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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Latest Knicks’ rebuild is in awkward stage

New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. brings

New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. brings the ball up court against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden. Oct. 21, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

A tale of two rebuilds was on full display last night at Madison Square Garden.

On the court were the New York Knicks, a supposedly young and exciting team that had recently been freed from tyrannies of Phil Jackson and his triangle offense. And on nearly everyone’s mobile phone were New York Yankees, a genuinely young and exciting team that ignored all rebuilding timetables and was one win away from playing in the World Series.

Sigh. You have to feel a little for the Knicks. Here it was their home opener, the one guaranteed hope-filled night of the season, the one calendar date where they ought to be able to fully own the hearts and minds of their city’s sports fans. And as fate would have it, the Yankees were simultaneously playing at Houston in a winner-take-all ALCS Game 7.

And maybe that’s a good thing, because then they didn’t have to watch the Knicks blow a 21-point en route to a 111-107 loss to the Pistons. They didn’t have to watch a young team that couldn’t step on the necks of a beatable opponent despite getting 33 points from Kristaps Porzingis.

That’s right. KP scored 33 and the Knicks lost. Something tells me that’s not the last time this season that this is going to be the storyline.

This Knicks rebuild isn’t going to be anywhere near as fun or easy to watch as the Yankees rebuild. While the Yankees defied expectations by getting to ALCS in the second year of their youth movement, the Knicks’ chances of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals next season are roughly equivalent to my chances of winning a Pulitzer Prize for this column.

For 15 years, with the exception of one or two seasons, the Knicks have been rebuilding in one fashion or another. This rebuild, however, stands out from the rest in that it is close to a total tear down. Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry made it clear even before trading Carmelo Anthony that they were going for a total reboot, that they were taking the long view.

While there’s some thought that maybe this should have happened three years ago — a thought that Phil Jackson should have found a way to trade Anthony when he could have gotten a lot for him instead of giving him a new contract with what ended up being a very problematic no trade clause — Knicks fans are so relieved to have a reprieve from the drama of the Jackson years that they seem to have accepted the reality of a total rebuild around the 7-3 Porzingis.

There are more than a few team executives around the league who wouldn’t mind having a player like Porzingis to put some pieces around. Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons coach and president of basketball operations, certainly is impressed.

“He’s a really talented guy with great size,” Van Gundy said before the game. “Out on the perimeter, he’s a really tough cover for bigger guys. And if you go smaller, he can shoot over you on the inside. There’s no easy matchup for him. He’s going to be a nightmare for years to come in this league.”

What the Knicks need to hope is that he remains their nightmare-enducer. Porzingis, indeed, is the Aaron Judge of their rebuild. And as much as he says he likes playing here, the drama of it all clearly took its toll on him at the end of last season when he blew off his exit interview.

There are plenty of land mines that could make things difficult for the team.

Porzingis is the only known quantity. Tim Hardaway Jr. may end up being a decent player, but he is forever going to be judged by the fact the Knicks overpaid to get him. Expectations may also be unfairly high for point guard Frank Ntilikina, a No. 8 draft pick made by Jackson.

Right now, it looks to be a long season. The question is whether it will be worth it.

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