Phil Jackson should do the New York Knicks a favor and not submit to temptation by trading for Russell Westbrook. The organization’s 2011 trade for Melo should serve as reason why.
With the seventh pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets selected Jamal Murray, a highly coveted freshman guard from the University of Kentucky, whom NBA scouts compared to Ben Gordon, a UConn great—he was an NCAA champion with the Huskies in 2004—and one-time Sixth Man of the Year who helped deliver the Chicago Bulls back to relevance post-Jordan in the century’s first decade.
Two picks later, the Toronto Raptors selected Jakob Poeltl, an international 7-foot-1 big man by way of the University of Utah and Austria, a center in the mold of Bill Wennington, a fine role player for the Bulls in their first three-peat.
From a New York Knicks‘ perspective, both players could have helped the roster tremendously. The Knicks were in desperate need of a point guard, with the likes of Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant flagellating between mediocrity and incompetence in running the offense last season, and Murray, standing tall for his position at 6-foot-5, would have been just what New York needed.
Poeltl, as a potential understudy to Robin Lopez, would have been a fine rotation player, manning the second unit and infusing the franchise with more international flavor with Kristaps Porzingis, New York’s draft pick last year, and Willy Hernangomez, Porzingis’s onetime teammate and last year’s second round selection by way of Philadelphia, already part of the organization, the first flourishingly so.
Alas, no such roster bolstering through the draft was to take place this offseason, not with the damage already done in previous seasons. The pick for Murray was relinquished in the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York six months too early, while the selection for Poeltl vanished with the puzzling, desperate trade to land Andrea Bargnani, whose contract the Raptors could not wait to expunge from their ledger in 2013.
In hindsight, both trades proved relatively disastrous for New York. While the Knicks rightfully landed whom they wanted all along in Melo, the trade to acquire him rendered the roster woefully thin, a lean roster that would have benefitted from waiting for Anthony’s arrival via free agency in the summer of 2011. Predictably, Bargnani never panned out for the Knicks, and did more to earn denunciation by featuring in countless mockups, memes, and compilations all over You Tube and social media outlets.
And instead of salivating over young talent and pining for Jay Bilas or Fran Fraschilla’s take on various players during draft night, Knicks fans wallowed in misery as no team selection was made the night entire, a distinction New York had not held since 1993.
In Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills’s defense, the two have done a fine job in carving out a respectable offseason for the Knicks of late.
— ESPN New York (@ESPNNewYork) June 16, 2016
The organization abandoned their vision of placing a Zenmaster and triangle offense acolyte in Kurt Rambis at the helm as head coach, instead, going with Jeff Hornacek, who capably managed the upstart Phoenix Suns in his first two seasons as coach despite missing the playoffs in both seasons, barely so in his first year after mustering a 48-34 record and finishing as runner-up for the Coach of the Year award in 2013-2014.
In exchange for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon, New York landed a former MVP, albeit, a player nowhere close to his former self, in Derrick Rose, whose deal expires at season’s end, along with Justin Holliday and a 2017 second round draft pick. The 2015-2016 campaign was Rose’s healthiest since a slew of knee ailments, including two meniscus operations and an ACL tear, forced him to miss over three-quarters of his games in the span of three seasons. Rose featured in 66 games, averaging 16.4 points per game while shooting .427 from the field, his highest percentage since his last All-Star campaign in 2011-2012, the season in which he was first injured. Rose can still penetrate and dish, although not with the same explosiveness and Russell Westbrook-like fury with which he once conducted himself.
— Derrick Rose (@drose) June 24, 2016
Acquiring Rose, despite his injury-checkered past, was an upgrade. He is far better than Calderon was and likely better than Grant ever will be, even at this stage, and should he not work out, he will be off the Knicks’ books at season’s end. He will likely only be called upon as New York’s third option on offense behind Melo and a still-burgeoning Porzingis, and should he need nights off, Mills and Jackson did well to sign Brandon Jennings to serve as his backup, landing the one-time offensive dynamo (alas, one hampered by an Achilles injury that required surgery in January of 2015) on a low-risk, high-reward one-year contract for $5 million.
Although New York rescinded their qualifying offer to a promising player in Langston Galloway (the Knicks can still go over the cap by signing him, should he decide to re-up), they resigned a tremendous “three-and-D” forward in Lance Thomas on a cap-friendly four-year deal, while also doing the same for their backcourt in the way of a “three-and-D” acquisition via a four-year, $50 million steal of a deal for Courtney Lee, who was inspired to join the Knicks after their having already signed Joakim Noah to his own four-year pact.
The deal for Noah might end up receiving the Knicks’ lowest grade of the offseason. At 31, Noah has already been hindered by a number of knee and shoulder injuries, the latter of which forced the two-time NCAA champion at Florida to miss 63 games last season. At his best, the Knicks can expect a player a cut above the recently departed Robin Lopez. Unfortunately, gone are his elite skills: tremendous rebounding, tenacious defending, and superb passing. When healthy, Noah can still be a double-double threat each night, providing veteran leadership, sound defense, and an intangible edge as a pest in the mold of Draymond Green. The question remains, however, if Noah can return to form not only this season, but for the length of a relatively pricey (four-years at $72 million) contract.
To round out the roster, the Knicks signed an undrafted free agent in Marshall Plumee, whose brothers Miles and Mason (all three hailed from Duke), especially the latter, have developed as nice role players in the league. New York will bring on Hernangomez, who enjoyed another year of seasoning overseas and will compete with Kyle O’Quinn as the backup to Noah, along with Lithuanian forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas on a two-year deal.
With Rose and Jennings off the books at season’s end, and the Knicks’ ability to trade players like O’Quinn if necessary, New York will head into the 2017 offseason with ample cap space (with the salary cap due to rise yet again) and another first rounder for the first time since the Porzingis selection, and, at least for the foreseeable future, every one of their first round draft picks from 2017 onward. This prospect remains certain, along with the potential for the Knicks to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012-2013, when New York managed the second seed and their first Atlantic Division title in a decade.
But to focus on the present and immediate season for a jot: Kevin Durant’s shocking decision to join the Golden State Warriors, the team that ousted his Oklahoma City Thunder in this year’s Western Conference finals, to form an indomitable super squad unlike any the league has witnessed before, will now force general manager Sam Presti’s hand in deciding what to do with Russell Westbrook, an MVP hopeful, nightly triple-double candidate, and top-5 talent in the NBA.
In trading away Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the rights to Domantas Sabonis, the number eleven pick in this year’s draft and son of former NBA great Arvydas, the Thunder supplemented an already formidable roster, behind a flourishing talent and revelation in Steven Adams and a consistent interior threat in Enes Kanter, so as to entice Durant into staying. While Durant opted to flee for a better chance at a title, Oklahoma City still boasts a dangerous roster, complementary enough to likely keep pace with the San Antonio Spurs and even push the Warriors to the limit, especially if Westbrook, a tremendous talent with something to prove, stays and wreaks havoc on any opponent standing in his way.
Contrarily, there remains a strong possibility Westbrook goes elsewhere by season’s end, a prospect that was likely a mitigating factor in Durant’s decision to depart in the fashion he agreed to do on Monday.
And should Westbrook follow Durant out of town to say, the Lakers, the Bulls, the Celtics, and maybe even the Knicks, the Thunder may be so inclined to deal his superstar player this offseason or before the deadline.
This February, six years from when the Knicks dealt for Melo under similar circumstances, Phil Jackson and Steven Mills must remain steadfast and opt not to trade for Russell Westbrook.
Consider this a vociferous, vehement, vituperative, if not vitriolic missive, Phil and Mr. Mills: under no circumstances should you trade for Westbrook when he could be had in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
Not for Kristaps Porzingis.
Not for a bundle of picks.
Not for a package of newly acquired players like Rose, Lee, and Noah.
And not to end up back where the Knicks were nearly six years ago.
Mortgaging away the future, even for a talent like Westbrook, who is arguably better at this juncture than Melo ever was at any point in his career, would be foolhardy, if not shortsighted.
And as much as I love Russell Westbrook as a player, I’m not giving OKC Kristaps Porzingis for him. I’m hanging up on OKC.
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) July 5, 2016
The Knicks will soon be at a point, if they are not there already, when they should be running the offense through Porzingis, who worked tirelessly this offseason to improve an already dynamic inside-outside, two-way game by which the Latvian product became the first and only NBA rookie ever to amass 1000+ points, 500+ rebounds, 75+ three-pointers and 100+ blocks. The Knicks currently may be Melo’s team, but a sound argument easily can be made at the behest of Porzingis being the face of this troubled franchise.
Oh, and he will only be 21 by season’s start.
Imagine what he will be not as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but as a top-flight option alongside Melo and, conceivably, Westbrook.
Should the Knicks fall victim to temptation and permit owner James Dolan to have any input on a personnel decision for which should in no way factor, then the franchise will cripple itself again the way it did six years ago in the name of a headliner, money, and ticket sales, while the likes of the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, the Atlanta Hawks, the Miami Heat, and even the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks continue to progress and the Cleveland Cavaliers maintain their dominance over the conference.
If healthy, the Knicks can push the limits this season and make a run at the conference finals. But the following season? With the means to acquire a generational, Hall of Fame weapon in Westbrook and a pick in next year’s draft? There will be no proverbial pushing of any limit: they can set the bar and establish the limit themselves, especially if the Cavs find themselves on the downswing with LeBron having logged another 100 games by means of a title run, for a potential seventh straight trip to the Finals, and damaging minutes and punishment to his already battered body.
The fact is, only patience and prudence will thrust the Knickerbockers to those heights.
While the deals for Rose, Noah, Lee, and the like supposedly puts them in a “win now” mode, the Knicks find themselves in the midst of getting better, even if this season ends unfavorably and injuries get the best of Noah and Rose.
Keeping Porzingis and any future picks, while preserving hope that Westbrook finds himself in a “New York state of mind” in 2017, gives the Knicks reason to be that optimistic.
And if Westbrook does not pan out? There is always to potential for Chris Paul to opt out of his contract and join his friend Carmelo for a title run of their own, too. Never mind the fact that Kevin Durant’s newly inked contract has its own opt-out clause of its own, as well.