Let me get this straight: The Knicks came off a 17-win nightmare season and had enough money to get a premier talent like LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, only to have Phil Jackson insist that the perennial All-Star forward had to switch positions, effectively killing any chances of landing someone who could help Carmelo Anthony right away?
If you’re a Knicks fan, that’s the latest piece of incriminating evidence that exposes Jackson as a one-time iconic coach who has been a major failure as a team president and is in desperate need of someone to show him how to get the Knicks back to being relevant.
This latest bit of depressing news for Knicks fans came directly from Aldridge, among the best NBA forwards and the summer’s top free agent who left Portland last month. While he had interest in joining Anthony, he never got close to the Garden, instead choosing the most logical path to a title when he went home to Texas to join the NBA’s model franchise.
The Spurs only happen to be the opposite of what we have here in New York and they might have won the battle for the 6-11 Aldridge, anyway, because they can sell winning immediately a lot easier than Jackson can.
Aldridge held court in Las Vegas, where he and Anthony are among 35 of the NBA’s top players attending a three-day camp for Team USA prospects for next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Aldridge told reporters that he was “excited’’ to meet with the Knicks, only to cancel his sit-down with Jackson, after he had been told that he’d have to move from power forward to center so that rookie Kristaps Porzingis could begin his career at power forward.
“They were saying they wanted me to be more of a center to let their guy develop and I just wasn’t looking to be that,” Aldridge said at the UNLV practice gym. “So I was looking to play power forward, and they weren’t really interested.”
It’s unconscionable that the Knicks weren’t interested in trying to do everything to accommodate Aldridge, who has averaged more than 21 ppg the last five seasons and more than 10 rebounds the last two campaigns. It’s not as if they can be picky here. The roster is light on big-time, front-line talent.
While it’s important to build through the draft, first and foremost they need stars to put on the court with Anthony, who doesn’t have many quality seasons left.
“If they’re going to tell me that I have to play center and I don’t want to play center, then of course it’s mutual after that,’’ Aldridge said of the Knicks’ doomed pitch. “But before that I was excited to meet with them. I was interested. But they wanted to have their draft pick play and I get it.’’
Again: For Jackson to tell the 30-year old Aldridge that he was giving his 20-year old rookie precedence over a proven commodity who could have helped the Knicks get back to the playoffs this season is mind-boggling, unless Jackson really knows that he drafted the next Dirk Nowitzki. But Jackson can’t know that, by the way, because Porzingis just turned 20 and hasn’t even played one pre-season game.
Aldridge wasn’t just blowing smoke about his interest in coming to the Knicks, revealing that he and Anthony texted one other before he left Portland, and had mutual friends pass messages along.
“I was interested,” Aldridge said. “I talked to other guys to see if they were interested in going there, too.’’
In other words, he wasn’t even a Knick but he had already started the process of trying to recruit other free agents to come to the Big Apple with him.
Sounds like a plan, only to have Jackson blow it up. What Jackson did is almost as much as a joke as Derek Fisher trying to get Anthony to stop talking to reporters out in Vegas, when he finally met with the media for the first time since February.
Fisher didn’t need to try to impersonate one of those Knicks PR staffers who get in the way of a good interview. Anthony is always very careful with his public comments, a good company man who takes care of the Garden. And here, he didn’t disappoint when he weighed in about the unimpressive collection of role players Jackson spent close to $100 million on this summer after taking a pass on Aldridge.
“Honestly, I thought we did a great job as far as putting the pieces we needed to put together,’’ Anthony said. “We didn’t get DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus, Greg Monroe, but (Robin Lopez) is a great addition. (Arron) Afflalo I played with a long time (in Denver). (Kyle) O’Quinn is a great pickup, guys will like him as a big. Derrick Williams, we’ll get him right. He seemed focused. We’re trying to get this thing off right.’’
It’s not easy, not when Phil Jackson is busy turning away players like LaMarcus Aldridge.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter.