The New York Knicks made a flurry of moves this offseason but bringing Clarence Gaines back may be the biggest of them all.
Beyond the alienation of his own players, his insistence to run an out of date offensive system and nearly trading his two best players, Jackson’s teams were simply horrific at playing the game of basketball. Despite the mess Jackson made in New York, the basketball world has widely agreed that two excellent moves were made under his reign.
The first move, the selection of a young and skinny Latvian named Kristaps Porzingis. This decision to draft him is Jackson’s most talked about move, and rightfully so. After all, it’s not often you find a seven-footer who can pass, dribble, defend, shoot and transcend the game like Porzingis. However, this move would not have been possible without Jackson’s hiring of Clarence Gaines Jr., Jackson’s other excellent managerial decision. While this move is not often talked about, it can be argued this move was as important a move as Jackson has ever made.
Even the most die-hard fan of the NBA might not have heard of Gaines, but they should, as he changed the fortune of the Knicks for the foreseeable future. Gaines was one of, and likely the first member of the Knicks staff to see then 19-year-old little-known Porzingis play overseas months before the NBA Draft, per the New York Post. Gaines immediately saw something special in Porzingis before anyone else and the wheels were set in motion for his selection many months later.
While Jackson was considering multiple different avenues during the 2015 NBA Draft — including trading back for Wisconsin big-man Frank Kaminsky — Gaines was ultimately able to convince Jackson to take Porzingis. Just imagine the Knicks roster right now if Jackson decided to select Frank Kaminsky or Duke’s Justise Winslow with their first-round pick that night. Without his most trusted scout, the Phil Jackson era would be Porzing-less. In other words, the Jackson era would have had absolutely zero accomplishments. It is not an exaggeration to say that the hiring of Clarence Gaines Jr. was the Knicks’ biggest transaction of the Phil Jackson era.
With the departure of Phil Jackson as Knicks President, many thought that Gaines, who had only worked with Jackson in the NBA, would be forced out as well. To the surprise of many, the team announced they had worked out a deal for him to return to the Knicks.
After giving Tim Hardaway Jr. an unfathomable deal this offseason, the Knicks could have around $75-$80 million worth of contracts on the books for the summer of 2018. This is assuming Carmelo Anthony‘s near-$30 million deal is off the books by then.
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The Knicks are going to have two options next summer: stick to Knicks President Steve Mills‘ youth movement or take advantage of a loaded free agency class. In either case, scouting young prospects will determine the future outlook of the team.
If this year’s NBA free agency has told us anything it is the contracts are only increasing in size. Gordon Hayward just signed the fourth largest contract in the NBA, and while he’s certainly an All-Star caliber player, even higher level players will be demanding larger contracts next summer. If the Knicks were to land one of these top-tier players next summer, the team will be hard-pressed to fill out their roster. The same scenario would arise if the team miraculously manages to pull off a blockbuster deal for Cleveland’s disgruntled star, Kyrie Irving. The Knicks would have to rely on their scouting department to fill out their roster with rookie-scale contracts in this scenario. And while Mills’ vision to build on the backs of their youth sounds great in theory, it can’t be done without a keen eye for talent.
In either case, full rebuild or going for it all, the team’s success will rely on Knicks management to properly judge talent. While new Knicks GM Scott Perry is no stranger to this, keeping somebody with the basketball knowledge Gaines possesses only bodes well for whatever plan the Knicks pursue. The Knicks have signed or re-signed four players this offseason, and while they are certainly going to have an impact this upcoming season, they are not going to have a bigger impact than Clarence Gaines Jr. will for the future of this organization.