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Can Porzingis and Ntilikina make this work?

Leslie Monteiro



It wasn’t the Knicks draft pick that made news Thursday. It was holding on to Kristaps Porzingis after rumors swirling about potential trades of their draft pick from two years ago. That was the only thing the Knicks fans cared about on draft night.

It spoke volumes about the Knicks’ No. 8 pick. It was a pick that did not generate much interest at all.  All Knicks fans cared was that Porzingis was not going anywhere, so they were content.

It was hard to believe he was going to be traded. The Knicks needed to receive great players in return to give up their prized player. Phil Jackson may be a lousy executive, but he’s not stupid. There was no one worth appealing, and the Celtics and Suns had no interest in trading their draft picks. Plus, anytime reports indicate a NBA star could be traded, it never happens 98 percent of the time.


The Knicks have to make it work with those two Europeans now that the draft pick from two years ago is staying for now and the newly minted draft pick is getting experience of the Knicks’ circus culture.

Drafting Frank Ntilikina didn’t surprise anyone.  Jackson has had success drafting Europeans in his time as the Knicks poobah of basketball operations. He got it right with Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Porzingis, so he trust his instincts in drafting another European player. He feels Europeans are willing to be coached unlike AAU players who are adversed to coaching. In other words, he wanted a player that was more than happy to play the triangle offense.

Here’s what troubling about this pick: The Frenchman was only selected because he would be more than happy to play the triangle offense. This wasn’t ability. This wasn’t about getting the best player that can make an impact. This was about feeding Jackson’s ego about the triangle offense, which he is the only one that believes it works despite evidence to the contrary in the last three years.

It is a crapshoot about what he can do. That’s why getting the eighth pick does nothing good for the Knicks. What they needed was a franchise player with pure talent like Lonzo Ball for example. That’s why they needed to win the lottery. It didn’t happen, and that’s why the Knicks were considered losers on the night of the draft lottery.

Jackson was more than happy to get the eighth pick. It meant that he could have picked his guy rather than have the pressure of drafting Markelle Fultz or Ball. It also meant he will get more time as a basketball executive since Ntilikina needs work before he can be good.

Knicks fans don’t have the patience. It’s hard to blame them when they see their team go 80-166 under the overmatched Knicks basketball executive. Three years in a row of no playoffs , seventeen years of awful basketball and 44 years and counting of no championship can make a fanbase go batty.

Face it. Ntilikina is a project. There’s no guarantee what he can do despite being taught well how to play fundamental basketball in France. Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay was supposed to be the polished player in 2015 draft after playing in China, but he hasn’t developed as a point guard by getting too many DNP-CD decisions and now he is trade bait.

Before we crown Porzingis as the next great Knick, let’s not forget he has regressed in his second year with his awful defense and erratic shooting. He has work to do.

The Knicks have to get the most out of Ntilikina, and they need to make Porzingis happy. This is the only way the Jackson era can be salvaged. That means the work environment has to be much better for both young players to play to their potential. There can’t be anymore nonsense such as backstabbing politics (i.e. Jackson mentioning flaws of his players to Charley Rosen) or players freezing others out when it comes to having the basketball.

Trading Porzingis would have been crazy, even for Jackson. What the Zen Master needs to do is build trust with his star player. Being petty such as calling out his player for skipping his exit meeting is not going to help matters. This can be salvageable if both parties put their mind to it. For the good of the team, it should happen.

As frustrating as Porzingis is with the Knicks, he does not want out. He wants to be part of the solution. He genuinely wants to stay in New York and lead the Knicks. This should be a good thing for Jackson.

Ntilikina and Porzingis need each other for them to do well. Their skills can complement each other. The rookie can set up the 7-foot-3 Latvian phenom to make shots outside or go to the paint while the phenom can set picks with the Frenchmen guard. That was something Jackson envisioned.

For this pick to pan out, it’s on the Knicks boss to make sure those two click together.

This is where his legacy will be judged and remembered.


Leslie Monteiro is a syndicated sports columnist who writes about the Tri-State area teams for the Upstate Courier. He is based in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and can be reached on Twitter @MongoGoesInSane.