If there’s one thing Phil Jackson should be thanked for—aside not trading Kristaps Porzingis for a bag of cement—it’s the fact that he had the foresight to not trade away any of the club’s future first round picks while he was in charge of the New York Knicks.
Heading into Tuesday night’s draft lottery, the Knicks will have the opportunity to cash in a lottery ticket and utilize their opportunity to draft a game-changing prospect in June’s draft.
Whether the club improbably wins the rights to a top three overall pick or stays put and drafts toward the end of the top 10, Scott Perry and newly hired head coach David Fizdale will make their first selection together, and betting that they’ll come away with a winner might actually be the wise move.
I’ve been on the record as being an advocate for the hiring of Perry and went on record as calling Fizdale the right man for the job. Each of the two have impressive pedigrees and each of their backgrounds are littered with examples of competently utilizing their resources and helping young players become all that they could.
Perry began his career as a basketball executive with the Detroit Pistons in 2000 and spent seven years there before moving on to Seattle in 2007.
Although we can’t ever be certain as to the extent and force with which Perry advocated for these particular selections, he deserves per se credit for being a part of Joe Dumars’ front office. From 2000 to 2006, the franchise drafted Mehmet Okur with the 38th pick in 2001, Tayshaun Prince with the 23rd pick in 2002, Carlos Delfino with the 25th pick in 2003, Jason Maxiell with the 26th pick and Amir Johnson with the 56th pick in 2005 and Rodney Stuckey with the 15th pick and Arron Afflalo with the 27th pick in 2007.
At the very least, each of those picks should be considered competent, with Okur, Prince, Johnson and Afflalo being considered slam dunks, relative to where they were selected in their respective drafts. He was also a part of the front office in Seattle when they selected Kevin Durant and spent a few years in Orlando where they walked away with Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon over the course of a few years.
Sure, aside from Durant, there might not be an All-Star among the bunch, but that’s not the end-all be-all when it comes to determining whether or not a particular draft pick was wisely utilized. The gross majority of NBA hopefuls don’t spend more than four years in the league, while the gross majority never amount to anything more than bench warmers for the duration of their rookie contracts.
As for Fizdale, he spent the better part of his formative years as an NBA assistant sitting next to Mike Woodson in Atlanta and Erik Spoelstra in Miami. In Atlanta, with Woodson, Fizdale witnessed the club go from a 13-69 embarrassment to a playoff team that would eventually become a fixture in the Eastern Conference.
Similarly, in Miami, Fizdale joined Spoelstra on his bench coming off of an abysmal 15-67 season. The ensuing season, the HEAT would turn things around in dramatic fashion, winning 43 games. The turnaround had a lot to do with the fact that Dwyane Wade missed the majority of the 2007-08 season with injury, but the fact of the matter is that Fizdale, a descendant of Pat Riley’s coaching tree, witnessed and actively assisted in the club’s going from a 15-win squad to a four-time Eastern Conference champion with LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Wade and company in South Beach.
While some would hardly consider that team’s success to be anything worth bestowing credit upon Fizdale for, it’s far too easy for us to forget that the HEAT team faced an incredible amount of adversity. There were quite a few that felt that Spoelstra and his staff were in over their heads and would have trouble standing up to James, Wade and Bosh and demanding greatness from them.
Without coaching brilliance and chops, the Miami three would have run Spoelstra and his relatively young coaching comrades out of Miami, but instead, the club ended up winning two championships.
When you think back to those championship years for James and Wade in Miami, you’ll probably only remember James’ historic Game 6 performance against the Boston Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals and Ray Allen’s incredible shot to force overtime in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
You won’t remember (nor have you ever heard about) the late nights and early mornings that Spoelstra’s coaching staff endured during the team’s playoff runs in either of those two seasons. You probably also wouldn’t know anything about Fizdale’s gifts as it relates to advanced scouting, dissecting plays and, in particular, motivating young guards by challenging them and ascertaining their strengths.
A former point guard himself, Fizdale had aspirations of playing professionally. Immediately after completing his college career, though, he jumped at the opportunity to become a video intern with the HEAT. It didn’t take long for him to realize that his passion was in coaching and teaching the game.
Go ask Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole or Udonis Haslem a thing or two about Fizdale; they’ll each give you an earful.
In the end, what that means for the Knicks is two important things: they have a general manager who has shown that he has the knack for evaluating talent and a head coach who knows how to harness and develop it.
As it relates to winning in the NBA—that’s half the battle.
Although any suggestions as to any team knowing which players they truly covet at this point should be taken with a grain of salt, the early word on the street for the Knicks is that if they managed to jump into the top three, their hope would be Marvin Bagley, while Mikal Bridges is said to be the player they’d covet around the 10th selection.
Either way, the Knicks seem to have two men who are properly cast to attempt to restore the club to respectability, and whether they move up or stand pat in the draft lottery, you can rest assured that Perry will do all in his power to draft an impact player while Fizdale does his best to develop him.
Without a doubt, having hit the reset button yet again, the Knicks are embarking on another rebuilding project. It’ll take a few years.
Unlike prior regimes with Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, however, they have a franchise that not only has the right people calling the shots from atop Penn Plaza, they also have decision makers who appears to be on the same page.
All the Knicks need now is a little bit of luck.
We’ll see if they can get some on Tuesday night.
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