Knicks explore swapping No. 4 pick and moving down
The Knicks should start reaping the "rewards" this week for having the worst record in franchise history, but they have to hope they get luckier in Thursday's NBA Draft than they did in the lottery for the top positions.
As the only team to slip in the lottery, the Knicks, who finished with the league's second-worst record, will pick fourth in a top-heavy draft. But unless one of the projected top three players -- Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor or D'Angelo Russell -- falls, it wouldn't be surprising if the Knicks traded the pick.
"If you're the Knicks, you're probably looking to deal the pick," a league source said. "If I'm them, I'm actively looking to see what we can get for the pick. Actively."
All indications are that the Knicks are doing just that.
They've worked out roughly 30 players, including Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Justise Winslow, Frank Kaminsky, Trey Lyles, Kevon Looney and Cameron Payne.
Many of them are projected to go lower than fourth, so it's clear the Knicks are seeing what's available in the event they trade down. If so, it likely would be for a pick and a veteran player who can help them now.
Team president Phil Jackson, who believed the Knicks were a playoff team before last season began, doesn't want to be in the lottery again next year. The Knicks don't have a first-round pick in the 2016 draft, having traded it to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani.
"There are a lot of teams that call, but you don't get that many calls from teams who are picking from, let's just say, 15 to 30," general manager Steve Mills told The New York Times. "So we're diligent in trying to be open to thinking about whether there's a combination of a good player plus a move down that we think rounds out our roster and puts us in a better position to build this team and move it forward.
"At the same time, we understand that we're going to get a really good player that can be a part of where we're going long term at No. 4."
After going 17-65, the Knicks hoped to land a top-two pick and be in position to take Towns or Okafor. The two big men are expected to go first and second to the Timberwolves and Lakers, respectively. The 76ers pick third, and they're usually a draft wild card under general manager Sam Hinkie.
Russell is the popular pick. But if Philadelphia goes big and takes Porzingas and Russell falls to the Knicks, the Ohio State guard might be too good to pass up.
If not, Cauley-Stein makes sense because the Knicks need size and defense. But four might be a little high for him, so they could see if they can get him later.
"We have no big men," Jackson said. "So we're seeing what can we add to our team that will move us along and make us a better team, and we'll have to fill out that big possibility with some free agents if we end up going smaller with wings and guards in the draft. But there's some good players.
"This is a draft that everybody feels like, in the lottery, from 1 through 14, there's really good players, and a lot of good players that will be there in the later part of the first round, too. History tells us that 1 through 10 usually indicates that you're going to get a starter at some level."
The Knicks also are set to have more than $25 million for free agency. They'd love to be in play for All-Stars Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, but it's more likely they will end up with Pistons big man Greg Monroe.
They should have enough to add some guards and wing players. But Monroe has been linked to the Knicks all year and is a good fit for the triangle, which remains Jackson's offense of choice.
"I don't think the offensive system has to take a backseat to anything we do," Jackson said. "We're looking for people who want to play a full basketball game, that want to be able to make plays, that want to be able to do things that are a credit to their skills.
"I think people that want to play the full game have seen that demonstrated, and if they're interested in doing that, they know that this system can feature what they can do. And we have people who are interested. So we feel good about that."
The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, Madison Square
Garden and Cablevision.
Cablevision owns Newsday.