Drafting Porzinigis: The Risk Phil Jackson and the Knicks Need to Take.

Every boy that has laced up a pair of shoes dreamt of one day playing in the NBA and having their name called by the NBA commissioner on draft day. The experience for the individual selected should me a moment of adulation for achieving a rare feat of playing against and with the top 1% of basketball players in the world. When Kristapz Porzingis had his named called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver the home town New York Knicks fans demonstrated their disapproval by providing a chorus of boos as Porzingis walked the stage to greet Silver. In Porzingis defense he demonstrated no ill will towards the booing masses. To place the situation in perspective he was jeered by hometown fans even before his first practice with the team. How Porzingis handled the ordeal illustrates he has a thick skin which would be valuable to succeed under the demands and scrutiny of being a professional athlete in New York. To fully emphasize with Knick’s fans you just have to examine their recent history to justify their negative reaction.

When Jeff Van Gundy resigned with no warning in December 2001 the basketball franchise that calls Madison Square Garden home went into a downward spiral. In the 14 years since Van Gundy’s departure the Knicks have been in the playoffs 4 times and have won only 1 playoff series. This occurred because of a series of bad trades, limited draft picks, horrible contracts, and off court distractions such as Isiah Thomas’s sexual harassment lawsuit hampered the development of the team. While New York is the largest market in the United States their premier basketball team could easily be considered an embarrassment that last 15 years.

Phil Jackson, former Knick player, was given the keys to the castle and a lofty 5 year 60 million dollar contract to turn Madison Square Garden into the Garden of Eden for the jaded and disappointed Knick faithful. Jackson has won an astonishing 13 NBA titles by winning 2 as a player with the Knicks and 11 as a coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Many fans loyal to the blue and orange hope Jackson still has the Midas touch and can deliver multiple titles just like he did in Chicago and Los Angeles. Derek Fischer was brought in to implement the fabled triangle offense that was the lynchpin in Jackson’s title runs. There was optimism once again in Knickville.

Then the 2014-15 season began and the Knicks played far worse than expected and to the Knick’s organization credit admitted the plan was not working and decided to demolish the roster and start to rebuild mid-season. Many players were traded or waived to allow the Knicks flexibility to construct the roster for the future. There were two reasons why loyal Knick fans approved this strategy. First, these moves would shed salary and allow enough salary cap flexibility to allow the Knicks to pursue a top tier free agent to pair up with Carmel Anthony for future playoff runs. Second reason was the Knicks could secure a top pick in the 2015 draft and select potential superstars Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor.

When the Knicks ended up with the 2nd worse record in the NBA, New York fans became nervous because now the Minnesota Timberwolves had the best chance of winning the draft lottery. And when the day of the draft lottery came the Knicks fans worse fear came true. Instead of the number one or two pick the Knickerbockers got the 4th choice in the 2015 draft. When this was announced a familiar groan came from the Gotham audience. Now speculation began on if the Knicks should trade the pick and for whom.

On draft day as Towns was drafted by Minnesota and Okafor went to the Philadelphia 76ers Adam Silver bravely announced the Knicks selection of Porzingis. While he might not be as well-known as Towns and Okafor, Porzingis has the most upside of anyone left on the draft board. Standing at 7-1 he is known for his skill and athletic ability that does not come along with the stereotypical European ballplayer. While the main criticism of Porzingis is his lack of physical strength that can easily be corrected over time.

The current situation of the Knicks suggests they needed to take the individual with the highest ceiling. Selections of Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky or Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin would have been easier to digest for Knick fans and each of these two men have the skills and talent to have long NBA careers. Only difference is Porzingis could have far greater impact on the franchise going forward. Cauley-Stein is more likely to find a role as defensive stopper/rebounder and Kaminsky as a 6th man of the bench. Porzingis was the best selection, while risky, to give New York the cornerstone player they need and desire.

Porzingis first interaction with Knick fans was a rough encounter but the relationship can easily be repaired if he performs well. If Porzingis develops to his full potential and becomes a mainstay for the Knicks while leading them on numerous playoff runs and the NBA title that has eluded the Knicks since 1973 the dynamic of the relationship will change. All of the fans who disapproved of the drafting of Porzingis will gladly admit their fault and support him. This goes to show that the majority of Knicks fans will gladly admit their fault if they can bask in the glory of an NBA title with Porzingis.

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