Zion Williamson
AP Photo

After owner James Dolan’s recent interview, the New York Knicks have no choice but to land Duke prospect Zion Williamson.

The New York Knicks‘ draft strategy just changed and we can thank owner James Dolan for it. The good news is if New York plays its cards right, star Duke forward Zion Williamson might end up a Knick.

The embattled Knicks owner was interviewed on ESPN Radio’s “The Michael Kay Show” on Monday and was, in short, not great. Dolan came off as his usual brash self with some questionable quotes, but that’s not why we’re here today.

Rather, let’s focus on how to best move on from this. The Knicks have too much going for them to let one interview derail their plans. The fans and front office have come too far and suffered too long for that to happen now.

Instead, general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills need to shift their focus. Not to a stacked free agency class, mind you, but to one simple draft strategy.

Come hell or high water, even if it means more sacrifices, Zion Williamson must be in a New York Knicks uniform next season.

Draft prep

To be clear, Zion Williamson succeeding in New York is far from guaranteed. I wrote back in December how, though talented, Williamson’s skillset wasn’t a great fit with the Knicks. He can stand and bang in the paint and has been a great scorer at Duke, but he’s only 6-foot-7 and that’s small for an NBA power forward.

However, things have now changed. Kristaps Porzingis is with the Dallas Mavericks. Enes Kanter is also gone. The frontcourt has a hole in it beside young center Mitchell Robinson. No more will Williamson be forced into another role in New York. The starting power forward’s job could be his for the taking.

This new situation is exactly why the Knicks currently hold the NBA’s worst record at 13-55. The new lottery rules give the three worst teams in the league a 14 percent chance of landing the top pick. Since Porzingis’ comeback from ACL surgery is no longer a factor, New York can continue to, for lack of better word, tank the rest of the way.

Moreover, Williamson is expected to return to the Blue Devils in Thursday night’s ACC Tournament game. This would be his first game action since straining his knee against North Carolina on Feb. 20. This is a prime time for the Knicks to start plotting how to bring him to New York, regardless of draft position.

Why New York needs Zion

The reason the Knicks absolutely must land Zion Williamson is simple: free agency. Big names in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and more will hit the market July 1 and New York needs to craft its pitch to them.

This is where things get tough. Chris Broussard of Fox Sports 1 reported both Durant and Irving had “some apprehensions” about playing in New York because of the city’s brutal media.

But wait, there’s more. Speaking to Frank Isola of The Athletic, Knicks legend Charles Oakley urged Durant, Irving and other free agents to sign with the rival Brooklyn Nets instead, specifically calling out Dolan as a “distraction.”

Yes, folks. That actually happened. Charles Oakley endorsed free agents not signing with the Knicks, a team with whom he spent ten of his 19 seasons. Even worse, he told them to sign with the Nets. This would be like Ronald McDonald saying “I know I have a history with the Big Mac, but everyone should go to Burger King for the Whopper instead. It’s better!”

Granted, the Knicks have other great selling points in Robinson and dynamic wing Kevin Knox who could help in free agency. However, if the team lands Williamson in the draft, luring free agents would become all the easier.

Here’s the twist. Even without the No. 1 pick, it can be done.

Draft Day

Dateline, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, June 20, 2019. It’s draft night and, thanks to some bad luck in last month’s lottery, the Knicks are picking second instead of first. The top pick belongs to the Phoenix Suns, and all signs point to them picking Zion Williamson.

Enter Perry. He gives Suns front office tandem James Jones and Trevor Bukstein a call, ready to talk business. He throws every number under the sun at them and stresses while Williamson would help sell tickets in the desert, he won’t turn the Suns into an immediate contender. The Western Conference is too competitive for that.

Perry then goes full Vito Corleone and makes the Suns an offer they can’t refuse. That would include some combination of future first-round picks. But the Suns would probably have some interest in Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina as well. Much like the Knicks, the Suns have been dying to lock down a franchise point guard. Perhaps they would take a chance on Smith or Ntilikina.

Final thoughts

The Knicks might have to overpay in the form of draft picks, but does Perry really have a choice? Exciting young players aside, the Knicks are without a true and proven superstar. Sure, they could use the No. 2 pick on RJ Barrett, a fine young guard and also Zion Williamson’s teammate at Duke. They could even use it on Murray State’s Ja Morant, who is an excellent scoring point guard.

Except, neither prospect carries the name recognition nor clout and same high ceiling as Williamson. The Knicks aren’t at DEFCON 5 protocol yet, but that territory isn’t far off anymore. The front office’s free agency pitch needs some extra oomph besides max contract offers and the bright lights of New York City.

That extra oomph is the 6-foot-7, 285-pound dominant force whose name is Zion Williamson. New York needs him by any means necessary at this point, and are in a position to land him.

After all, do they really have a choice at this point?

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.