While most teams prepare to feast on a talent smorgasbord at the NBA draft Thursday, the New York Knicks may only wrestle under the table for tasty scraps.
As it stands, New York has no draft picks—but they do have options. They could trade for a slot at the low end of Round 1. (They shouldn't, but they might.) They could buy or trade for a Round 2 pick. Or they could skip the draft and either trade for the best newbies later or scoop up promising undrafted players for their summer league and new D-League team.
What should Knicks fans hope for? The best choice: New York lays out cash for the Philadelphia 76ers' No. 32 pick, hypnotizes other teams' execs to pass on Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson and then snags him for the Big Apple.
Buy 2nd-Round Pick
On May 30 Phil Jackson told reporters that the Knicks might purchase a draft pick. "We are going to approach teams and ask them if they're willing to allow us to buy a draft pick if we feel like there's a player we want to have at a position that comes up," said Jackson.
He pointed specifically at the Milwaukee Bucks and the 'Sixers. In reference to Philadelphia, Jackson said, "You can't draft that many players and have them as part of your roster. So obviously something is going to go on in that situation."
Clarkson can play both the 1 and the 2, and we all know New York needs another point guard and scoring option (especially if Carmelo Anthony leaves town).
Better yet, Clarkson is strong in two areas the Knicks are (or should be) desperate to fix: transition scoring and driving the lane. In 2013-14, the Knicks were last in the league in both fast-break points and points in the paint.
Meanwhile, at Missouri, Clarkson averaged 17.5 points per game and a 50 percent field-goal percentage, largely due to his skill at driving the lane. He also averaged 3.4 assists per game.
Clarkson's 6'5" frame and 35.1 minutes per game are good reasons to expect that he will be sturdy enough for the NBA.
Unfortunately, so far the Knicks have not shown any interest in Clarkson. There is another guard on their radar, who would be costlier.
Trade for 1st-Round Pick
Knicks execs have made it clear that they're interested in shooting guard P.J. Hairston, who's coming off a great first year in the D-League. Knicks management, including Phil Jackson, watched him practice June 5. His agent, Juan Morrow, told the New York Post's Marc Berman that the team's interest level in Hairston is "very, very high."
Hairston averaged 21.8 points, 0.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game for the Texas Legends last season. His field-goal percentage was 45.3, and his three-point field-goal percentage was 35.8. At 6'6" and 230 pounds, he's a smidgen bigger than Clarkson (strong for a guard) and could help harden the Knicks defense.
One factor working against him is his knack for getting in trouble. It's all too easy to imagine Hairston earning another speeding ticket.
One possibility: a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder—who have expressed renewed interest in New York guard-forward Iman Shumpert—for either their No. 21 or No. 29 slot.
Yet, if Hairston goes in the top 20 and the Knicks miss out on him, what then? They could go for Clarkson or another shooting guard to back up J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway, Jr.—perhaps UCLA's 6'5" neophyte Jordan Adams or 6'7" Kentucky man James Young.
However, the Knicks have other holes to fill: namely, every other position.
Nobody did a good job playing the point in 2013-14. The Knicks must fix the mess at the 1 spot, either by landing new talent or switching to the triangle offense, which diminishes the need for an elite point guard.
According to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, Star stretch-forward scoring machine Carmelo Anthony has opted out of the last year of his contract, becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Melo may be seduced by one of the other teams courting him—the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Miami Heat foremost among them. It is still possible that after seeing other teams Melo will realize his heart belongs to New York and come back bearing flowers. There's an outside chance the Knicks do a sign-and-trade deal with him.
The rest of the frontcourt players—center Tyson Chandler and power forwards Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani—all enter free agency at the end of next season. For one of these gentlemen, the Knicks could conceivably get multiple players and a draft pick for a young forward or center.
Chandler is the only realistic trade prospect of the three.
There might be interest from the Phoenix Suns (who have Nos. 14, 18 and 27 in the draft), but any deal for Chandler will be tough now that Emeka Okafor—no longer under contract with the Suns—cannot be part of the deal. Okafor's departure has left Phoenix with lots of cap space, but that's likely to be used on Eric Bledsoe's extension.
Hopefully the Knicks' draft selections would be influenced by whomever they'd trade to get the picks. If it's Chandler who leaves, they might go after Michigan's Mitch McGary or Bosnian Jusuf Nurkic, who's currently playing for the Croatian League.
Trade After the Draft
This is all a gamble. Not a single mock draft in the world can predict every move accurately. If New York gives up too much for a trade pick and then loses out on what it wants, the Knicks may regret it (like so many other decisions before).
There's also the question of what should they want? Until the Knicks know for certain that Melo will go—taking his 27.4 points per game with him—they can only speculate on what new pieces will be needed most. So maybe Thursday Knicks management should hope their favorite prospects are chosen by teams already keen to trade. So go ahead, Phil, Derek and company: don Dallas caps and Oklahoma City T-shirts and root for one of them to nab Hairston.
Invest in the Undrafted
Now that New York has its own D-League team, the Westchester Knicks, it's in a better position to groom young players.
One good candidate is Iowa State combo guard DeAndre Kane, known for rebounding and transition offense. Other possibilities are Virginia small forward Joe Harris and Baylor power forward Cory Jefferson.
Silver Lining for Next Season
If the existing Knicks roster can play to its potential under new coach Derek Fisher, New York has a chance to win the Atlantic Division next season, because three of its four division rivals aren't in great shape.
For starters, the geriatric Brooklyn Nets have no draft picks either.
Although the Boston Celtics have two first-round draft picks, they are still in rebuilding mode. There are rumblings that Boston will take advantage of Joel Embiid's navicular bone injury in his right foot and acquire him with their No. 6 draft pick (if Philadelphia doesn't get him first).
Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, was wishy-washy when he told the Boston Globe June 21 that drafting Embiid was "Quite a gamble. I don't know. We'll see. ... Foot and back, those are not good body parts to injure."
Even if Boston takes the injured star, it likely will not have Embiid in the lineup at the season opener. He is expected to miss summer league and training camp as he recovers.
Although the 'Sixers have an impressive seven picks—Nos. 3, 10, 32, 39, 47, 52 and 54—their young core needs at least one more season before Philadelphia's a real playoff contender. That might change if the 'Sixers bring in a veteran—but that could cost them dearly.
According to ESPN Insider Chad Ford, Philadelphia might trade Thaddeus Young and rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Steve Nash and L.A.'s No. 7 draft pick.
That would give Philly eight picks, but it could make the lineup younger, less experienced and reliant upon a 40-year-old point guard who's not long for this league.
The Knicks' main competition in the Atlantic in 2014-15 will be the Toronto Raptors, who won the division in 2013-14 and have a promising young core set to string together a few great seasons.
Of course, winning the division is not nearly enough for the Knicks fanbase. The fans want a title, and the Knickerbockers had better make a push for it before their green competitors hit the primes of their careers.
Whether the New York execs spend Thursday wheeling and dealing or boozing and napping, they'll have plenty to answer for come October.
The NBA draft starts Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Watch it on ESPN.
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