“Knicks fans booed at the Barclays Center last night because we recognize that we have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok, and flat out deceived, by Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks!” – Stephen A. Smith
Stephen A. Smith’s rants are typically every other day and hardly ever warrant any real significance. But this one, this was a hilarious keeper. Smith explained that he came into work despite being on “vacation” and felt the need to run Phil Jackson into the ground. The more heated his tone, the more comical his vocabulary. And even though it’s easy to mock Smith from afar, there was a lot of truth to what he was saying. But the simple and much more humane way of saying it is this: Jackson took a huge chance in selecting Kristaps Porzingis fourth overall in the NBA draft.
When the Los Angeles Lakers selected D’Angelo Russell second overall, Knicks fans began to pray that the Philadelphia 76ers would pass on Jahlil Okafor due to their depth in the frontcourt and lack thereof in the backcourt. But, as the 76ers usually do, they took the best player available in Okafor regardless of current fit. Knicks fans immediately began to think, Emmanuel Mudiay? Trade down and maybe get Frank Kaminsky? Deep down many hoped the commissioner wouldn’t say anything about a certain Latvian who played in Spain.
But alas, Kristaps Porzingis is a member of the New York Knicks. He personally didn’t deserve to be booed as he walked across the stage, but Knicks fans couldn’t help but share their frustration with that pick, and that’s simply because of all the uncertainty. Porzingis is a terrific shooter for a big man, but his size will be an obvious issue on the defensive end. To be 7’2 and only weigh around 230 pounds means he’s going to be pushed around in the paint no matter how hard he tries.
Jackson’s triangular visions outweighed anything else. He’s been quoted in saying that he believes Porzingis can be another Pau Gasol, who was also a skinny prospect with an uncanny shooting ability and played in Spain. If Jackson is right, Knicks fans should rejoice, for Gasol was able to make an immediate impact both points-wise and on the glass as a rookie for the Memphis Grizzlies. But if he’s wrong, Knicks fans will never forget it, with thoughts of Darko Milicic, Andrea Bargnani and Frederic Weis on their minds. Thus is the game with selecting European prospects; it’s a high-risk, high-reward process that could easily backfire.
The good news is Jackson didn’t put all his eggs in one basket this year. The Knicks traded Tim Hardaway Jr, an inconsistent jump-shooter, for the rights to Jerian Grant out of Notre Dame: A 6’5 point guard who played four years in the NCAA. Grant’s numbers as a member of the Irish are excellent, and he was ranked the second-best NCAA point guard in the 2015 draft by many analysts. This, ironically later in the draft, was the safe pick that Knicks fans needed to hear.
Jackson’s dedication to the Triangle cannot be more abundant, and while it’s kind of hard to blame him considering he has more championship rings than fingers, it’ll make or break him as the Knicks’ team president. Upon trading Tyson Chandler last season, Jackson explained that he believed the Knicks’ 2014-15 roster had a shot at being a playoff squad. Whether he was 100 percent truthful or not (hard to believe he’d ever acknowledge a washout season before it beginning), that obviously was not the case.
Now, despite having Carmelo Anthony inked on a $124 million deal with an unheard of “no-trade clause,” the Knicks’ have $25 million in cap space to go gaga over free agents. Rumors surrounding Greg Monroe, David West and LaMarcus Aldridge have already began despite free agency not beginning until July. And in the words of Jackson, “I did a great job last year shredding things, getting us in position where we have this flexibility.”
It’s extremely difficult to recognize whether Jackson is smirking when he says things like this to the media or if he’s serious. Perhaps it’s a little of both. But simply enough, Jackson has been given complete control of this franchise, and Knicks fans can either take it or leave it. Knocking the Porzingis pick is easy, but wildly premature. This fan base is hungry, and all of their hopes lie within a man known as Zen Master.
Here’s hoping that Porzingis isn’t the next Weis: