I remember how abruptly the conversation with Dell Curry ended that night during the 2009 NBA Draft. We had been in contact for weeks leading up to the draft, discussing the mutual admiration between his son, Steph, and the Knicks.
But once the Golden State Warriors announced their pick, the Knicks were as forgotten as my last text.
Going into that night, the Knicks were, as Steph said himself, “the best fit.” He spoke openly about his preference to land at the Knicks pick, at 8th overall, and play in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Even his agent, Jeff Austin, made it clear to other teams, including the Warriors, that Curry’s focus was on New York.
We know what happens next. The Warriors, undaunted, took Curry at No. 7, just one pick before the Knicks were on the clock. Donnie Walsh, then president of the Knicks, was devastated.
“If they were one spot higher,” Austin told Harvey Araton recently, “where would they be now?”
Six years later, the Warriors are the world champions and Curry is the MVP. The Knicks are back in the lottery and are eyeing another Curry-like scenario in D’Angelo Russell.
“I think I can definitely thrive there,” the 19-year-old from Ohio State told ESPN.com.
Russell, a 6-foot-5 lefty with uncanny court vision, would be considered a prototypical guard in the Triangle Offense. There is plenty about his game to love and forecast all-star potential. Knicks team president Phil Jackson even cost himself a hefty fine for saying Russell is a “great-looking kid, great prospect” after watching him play in college.
Russell has met with the Knicks a few times and twice has worked out for the team. More than just on-court scouting, Jackson and Derek Fisher have put Russell — like most of the prospects — through a Chalk Talk session that lasts as long as a half an hour. In these sessions, the players are given a brief tutorial of the fundamentals of the Triangle Offense and asked for input.
Remember, Jackson said early last season he is looking for “learners.”
Count Russell in among them.
“I asked them what’s one thing I can do to separate myself and they gave me some great knowledge on that,” he said in the interview with ESPN.com. “They’ve seen the greatest of the greats come through this league, so they know what it takes.”
All of this would lead to a foregone conclusion on draft night if only the Knicks dropped just one spot in the lottery, to No. 3, instead of two spots, to No. 4. With the Timberwolves all but locked in on Karl Anthony Towns at No. 1 and the Lakers seemingly prepared to snare Jahlil Okafor at No. 2, the wild card remains the third overall pick, which is held by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Does anyone really know what Sam Hinkie and the Sixers will do? History suggests they will do the unconventional. The last two years they drafted a player who was injured and would miss their rookie season (Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid). With those two big men in the fold, one would think the Sixers, after trading away another former lottery pick, Michael Carter-Williams, are in the market for a guard.
But wait, the latest information on Embiid says his foot injury has not healed properly and he may require surgery. The Sixers are facing the prospect of him missing the start of the season. And another lottery pick, Dario Saric, is reportedly staying in Europe for at least two more seasons.
Would that motivate the Sixers to try another talented big man, Latvian Kristaps Porzingis, in this year’s draft? Porzingis, who is 7-feet tall with a huge wingspan and rare athleticism and perimeter talent, has been among the buzz in the Top-5 throughout the predraft process.
He is, however, considered a long-term project that has huge potential. The Sixers have made their fans wait for several years now through a long rebuild. The conventional move would be to take Russell at No. 3, but there are whispers they are strongly considering taking Porzingis.
There are also whispers that Russell has given the Sixers the cold shoulder. He even cancelled a recently workout, but it was rescheduled. Russell has since dismissed any talk that he doesn’t want to be drafted by Philadelphia.
But with the Knicks sitting at No. 4, just one pick away, it is clear Russell has a preference.
That’s what will make draft night once again an arduous night for the Knicks war room, not to mention their fans. Will the words of Jeff Austin, the agent of Steph Curry, echo again?
“If they were one spot higher….”
If Russell is gone, who would the Knicks then take? Here are a few alternatives:
If the Sixers take Russell, he will be available. Porzingis is 19 years old and already measuring at 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. The issue is he’s just 230 pounds, which suggests he won’t be able to handle the physicality of the NBA game right away. ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told me he has a lot of Dirk Nowitzki in his game, but also admitted he has “bust potential.” The Knicks went to Las Vegas to watch him work out and reportedly invited him in for a workout Monday.
Another 19 year old with some mystery. He’s 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and great athleticism, but he spent the winter playing in China after a transcript issue — no fault of his own — led to eligibility issues at SMU. He played just 12 games as a pro in China due to an injury and is mostly living off a reputation as one of the top high school recruits from 2014 and YouTube videos. The Knicks have met with him several times and had him in for a workout and a similar video/skull session that Russell and others have endured. There does not seem to be a great deal of enthusiasm around him, however, from any of the Top-5 teams.
Athletic, tough and talented with the exact kind of character you love to add to your locker room. The only question with Winslow involves his size: He measured 6-foot-6 ½ and 222 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine, which means he is a wing player in the NBA. In college, he played mostly power forward. Does he have enough of a perimeter game to thrive on the wing at the NBA level?
Defensively versatile big man who has Tyson Chandler potential, but that means he’s just as limited as Chandler on offense. Aside from lobs and the occasional put-back, you’re not going to get much out of him at that end of the floor. But on defense he has the ability to guard all five positions and fill a lot of holes that can help improve your five-man play dramatically. The question is: Do you take a defensive specialist in the Top-5 or do you trade down a few spots where he is projected to land?
Trading down out of the four-spot is an option both Jackson and Steve Mills have acknowledged. There are several teams looking to make a move up in the draft and the Knicks could try to land a veteran player in a swap of picks. Along with Cauley-Stein, the Knicks could move down the order and still come away with the likes of a Frank Kamensky, Trey Liles or even Kevon Looney, whom all have the skill set to fit in the Triangle philosophy.
The Knicks, of course, prefer to stay at four and make a pick. But only if their best option is still on the board.