Cold drafts continue to haunt Knicks
The NBA needs to move the draft to another city because it is mostly a painful experience for Knicks fans, who pack the Theater each year hoping for a franchise-changing moment and, for the most part, go home miserable (see: Frederic Weis, Jordan Hill, Donnell Harvey, Jerrod Mustaf). Or eventually are miserable (see: Rod Strickland, Kenny Walker, John Wallace, Channing Frye, etc.).
That was supposed to change with Donnie Walsh, who had draft success with the Pacers and a reputation for smart moves that go back to his decision to resist the popular choice of Steve Alford and make the best one in Reggie Miller.
But here in New York there were three chances to do something significant in the draft and set the franchise up before the long-awaited free agency season opened. Looking back, the results appear to be more of the same for the Knicks.
Here's a look back at three drafts that came up empty:
2008 -- One of Isiah Thomas' last efforts in running the franchise was to dump as many games as possible late in the season to get the best draft position possible for a shot at Derrick Rose. Isiah's team lost 15 of their final 20 games to finish 23-59, which was tied for the 5th worst record in the NBA. The Knicks then won the coin-flip against the Clippers to move into the fifth slot in the lottery. Would luck finally be on their side?
But the disgusted smirk on Mike D'Antoni's face after the results of the lottery drawing will be an indelible memory. D'Antoni chose the Knicks over the Bulls as the two franchises were courting the former Suns coach. The Bulls got right back to punishing the Knicks, as they won the lottery and Rose. Chicago was the ninth seed that year (33-49) and had a 1.7 percent chance to win.
The Knicks still managed to come away with a high-end talent in Danilo Gallinari, but his development has taken a longer road and he still has work to do. Rose, meanwhile, was Rookie of the Year and then an all-star in Year 2. He's now the main reason why the Bulls have the upper hand in luring LeBron James from Cleveland.
2009 -- D'Antoni's first season resulted in 32 wins and another tailspin at the end of the season with 13 losses in the final 17 games. It wasn't enough to tank into a better lottery position, as the Clippers (19-63) jumped from the third slot in the lottery to the No. 1 pick (Blake Griffin), but their four wins in those final 17 games actually cost them one of their main targets, Stephen Curry. The Knicks held their position at No. 8 and were three wins better than the Warriors, who took Curry at No. 7. This was devastating to the Knicks, who then opted to grab Jordan Hill and attempt to convince everyone that he was who they really wanted.
Truth is, Walsh tried to move up to the No. 5 pick, which the Washington Wizards were shopping. An offer that included the No. 8 and Wilson Chandler was trumped by a GM Walsh once mentored, David Kahn, who sent two starters, Randy Foye and Mike Miller, to the Wizards for the pick. Kahn then used the pick to take Ricky Rubio, who may never play for Minnesota, and then took Jonny Flynn with his pick at No. 6. Very bizarre.
Losing Curry was a stunning upset for the Knicks. Curry had a good relationship with James and turned into a Rookie of the Year runner-up for the Warriors. Hill, at the very least, turned into an asset that Walsh was able to use to dump more 2010 payroll when he was packaged with Jared Jeffries at the February trade deadline. But missing on Curry took away another attractive young player the Knicks could have boasted on their roster.
Walsh opted to pass on Brandon Jennings, who had an outstanding rookie season for the Milwaukee Bucks, and also declined to trade out of the top 10 and go for another guard such as Ty Lawson and Darren Collison. Ironically, the Knicks are now looking into Collison's availability with the Hornets.
2010 -- Their first round pick for this season was long gone as a result of the Jan. 2004 trade for Stephon Marbury, orchestrated by Isiah Thomas. The Knicks could have bought a first round pick as many teams were selling to get out of this very underwhelming draft. But Walsh wouldn't make a move for a first rounder mainly because first round picks turn into immediate cap holds that would have cost the team another half-million in space before July 1. With the Bulls and Heat making aggressive moves to clear enough cap space to, like the Knicks, offer two max contracts, Walsh was fearful of giving up even a dollar in his hard-earned cap space.
They still had a chance to land one of their main targets in the second round, as versatile swingman Darington Hobson of New Mexico -- a player D'Antoni was said to be raving about after his workout -- slipped down the board. In a bitter reminder of the '09 draft, the Knicks saw Hobson swiped by the Bucks at No. 37, one pick before the Knicks were on the clock.
There were still some potential diamonds in the rough out there, with West Virginia's Devin Ebanks and UConn's Stanley Robinson, two extremely athletic, defensive-minded players. But the Knicks went very conservative here and tabbed Andy Rautins, a shooter and high IQ player who may struggle to defend at this level and has to hope to become a J.J. Redick-type player. With the next pick, they took a relative unknown in Landry Fields, a 6-7 swingman who put up some impressive athletic statistics at his workout and has a Bill Walker-type game. The feeling that came out of the Knicks War Room was extremely unexcited. Either these two players will be nice surprises who stick in training camp, or they'll wind up just two forgotten names in the team's media guide.
Of course the results still remain to be seen. The Knicks have been aiming for July 1 since April 2008 and Walsh didn't even try to hide that when he admitted after Thursday night's draft that his decision not to jump into the first round was based on preserving cap. Walsh seemed to concede the 2010 draft.
"I knew we didn't have a first round pick, so we weren't going to get any help in the draft," Walsh said. "You add to that that you want to preserve your room, so it's been about trying to get to free agency and do the best we can and get good players."
But the fact that the Knicks were not able to use the draft to set a foundation for this long-awaited rebuild via free agency could prove to be more costly than the cap space.