as much as anyone in the modern era, built their team through the draft.

The Miami Heat are the “model” quick-build franchise, but even that took Pat Riley years to create the cap space to sign the “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers vaulted back into free agency this year, but they did have Kyrie Irving and accrued assets which enticed LeBron James to come back and gave the franchise the means to trade for Kevin Love.

The only way to build is steadily, and Jackson seems to have committed to that. But steady building can come in different ways, whether that’s by the draft (Spurs), free agency (Heat) or a mix of the two (Warriors). It’s just that no matter what you do, it’s a process, not a summer.

In the wake of all the Porzingis scorn, there’s one thing that gets lost: The kid might have been the best possible choice for the Knicks to make, even if he is a few years away. And that might not require waiting a few years for them to get better.

The nice thing about assets is they don’t have to mature to pay off. The Knicks have lots of cap space opening up and there are plenty of teams who are looking to add young talent. Some of those teams will have star players with expiring contracts.

Porzingis could be a great piece for the future, or around the trade deadline as a chip to acquire a piece for the present. What he does offer is an opportunity to rapidly gain value over the first few months of the season.

Once you get past the lazy “he’s a European big man” comparisons, there’s something to be impressed with about the kid. Let’s be honest here, 99.99 percent of fans haven’t seen him play. The people who have seen him play are the ones who are most impressed with him. That’s how he moved up the draft board so quickly.

So what if—and I know this is a far-fetched notion—the people who have seen Porzingis play know more about him than the people who haven’t? Silly, right? But let me have that crazy hypothetical for a moment.

Maybe when everyone else starts to see him play, and he actually starts to pick up the NBA game, his value goes up? In fact, you can argue that no player in this year’s draft has more chance to improve perceptions and increase his value than Porzingis.

So what does that mean? As a for instance, imagine the Atlanta Hawks have misfortune. Paul Millsap goes elsewhere in free agency, they have a few injuries end up with a disappointing season. And so, about the trade deadline they start shopping Al Horford.

The Knicks could be in a great position to secure a deal with Porzingis as the key to making the deal happen. Then, when Horford hits free agency next summer, the Knicks have his Bird rights and Anthony under contract. That would certainly look more attractive combination for a player like Kevin Durant than Justise Winslow.

This exact scenario isn’t important. The concept is. Porzingis might not have been the best player to win a championship with Anthony. He might not be the perfect piece for the triangle offense. But what he is, is the player who can increase his value the most of anyone in the year’s draft. And that could bring them back the perfect player that isn’t available in the draft.

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