As the New York Knicks circle the drain in a lost season, there are precious few things about which Knicks fans can really get excited. At the top of that list, of course, is the fact that the Knicks own their own first-round pick in the 2015 NBA draft, which — if New York finishes with the worst record in the NBA, which they've got at the moment, entering Monday's action with an NBA-worst 12-49 record — would stand a 25 percent chance of landing at No. 1 overall, and would be guaranteed to fall within the top four of June's lottery, marking the franchise's first top-five selection since 1986.
Pick preferences vary among Knicks fans. Some supporters liking the scoring acumen and passing ability of Duke's Jahlil Okafor. Others favor the more balanced (and perhaps higher-ceilinged) two-way explosiveness of Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns. Those looking for a backcourt difference-maker might opt for Ohio State dime-dropper D'Angelo Russell or China-by-way-of-SMU penetrator Emmanuel Mudiay. Whichever way your tastes run, there are intriguing options who could give the Knicks the sort of infusion of young, likely-to-improve, cost-effective talent that could help a post-shutdown and (hopefully) healthy Carmelo Anthony return the Knicks to respectability and competition.
There is, however, another option that's apparently up for consideration in the Knicks front office. From Ian Begley of ESPN New York:
In an interview on ESPN New York's "The Robin Lundberg Show," ESPN NBA reporter Brian Windhorst said the Knicks are at the very least considering their options when it comes to trading their first-round pick.
Specifically, Windhorst said the Knicks are looking into "opportunities" to see "what they could possibly get if they trade their draft pick."
Of course, it's wise for Phil Jackson and the Knicks to at least gauge the market for the pick.
The trade market for their selection won't really materialize until New York finds out where it picks. That will happen in late May after the NBA's draft lottery.
Then, New York will have a clearer idea of what it can get back in a trade of the pick.
To be clear, the Knicks can't trade their 2015 first-rounder yet because they've already traded their 2016 first-rounder. Actually, they've technically traded it twice — they gave the Denver Nuggets the rights to swap '16 first-rounders with them as part of the trade that imported 'Melo back in 2011, and they later traded whichever pick they would have ended up with in that arrangement to the Toronto Raptors in the deal that brought Andrea Bargnani to Manhattan. So if the Knicks wind up with a higher draft pick than the Nuggets next year, Denver can take New York's spot; if the Nuggets are worse than the Knicks, Denver can stand pat; and no matter what, the worse of the two picks will go to Toronto, leaving the Knicks empty-handed.
The so-called "Stepien rule" prevents teams from trading first-round draft picks in consecutive drafts. It does not, however, prevent teams from making a selection and then shipping out the pick after the draft, perhaps in exchange for a more established veteran talent or two to pair with the 31-year-old Anthony in a move that aims to propel the Knicks back into contention in the short term rather than waiting for a teen prospect like Okafor, Towns, Russell or Mudiay to develop into a seasoned pro.
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On one hand, it's not unreasonable for Jackson and company to open themselves up to all avenues of improving a roster that is staggeringly short on foundational, or even solidly NBA-level, talent. On the other, you can forgive Knicks fans who have lived through so many future-for-present deals over the past couple of decades for feeling queasy about continuing the franchise's history of draft-deal violence by dealing away the team's latest chance at developing an in-house, farm-to-table star for the first time since Patrick Ewing.
For all the talk about the organization turning over a new leaf, taking a fresh approach and looking at things with fresh eyes under Jackson's leadership, trading away a top-five-drafted 19-year-old in exchange for more immediate help would bring back bad, bad memories of the aftertaste of deals that turned Nene into a soon-to-be-injured Antonio McDyess, choices that would become Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge into Eddy Curry and Wilson Chandler, and the pick that later landed Gordon Hayward into Stephon Marbury. (Ditto, of course, for taking a dozen games of what Marv Albert would call "extended garbajj time" games without 'Melo as evidence enough that Bargnani's worth bringing back after the season, as the New York Post's Marc Berman reports Jackson might be doing.)
It's not Jackson's fault that prior regimes have made dire, franchise-harming, penny-and-pound-foolish decisions in the past, but if the Knicks are to undergo the sort of rebuild that his predecessors have so determinedly avoided in years past, it would seem to need to start with not only an infusion of new blood and fresh skill, but also a commitment to allowing such a player to learn from his mistakes and develop at his own pace. And if New York's going to once again choose not to follow that blueprint, they're going to need to get something staggering back in exchange for that draft pick.
It feels unlikely that such a no-doubt bounty will be available, just as it feels unlikely that the Knicks are going to be able to land the likes of Kevin Durant or Marc Gasol with their scads of available free-agent cash this summer. That said, it's early, and all it takes is one miracle to change the course of a club for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps Jackson will be able to convince another front-office to cough up a Godfather offer for the rights to one of the draft's top prospects, using all of noted prince James Dolan's money to land the sort of two-way talents who can help the Knicks vault out of the bottom-third in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. If he can't, though — if this summer amounts to little more than another short-sighted later-for-now swap and an inability to get the right types of talents to take Dolan's cash — then it's unlikely that we'll be any closer to an end to the basketball-gods-angering agita that's been on display at Madison Square Garden this season.
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