You could accuse Knicks management of many faults, failings, sins, and crimes against reason during the James Dolan Era, but you cannot say they have ever lacked for balls. They made big, bold moves whenever the mood struck, and they didn't give a damn about what pundits or fans thought about them. You don't trade for Steve Francis to pair with Stephon Marbury in the backcourt if you're afraid of bucking consensus.
In some respect, Phil Jackson's decision to select Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 fits very neatly into that tradition. It sent shockwaves through basketball Twitter and caused the fans in Barclays Arena to dissolve into a booing, weeping mass of grief:
Knicks fans boooooooing Kristaps Porzingis... And crying. Made my night! pic.twitter.com/ARBPHAi7A1— John Clark CSN (@JClarkCSN) June 26, 2015
What were the Knicks thinking? There were so many safer routes to take.
But here is where the comparisons to the traditional Knicks method of team-building end: the Porzingis pick may have been controversial, it may have been ballsy, but it wasn't short-term ballsy. As soon as we heard the pick, the pessimists among us expected a trade, probably for a veteran and a more pro-ready pick (*cough* Frank Kaminsky *cough*). But that trade never came. Phil chose to cast his lot instead with the skinny kid with the buttery jumper.
And, good golly, is there ever a heap of butter, margarine, Crisco and even a smidgen of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter dripping off that J.
Porzingis has the length, unlimited range and lateral quickness of the perfect modern big man. For all his proselytizing about the Triangle, for all his #goink diatribes against the three-pointer, Phil ultimately brushed aside much of that talk in favor of a big who isn't physically ready to operate out of the post in the NBA. It was telling that Phil basically ignored Chris Broussard's questions about Triangle fit in his ESPN interview. Maybe Porzingis becomes a Triangle fit, maybe he doesn't -- what's more important to Jackson was drafting the best player available.
And make no mistake: teams didn't fall in love with this kid based solely on a single June workout. Porzingis ranked No. 1 on Marc J. Spears' list of top international prospects way back on December 9 -- higher than Mudiay, higher than Hezonja. Here's what the scouts had to say then:
He is a top-three prospect. He's a Dirk Nowitzki-type but more athletic. He runs the floor, plays above the rim and is a face-up guy. He has a shot at being the No. 1 pick and is definitely in the top three.
December 9 is a lifetime ago in the world of prospect hype -- at that time, Jahlil Okafor was still pretty much the consensus No. 1 prospect, and D'Angelo Russell didn't crack the majority of Top 10 lists.
The Porzingis pick would feel a hell of a lot better if the Knicks had their 2016 first-rounder and were 100-percent committed to a true rebuild, but that ship sailed long ago. Jackson mitigated that sting somewhat with the heist of Jerian Grant and the intriguing draft-and-stash of Willie Hernangomez. The Knicks added some exciting young prospects for next season, and a potential first-round talent for 2016-17. Considering the roster Jackson inherited, that is a damn coup.
Will the Knicks' newfound in young talent pay dividends next season? Probably not. Jackson will have to turn to free agency for immediate impact. Given what transpired Thursday night, however, he doesn't seem terribly interested in anything but the long game. His gambit might backfire, as all Knickerbocker schemes seem to do, but he's playing the game like a man more concerned with building a champion than with reaching .500 next season. Whether or not you agree with the Kristaps Porzingis pick, you have to admire that sentiment.