Knicks' Draft Splash Shows Phil Jackson Already Shifting Franchise's Trajectory

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Knicks' Draft Splash Shows Phil Jackson Already Shifting Franchise's Trajectory
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Phil Jackson's first draft as president of the New York Knicks went pretty well, mostly because it proceeded in decidedly un-Knicks-like fashion.

For starters, New York actually managed to acquire a couple of picks heading into the draft, which was an out-of-character development for a team that has spent most of the past few years giving up such assets. But in trading away Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton on June 25, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, New York got its hands on a couple of second-round selections from the Dallas Mavericks.

You read that correctly: The Knicks engaged in a trade that actually increased their stable of picks.

So, instead of heading into draft night with no incentive to pay attention (remember, New York gave up its first-rounder to get Carmelo Anthony in 2012), New York was positioned to be a player—at least insofar as a team with second-round picks deserves that designation.

This is where we praise Jackson, as he's the guy defining the organization's new culture.

Per Scott Cacciola of The New York Times:

Under Phil Jackson, the team's president, the Knicks finally appeared committed to collecting assets rather than giving them away, determined to build for the future rather than mortgage it. At least that was the hope among those invested in the team's fortunes.

It's probably important to mention that there's a good line of reasoning that says the trade that netted the Knicks those two second-rounders wasn't really one designed to build anything. In fact, if you subscribe to the theory that the Knicks pulled off that Chandler trade because it got them nearer to the $81 million tax apron that would allow them to take back a signed-and-traded player in a deal for Anthony, it seems very much like it was part of a teardown plan.

The point, though, is that the Knicks got themselves a couple of selections.

And wouldn't you know it, they used them in a way that didn't bring down universal scorn.

Now, nobody's arguing the ghost of Renaldo Balkman has been exorcised. That specter will haunt Madison Square Garden for years, and besides, it's hard to screw anything up in the second round. But in selecting Wichita State's Cleanthony Early at No. 34, New York managed to pick someone who almost everybody thought should have gone much earlier in the draft.

B/R's Adam Fromal dropped a healthy A-plus on New York's draft report card, mainly for the Early pick:

Not only did the New York Knicks move into the NBA draft when they traded Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks, but they managed to land one of the steals of the draft at No. 34. 

Cleanthony Early is a natural small forward who can also play the 4, which gives New York a great option in the frontcourt, especially if Carmelo Anthony spurns his hometown team and goes elsewhere. 

Next came Thanasis Antetokounmpo, older brother of Giannis and strong contender for most syllables in a name in NBA history. Antetokounmpo comes to the Knicks via the D-League, and he's not likely to become an immediate star.

But he's a perfectly fine value at No. 51 and should be able to score on the break, defend and generally bring his terrific athleticism to bear in the Knicks rotation.

Most importantly, Jackson made it two consecutive selections that didn't result in complete Twitter derision. Quite the opposite, actually:

New York's third pick, purchased from the Indiana Pacers, is harder to get excited about. Louis Labeyrie, a French frontcourt player who may not see the NBA anytime soon, is a mysterious commodity. But after the goodwill built up by their first two selections (and the bold choice to buy yet another pick), the Knicks get the benefit of the doubt.

In one night, New York changed the conversation from the doom and gloom of Anthony's potential exit and the sad reality of its salary-cap situation to one of future hope and, incredibly, respectable decisions.

Jackson really is some kind of wizard. This proves it.

Then again, maybe it's not all as mystical as that—tough as it is to avoid that trope when talking about the Zen Master.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Maybe what Jackson and the Knicks did Thursday was actually simple. Maybe they just substituted action for reaction.

Instead of waiting for Anthony to make a decision, they went out and made some moves that will either get them something back when he leaves or show him the future is bright enough to consider staying.

Instead of sitting idly on draft night, they got into the mix.

"We want to send a message to all of our players that we're on the move," Jackson said, per Cacciola.

The Knicks, for years a franchise that has acted without thinking (or didn't act at all), are finally making plans, executing them and building toward a real vision of a better future.

USA TODAY Sports

Successfully selecting three second-round picks may not seem like much, but it's possible we'll look back on what Jackson and the Knicks did in this draft as the beginning of a new era—one in which a capable leader picks a path and guides the franchise down it with conviction.

The Knicks are moving forward, just like Jackson wants them to.

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