Jerome Jordan is a perfect example of why the NBA needs to rethink its strategy with minor leagues. The Knicks last summer encouraged him to play in Europe as a way to maintain his rights while he was able to take the time to develop and mature. Had he come to training camp to compete with veteran Ronny Turiaf and the more NBA-ready Timofey Mozgov, the Knicks would have been either forced to keep Jordan on the roster -- which meant a player such as Shawne Williams might have been cut -- or they would have had to cut him and lose the rights to a 7-foot project with intriguing potential.
The Knicks should be able to simply assign Jordan to the D-League, but NBA rules require a D-League assignment to cost a team a roster spot. It's an absurd rule that is negatively impacting the development of younger players. The NBA needs a system more like baseball and hockey, which have direct pipelines to the minor leagues and the ability to call up players at any time.
Until then, teams have to use international rules as a loophole to retain a players' rights, though they have little connection with the player. As Jordan was stashed overseas, on a Serbian team in the Adriatic League, Mozgov was traded and the need for a center became a priority. The Knicks even tried to bring Jordan over in-season, after Mozgov's departure in the Carmelo Anthony trade, but his contractual obligation to his team KK Hemofarm was difficult to break.
The Knicks want to know what they have in Jordan, who has shown noticable physical growth, but it is impossible to gauge his progress and, more importantly, his readiness to compete at the NBA level, based on the competition he's facing and the minutes he's playing. In 26 games in the Adriatic League, Jordan is averaging 7.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14.7 minutes. In 11 Eurocup games, he has put up 6.7 points and 2.9 rebounds in 14.1 minutes and in four Euroleague games he's averaging 8.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11.8 minutes.
The plan was to bring him in next week to participate in a free agent minicamp at the MSG Training Center on June 8 and 9 and see how he looked against D-League types. The camp is also a way for the Knicks to potentially find a diamond in the rough, which will be important if a lockout eliminates the NBA Summer League.
The camp will still go on, but Jordan is not expected to be able to play. He recently suffered from appendicitis and is still in recovery. It's important for the Knicks to know if Jordan is ready to make the jump to the NBA this season as they plan their roster for next season. With a lockout looming and possibly eliminating some, if not all, of the offseason (especially Summer League, where Jordan could play), there isn't much time to make a decision about what to do with Jordan. Should he return to Europe, the Knicks would continue to own his rights, but it would likely mean another entire season without him. And if Jordan doesn't want to spend another year in Europe, the Knicks may be forced to make a decision on him -- either keep him or set him free.
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* -- In the meantime, the pre-draft process continues Tuesday with the first of several workouts at the MSG Training Center. This first group -- DeMonte Harper (Morehead State), John Holland (Boston University), Rick Jackson (Syracuse), Malcolm Lee (UCLA), Sam Muldrow (South Carolina), Julyan Stone (UTEP) -- suggests the Knicks are looking deeper into the draft beyond their No. 17 pick in the first round and perhaps eyeing a possible purchase of a second round pick.
Lee is interesting because of his terrific size as a combo guard, which are similar to fellow UCLA guards Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday, though his skills aren't nearly as polished. Jackson is a big, strong body who is very active on the glass and in setting screens and plays a smart game.
* - Despite a report that said Donnie Walsh is expected to sign a contract extension this week to remain team president, there is reason to believe an announcement might not come until after the NBA Finals. The league frowns on attention-stealing news by teams not playing for the title, not that it has stopped the Knicks before. Walsh has continued to work preparing for the draft and next season. His current contract expires June 30.
* - The sudden and surprising decision by the Trail Blazers (read: owner Paul Allen) to dump GM Rich Cho leaves the position open for several candidates. Will Mark Warkentien, the former Nuggets GM who is currently working for the Knicks as Director, Pro Player Personnel, be on the list? Meanwhile, if Warkentien departs, would the Knicks consider Cho?
* - Chauncey Billups is expected to have an MRI this week on his left knee, which he initially injured (strained tendon) in the second-to-last regular season game and then reinjured late in Game 1 of the first round playoff series against the Celtics. Billups had an MRI during the series, which confirmed the tendon injury. This MRI is the requisite follow-up. If no further damage is revealed, he will be cleared for basketball activities.