Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon

Knicks drafting for need, but whose need?

Chris Paul is getting married in September to his longtime girlfriend, Jada Crawley, and Carmelo Anthony may already have the perfect toast in mind.

Actually, despite Paul's famous toast at Carmelo's wedding last July, Melo may not return the favor this time. At the end of the season, he downplayed the idea of adding a third star to the roster to join him and Amar'e Stoudemire.

"I don't really think we need stars," Carmelo said. "We have a good base with what we have with me and Amar'e and you go from there. You build off there."

That, of course, was before the Miami Heat were overwhelming two of the East's best teams en route to a trip to the NBA Finals. What LeBron and Co. are doing now with their three-headed monster (two key reserves, such as Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, are all you need, apparently) has to have Melo and Amar'e salivating at the idea of completing their Big Three with Paul, as prophecized during La La's Full Court Wedding.

Paul knows the script to follow if this is what he wants. Melo endured the madness of trade rumors or speculation for most of the 2010-11 season until the trade to New York came to fruition. Paul may not want to go through the same crucible, but there may be no other way. The Knicks can't afford to wait until 2012 to use all of their remaining salary cap space on one player and may not have enough to make it happen by then, especially with the NBA seeking a dramatic reduction in the cap ceiling (and the potential of a hard cap means the Knicks can't go over).

So let's just accept that if this NY3D plan is to become a reality, Paul would most likely have to come in a trade. Which is what makes next month's NBA Draft more critical than you think for the Knicks.

A large contingent from the basketball operations department -- when talking about the Knicks that phrase is somewhat redundant -- spent last week in Chicago at the NBA PreDraft combine. Rumors always abound as to whom the Knicks may be officially targeting, but with the 17th pick in a relatively shallow draft, there is no concentrated group of candidates to consider. In fact, the Knicks requested interviews with the top 18 players in the draft -- yes, including those who have no chance of falling to them -- and are no closer to narrowing their targets than they were before the camp. So anyone suggesting who the Knicks will take at No. 17 is basing it on speculation and perhaps the opinion of one person, while I'm told the staff has continued to debate several options.

One of the most obvious options is to draft Best Player Available. He's got a lot of potential, I hear.

And with Paul in mind, we have another suggestion to offer: the Knicks should draft whomever Dell Demps would pick.

You laugh, but the New Orleans Hornets GM knows he's facing a serious situation with Paul. They can open contract extension negotiations with their star point guard in July, but by then the league could be in a lockout. And if that's the case, the Hornets would have to wait until a new CBA is in place. That might not leave a lot of time before the trade deadline, especially in a truncated season, for the Hornets to make that franchise-changing decision whether to continue negotiating with the hopes of signing Paul to that extension or making a deal so they don't lose him for nothing.

The Knicks can't allow the situation to reach that moment of truth without any assets to offer. They have Chauncey Billups' expiring contract to fit the salary match, but what other value can they include in the deal? The cupboard is quite bare now that Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chander were lost to Denver. Landry Fields is an All-Rookie selection, but his stock has plummetted. Toney Douglas is a nice reserve player, but he's not going to get Demps to the phone.

But what if the Knicks had a dynamic young point guard such as Josh Selby, who has all kinds of potential and a star pedigree? Selby is somewhat undervalued in this draft mainly because he is a one-and-done player who hardly played as a freshman at Kansas for various reasons, from his season-opening NCAA suspension to an injury (stress fracture in his foot in February). And when he did see action, he was the square peg forced into a round hole system that featured two talented bigs in the Morris brothers.

Selby was one of the top high school players in the country a year ago and has a dynamic game that could translate very well at the NBA level. If he steps in and shows it early on, the Knicks may have that valuable asset they need to close the deal. 

Sounds like a plan, right?

Hold your nose, because here comes the cold water: First, the Thunder should strongly consider something we've written here since last season: offering Russell Westbrook for Paul, which is a deal that Demps absolutely can not decline.

But even if that doesn't happen, Mike D'Antoni has to want to play Selby in order for him to develop any real value for Demps to consider.

And here's the potential problem with that: Selby is a score-first combo guard from the Monta Ellis mold; the type who wants to dominate the ball and use his athleticism to beat defenders, which he could do with ease in high school but not as much in the college game.

Can he succeed in a pick-and-roll system? More importantly, can he see the openings for the pass in the pick-and-roll? His ability to score and get to the rim, plus knock down the three-point shot (he's not as good off the dribble, but at 19, he has time to develop that) are impressive, but does he have the capacity, the understanding of the game, to not only find his own shot but find others, as well? Would he frustrate fellow stars with his tunnel vision the way Douglas often did with Carmelo and Amar'e?

These are all things the Knicks need to investigate thoroughly. And, from what I hear, they are. One thing worth noting is that Carmelo already has a relationship with Selby, a fellow Baltimore product who played in the Team Melo AAU program. It also is noteworthy that Billups has been praising Selby's game after he spent a few days in Las Vegas with and trainer Joe Abunassar working with Selby and a few other draft hopefuls. Two of the team's most important players already know the kid and their input is valuable.

But in the end, it'll be up to D'Antoni, who would have to be convinced that Selby's skill set can complement his stars and fit in his system. We've seen D'Antoni throw big minutes at young players, such as Danilo Gallinari and Landry Fields, and yet completely bury others, such as Jordan Hill and Anthony Randolph. The common thread? Gallinari and Fields are high IQ skill players who quickly acclimated to the system, while Hill and Randolph relied on athleticism and struggled to make quick decisions.

One of the knocks on Selby is he doesn't read defenses well, so he can be bottled up if he can't beat you with his speed or strength. That was something Wilson Chandler dealt with early in his career, but with D'Antoni's guidance, Wilson steadily improved his decision-making and became a valuable part of the rotation.

The Selby gamble is a three-sided die with two positive outcomes and the usual negative alternative that can happen with anyone: 1. he develops into a third scorer and up-tempo guard who can provide a spark off the bench behind Billups. 2. he becomes one of the few gems in an otherwise weak draft and can be used to acquire Paul. 3. He is a complete bust and yet another draft where the Knicks lament their choice.

Though the roster has an obvious need for bigs, this draft just won't have any that spill to No. 17 that will be immediate-impact players.

As for getting lucky, Jimmer Fredette isn't going to fall that far. And for those who want to see the Knicks draft a project -- Lucas Bebe Nogueira, for instance -- this isn't the year, or the team, for that. There's no pick in 2012. The Knicks have to get this one right.

There will be safer bets, such as Reggie Jackson, the pass-first point guard who could be a catalyst for an offense with so many options, or Chris Singleton, a potential Wilson Chandler 2.0 type, or Klay Thompson, a long-range shooter who could give them a little Mike Miller/Kyle Korver look off the bench. And everyone loves Kenneth Faried, who, despite the revelation that he's only 6-6 tall, has the heart and motor that every roster could use.

For the right price, this pick could be packaged and traded, too, perhaps for a veteran player to fill a need elsewhere. That's always an option when you're a team that isn't sure what you want in a draft that doesn't have much to offer. And the Selby move may not be necessary in the end, especially if you can get a young point guard in a trade and fill that need behind Billups.

Ramon Sessions could be that guy. The Knicks may not know who they can get at No. 17, but one thing I've heard is for certain: the Cleveland Cavaliers are definitely taking Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick.

New York Sports