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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks are looking ahead to free agency, draft

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson looks on

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson looks on as his team plays against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Phil Jackson saying the Knicks "are going to build our team on free agents" should not have come as any real surprise.

The Knicks don't have many assets to make trades -- Jackson already has moved most of them -- and only one pick in the next two drafts. The high lottery pick in June is an asset and the piece around which many Knicks fans want the team to build.

They could have one of the top four picks, and in all likelihood their highest choice since taking Patrick Ewing first in 1985. But there is no Ewing in this draft, someone who can step up and be a franchise player almost immediately and a team's cornerstone for 12 years or more. Maybe eventually. But not now.

The Knicks will get a very good player, whether it's Jahlil Okafor, D'Angelo Russell, Karl Towns or Willie Cauley-Stein. They're all freshmen except for Cauley-Stein and will need time to develop.

That's what Jackson was saying when he addressed reporters after the team's shootaround Thursday at UCLA.

"You're always amazed at the youth, when you're looking at players that are either in college or potentially players that might come out of college," Jackson said. "In our present day in the NBA, when we have 19- and 20-year-old players coming into the league, and the majority of No. 1 draft picks are that age right now, it's really hard to project what that player is going to be like three years in the first contract situation."

Jackson sounded as if he wouldn't rule out trading the pick, which the Knicks can't do until they make the selection. If Jackson can get a marquee-type player back, you can't blame him, although that's not what Knicks fans want to hear.

If the Knicks keep the pick, of course, they will hope the young man can contribute right away. But there are no guarantees, and the clock is ticking on Jackson, coach Derek Fisher and Carmelo Anthony, who turns 31 in May and is recovering from season-ending knee surgery.

Jackson expects the Knicks to be competitive and in the playoffs next season, making them more attractive to the free-agent class of 2016.

So they have to use most if not all of their roughly $30 million and build through free agency, with veteran players who can make an impact. Money and the big city won't be enough to lure free agents.

Miami Heat president Pat Riley believes in the proven veteran approach as well. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Riley said he would never want to build through the draft.

"Lottery picks are living a life of misery," Riley said. "That season is miserable. And if you do three or four years in a row to get lottery picks, then I'm in an insane asylum. And the fans will be, too. So who wants that?"

Riley was successful in free agency five years ago when LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to Miami to play with Dwyane Wade. They reached four straight NBA Finals and won two titles.

The Knicks would like to duplicate that in 2016, when James and Kevin Durant can be free agents. But that seems like a dream.

Jackson has to worry about this offseason and this summer. Picking the right player in the draft is important, but Jackson needs to sign difference-making free agents to start building something.

(Not) dealing Durant

The chatter has started that Kevin Durantcould be traded if the Thunder doesn't get assurances that he will re-sign with Oklahoma City in 2016. ESPN analyst and former NBA GM Tom Penn speculated that, prompting Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti to shoot it down.

"It's ludicrous to assert that we would trade Kevin," Presti told The Oklahoman. "He has helped build this organization from the ground up and personifies the Thunder: past, present and future. When he's done playing, there will be streets named after him."

Proposal rejected

The NBA players' union rejected the cap-smoothing proposal that would have avoided a huge increase in the salary cap in 2016-17 because of the $24-billion television deal. The league wanted gradual increases.

It's projected that the cap will be $66 million next season and could rise to about $90 million beginning in 2016-17.

That means some players might sign one-year deals this summer, or two years with a player option after one. Also, players with opt- outs this summer, such as Kevin Love and Roy Hibbert, might decide to play out their contracts and wait until next summer to get major bumps.

Raising age limit?

Phil Jackson would like to see the NBA raise the age limit of its players. It's currently 19. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants it to be 20, but the players' union doesn't agree.

"There's no doubt I think everybody would like to see that happen," Jackson said. "Everybody but perhaps the agents that are out there that are the ones making the money. The players' union or association has yet to come out and take a stance in that direction. But they need to do that. I think that's an important part of it.

"Once in a while, you get a player like LeBron [James] or you get a player like [Kevin] Durant. You get players like that, but that's few and far between in the draft. Unfortunately, we have a lot of kids that don't make it to that and . . . struggle."


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