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Knicks building for long haul in selecting Latvian big man

New York lands 19-year old Porzingis, point guard Grant

POSTED: Jun 26, 2015 11:56 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann


All AXEcess Interview: Kristaps Porzingis

Jared Greenberg talks with Kristaps Porzingis at the 2015 NBA Draft.

— Are the New York Knicks actually building their team organically?

It appears so.

The Knicks will still look to add veteran players in free agency, when they could have as much as $27 million in cap space. But they actually have some long-term promise for the first time in a long time, getting two top-20 picks - Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant- in Thursday's Draft.

The Knicks have long been chasing their tail in an effort to stay relevant and keep from falling completely off the NBA map. Over the years, they've traded picks that turned into Nene, Gordon Hayward, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joakim Noah and Omer Asik for veterans (like Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry) that never came through.

There were hard times and big payrolls, and not a single top-5 pick since 1986. A "five-year plan" never came into play.

The Knicks bottomed out this past season, losing a franchise-high 65 games. They got basically nothing in return for two guys - Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith - who helped the Cleveland Cavaliers get to The Finals.

That got them the No. 4 pick, one which they hadn't traded away. But that didn't necessarily mean that New York was finally looking long-term. Carmelo Anthony is 31 years old and brings with him a sense of urgency to win now.

"I'm willing to be patient," Anthony said at media day last year. "How long I'm willing to be patient, I can't really tell you that."

Draft Review: Kristaps Porzingis

The GameTime crew discusses the 4th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Kristaps Prozingis, selected by the New York Knicks.

Porzingis may test Anthony's patience. The 7-1 Latvian has the size and skills - he can shoot and moves well for a guy his size - of an impact player, but doesn't turn 20 years old until August, will get pushed around unless he puts on some weight, and probably isn't ready for the speed of the NBA game.

"We think there's going to be a good chance that he's going to make rapid improvement," Knicks president Phil Jackson said after making the pick. "But we do know it's a maturation process."

View clips of Porzingis with a half-full glass of water in your hand and you see a ton of potential. View them with a half-empty glass and you see a potential bust. There were more boos than cheers among Knicks fans at the Barclays Center when the pick was announced on Thursday.

It was a gutsy pick by Jackson. It will eventually look terrible or terrific.

"We thought the risk-rewards for this guy were perhaps the greatest in the whole lottery," Jackson said, comparing Porzingis to Pau Gasol.

"I think I have enough talent to be that special player," Porzingis said, "who can help the franchise get better results. I want to be that guy."

Jackson is 70 years old. He's in the second year of a five-year contract and could have looked for the quick fix. He could have picked up a veteran by moving down in the Draft. But he made the long-term play, knowing that an opportunity to select this high doesn't come often.

"My thought process is what do I do best for the franchise at this particular time, with the history and where we're at," Jackson said. "We have five players on the roster. We need something athletic to make a real difference in the way we play. This young man's an eye-opening athlete and a player."

More than any other team, the Knicks have seemingly considered fit when making moves. Jackson is adamant about having head coach Derek Fisher run the Triangle offense, and acquiring players that fit the system.

Porzingis might struggle in the post, but Jackson believes that the No. 4 pick has the requisite basketball IQ to flourish in the offense.

2015 NBA Draft: Pick 19

The Washington Wizards select Jerian Grant with the 19th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

"We're going to play what we do as a system," Jackson said. "We like to see guys who can catch the ball and shoot and have decisive abilities to read the defense and react to it. He has that."

But the Knicks didn't just add one rookie on Thursday. They also traded Tim Hardaway Jr. for the 19th pick, which they used to select Grant, a four-year, playmaking point guard from Notre Dame. He's the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant, the brother of Sixer Jerami Grant, and the nephew of Horace Grant, who won three championships with Jackson in Chicago.

Free agency will provide the Knicks the opportunity to build a better team around Anthony. The Knicks will need to target both bigs and guards that fit their system, and they may need to overpay to get guys that can make a real impact.

But New York now has pieces that could help them in the years after Anthony is gone. And that's kind of refreshing.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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