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Knicks seem to be turning to talent development

Enes Kanter of the Knicks reacts after a

Enes Kanter of the Knicks reacts after a basket in the first half against the Nets at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 30. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Knicks appear to be all-in on developing from within in 2018-19 before going outside for game-changers and potential franchise-changers next summer.

“We’re not going to be highly active people in the summer,” general manager Scott Perry said of this offseason.

Things can change, of course. But the Knicks won’t have much room to spend in free agency and are not built to win now. So don’t expect them to make a push for LeBron James despite his relationship with new Knicks coach David Fizdale.

Their plan is to not sign anyone to long-term deals and to shed contracts that have more than one year remaining. That means Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah might not be Knicks much longer.

Enes Kanter has an $18.6-million option that he needs to make a decision on by the end of the month. The Knicks are not expected to give him a multiyear deal if he opts out, so odds are Kanter, who loves New York, will pick up his option. The Knicks would be fine with that.

The Knicks’ resources will be limited this summer. Their goal is to have the necessary salary-cap room in 2019, when the likes of Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love will be free agents.

There already are rumblings about Irving’s desire to join the Knicks. He listed them among his preferred destinations when he asked out of Cleveland.

The Knicks want to make New York a desirable location again for free agents. That’s what makes whatever they do this summer and the development of their players critical.

Kristaps Porzingis, who is rehabbing from a torn ACL, could be a draw. Irving said he would love to play with Porzingis. If they could stay healthy, they would make a dynamic combination.

Because there are no guarantees, it’s on Fizdale and head of player development Craig Robinson to get the most out of Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Damyean Dotson and draft picks Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

The Knicks have missed the playoffs for five straight seasons. You probably can pencil in a sixth unless there are some unforeseeable major upgrades and Porzingis returns much sooner than expected. It would be surprising if he’s back before January 2019. That makes player development huge for a team that has been touting that for months now.

Fizdale said the young players “got to swim now” and didn’t rule out starting Knox, who will turn 19 in August, as a rookie.

Fizdale said he doesn’t necessarily see a starting small forward on the roster, which is another indication that the Knicks will look to trade Lee, who has two years and $25 million left on his contract. Lee is a natural shooting guard.

Fizdale said he wants more size at that position to guard LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other big small forwards. The Knicks likely would have Lance Thomas guard them. But Knox is 6-9. His body and game are still growing and developing. Maybe the correct move is to let him swim.

This makes sense considering where the Knicks are now and what they want to be. They continue to talk about building something sustainable. If a team doesn’t have superstars, that means developing players. The Celtics, Jazz and Heat have done well using that approach.

Fizdale talked about his time in Miami after James returned to Cleveland. He said the Heat coaches “got in the gym, got to work and put our heads down” and focused on developing Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside and Justice Winslow.

That background with the Heat is one of the reasons the Knicks hired Fizdale. He said the Knicks’ young players already have been putting in work. Ntilikina, Mudiay and Dotson were at Friday’s news conference introducing the draft picks. “We’ve had no less than seven guys in here every day,” Fizdale said.

Now Knox and Robinson will join that group as the Knicks go forward with their developmental program and plan. They have never really tried that approach before, but it’s necessary now and critical for the growth of the players and the franchise.

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