All Star

Knicks’ Potential Free Agent Targets Discuss Team, City

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Although Dwight Howard was completely invested and focused on the season at hand during his short stint with the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2012-13, he couldn’t help but be impressed with the city of Houston during the 2013 All-Star Weekend. Between the great job the city did hosting the event, the strong impression left on him by Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon and their much improved roster highlighted by fellow All-Star James Harden, Houston earned a spot on Howard’s free agent tour for that upcoming summer.

Six months later, they beat out the Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors among other potential suitors to sign Howard, one of the biggest signings in the history of their franchise. The move has since turned them into one of the most feared teams in the Western Conference. Howard has said that he really started to like Houston during his All-Star experience there. So without the opportunity to showcase themselves in an unofficial audition for Howard during the break, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year very well could have went elsewhere.

The New York Knicks are hoping for similar results as they co-host All-Star Weekend this year along with the Brooklyn Nets. Their star player Carmelo Anthony is going to be in action for what may be the last time this season and he’s going to make the most of it by being an active recruiter as well.

“The Garden will be lit up, it will be bright,” Anthony said to USA TODAY Sports. “There will be a lot of people in there. It will be loud and it will be exciting. So for other players to see that, I am pretty sure that will be impressive.”

Basketball Insiders spoke to some of the free agents that Anthony could be recruiting this weekend as his team gets set to enter the summer with significant cap space that they plan to use to lure one or two star-caliber sidekicks for Anthony, to get a sense of how they feel about the possibility of playing in New York.

Atlanta Hawks power forward Paul Millsap

“New York is a great place,” Millsap said. “It’s the city of lights and to be able to see all the people and the business moving that is just something I like to see so it’s up there. Anytime I can be in a great city like New York and represent my team as an All-Star, it’s for sure going to be a great moment for me.

“We’ll see what happens at the end of this year, but right now I’m just focused on the season. I love the way our team is and the direction we are going but after this season we will see what happens.”

Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight

“Well, speaking for myself, I would want to go into a situation where I can win,” Knight said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Winning has to be a priority. I’m pretty sure if you ask any top free agent… winning is going to be the main thing.

“Most free agents have already been in the league four years and some seven years so they really look at [everything] when making their decision, but they prefer to go to a situation where things can click right away and not something that might be three or four years down the line.”

Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge

“Winning and being happy, I think those two [are what I’m looking for],” Aldridge said. “I want to win and I want to love where I’m at.

“I want to like the management and feel comfortable that they are going to do the right things to keep winning and I want to spend my time with an organization where I love what they’re doing and where they’re going.

“No, [Carmelo hasn’t recruited me], maybe I’m not good enough (laughs). No, I haven’t been around anybody, I’ve been by myself all day so no I haven’t. But we’ll see what happens when I’m here.

“This is one of those [cities] I think most guys look forward to coming to; it’s a fun city, always a lot going on, fashion capital, so I think guys love it here. … I think playing here is awesome. These fans are very loyal and very honest. I think anyone would love playing here. This is the basketball capital. There’s so much history.

“When you’re in the season, you got to focus on your team and what’s going on with them, but I think we all understand how great [Phil Jackson] is and how he understands the basketball game on another level. I don’t think anyone is doubting him. He’s been spoken so highly [about] by Kobe [Bryant] that I don’t think he’s going to fail. It’s always a process when you’re rebuilding. I went through it two times in a row and it just takes time.”

Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Wes Matthews

“I mean, you can get whatever you need here,” Matthews said of New York. “It is definitely busy here and it’s just different compared to what I’m used to. I’m from the Midwest, so I’m used to grass and driving through open areas. But it has grown on me over the years.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t even really thought about being a free agent, man. I’m extremely happy in Portland and we have a great thing going there and that is where my mind is.

“Phil has been around basketball for a long time; he is one of the greatest basketball minds ever. But I’m not really thinking about New York right now. I’m not in their locker room or in any part of that, so all I’m really thinking about now is being in Portland and continuing the great things we have going over there.”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James

“It’s going to be the best All-Star Game for me as far as a player to be able to be in the Garden,” James said. “I love my fans back in Cleveland, I loved my fans when I was in Miami, but if I could have 82 regular-season games in the Garden, I would because it’s the Mecca of Basketball. You get a great feeling when you walk in there because there’s so much history. It’s going to be fun.”

It’s hard to envision James leaving Cleveland, so it’s unlikely he’ll be a realistic target for the Knicks, but clearly they’re going to have some very open ears when they start making phone calls at the beginning of free agency this summer.