New York Knicks fans entered their latest period of sustained anxiety this Tuesday when The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that team president Phil Jackson was seriously considering trading budding star big man Kristaps Porizingis. According to Woj, the possibility had “inspired a frenzy of suitors,” and with good reason. Players with Porzingis’s tantalizing mix of skills, raw ability, and star potential almost never become available while on their rookie contracts, and many teams would consider themselves lucky to employ him. As our Dan Devine wrote on Wednesday, the news of Porzingis trade talks is the latest sign that Phil Jackson has no workable plan for bringing the Knicks back to contention. Worse yet, it feels like a slap in the face for a fan base that’s seen Porzingis as the best reason to hope a better future exists.
Jackson appeared on the TV network MSG (essentially franchise-run media) on Wednesday night to preview Thursday’s draft and provide insight into the Knicks’ offseason. Naturally, the subject of Porzingis came up. And Jackson didn’t exactly quell concerns that the team’s most exciting player is on his way out of town:
Here are Phil's full comments regarding the Porzingis trade rumors. Doesn't sound too good. pic.twitter.com/aEVIlT0vtB
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) June 22, 2017
Jackson doesn’t suggest that a trade is imminent, but his insistence on continuing to criticize Porzingis for skipping out on his post-season exit interview in April makes it clear that the Knicks front office is not happy with the rising third-year pro, who turns 22 in August. As Woj wrote at the time, Porzingis and other Knicks have plenty of legitimate reasons to complain about their team president’s insistence on running the triangle offense and his season-long antagonism of Carmelo Anthony, who prefers not to waive the no-trade clause Jackson didn’t have to offer him back in July 2014. Jackson claimed that Porzingis is the first player to cancel an exit interview during his long career in the NBA, but that’s not true — Shaquille O’Neal did his two weeks late in 2003 and canceled it entirely the next season in the midst of requesting a trade. Maybe Phil forgets the second instance because he left the Lakers around the same time.
Regardless of circumstances, the continued animosity all feels petty on the part of Jackson, whose much-praised acumen for personality management has apparently not carried over to his time as an executive. At some point, he will have to admit that his behavior played some role in upsetting Porzingis.
Phil Jackson going in-house media to publicly slap a kid 50 years his junior.
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) June 22, 2017
At best, Jackson has created a situation in which Porzingis has to be convinced not to resent the franchise for the duration of his time in New York. At worst, he’s willfully parting ways with the most exciting young Knick in years. It’s usually a bad sign when making a player available sends every general manager rushing to place a phone call. Even Joel Embiid wants in on the action:
We don't care about Exit meetings in Philly… you're welcome to join
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 22, 2017
Wojnarowksi says that the Knicks want to trade into the top four picks of the draft to select Kansas wing Josh Jackson, an exciting talent whom many teams would love to have. Unfortunately, he’s also not even 18 months younger than Porzingis, has far more to prove than a guy who’s screamed “future star” in his first two seasons, and boasts his own character concerns (which could well be overblown, to be fair). Coveting Jackson is a sensible position, and the Knicks should look into deals to add him. But trading Porzingis to get there smacks of a lack of patience and focus.
Plus, any prospects the Knicks add on Thursday will still have to develop in what can only be described as a toxic environment. Jackson spent much of this season alienating his team’s two best players — what’s to say he won’t do the same in 2017-18 and beyond? How can he be trusted to lead the Knicks into the future when he chooses to antagonize anyone who runs afoul of his capricious will?
The prescription for the Knicks is the same as it has been for more than a decade — be patient, develop young players, and stick to the plan. Sadly, relating the obvious now feels like a waste of time. No matter what happens to Porzingis prior to, during, or after the draft, the Knicks will still be dysfunctional. It will take much more than one solid front office decision to get them back on the right track. The entire organizational culture needs to change.
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