NEW YORK (AP) — Phil Jackson won more championships than anyone as a coach, and seems committed to losing big in his first season as an executive.
Maybe he’s right, and trading J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert for financial reasons is the best and quickest way to build for the future.
But the New York Knicks tried the same strategy just a few years ago and never got close to championship contention, so Jackson will have to do better this summer with the loads of cash he’ll have for free agency and the high draft pick he’ll have courtesy of this miserable season.
There will be around $25 million to spend and eventually maybe more for a free agent class that could include Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rajon Rondo, and whatever other players Jackson hopes will focus more on the dollar signs than the standings.
That’s for later. For now, there will be losses — a lot of them — across another cold basketball winter in New York.
“I think our front office will continue to look at what we can do to replace a couple of these guys, but also how we’re going to build our roster going forward in the short term and in the long term,” coach Derek Fisher said. “So we’re not giving up on what we’re trying to do at this point in terms of this season. I think each move still symbolizes what we need to do in order to try and get better as we build this.”
Already headed toward what could be the worst season in franchise history, the Knicks traded away two of their best players Monday when they sent Smith and Shumpert to Cleveland in a three-team deal that also included Oklahoma City. That frees them from worrying about Smith picking up his $6.4 million option for next season, or deciding on whether to keep Shumpert, a former first-round pick.
New York also waived center Samuel Dalembert.
Losers of 12 in a row and owning an NBA-worst 5-32 record, the Knicks got back nothing that will help them now, especially if Carmelo Anthony remains sidelined by his sore left knee. They have fallen behind the Philadelphia 76ers, who were supposed to be a lock for last, and could look more inept than ever the next time they play at Madison Square Garden, a nationally televised game against Houston on Thursday.
This wasn’t thought to be Jackson’s plan in his first full season as president of operations. He talked of being able to contend for the playoffs — not exactly a big boast in an Eastern Conference where five games below .500 currently means a playoff berth.
But building for the future outweighs salvaging the present. Jackson always had at least two great players on every one of the NBA-record 11 championship teams that he coached, and he knows for now he only has Anthony, to whom he gave a five-year, $124 million contract last summer.
The quest to find another will start at the draft lottery, 30 years after the Knicks won the first one and drafted Patrick Ewing. Then it will heat up July 1, when Jackson will try to persuade players to picture a future in New York while ignoring the present.
That plan sounded good six years ago, when the Knicks traded Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford early in a promising season to set themselves up for a shot at LeBron James in the summer of 2010. They ended up with Amare Stoudemire, whose knees were never the same after that first season and is sidelined again as he nears the expiration of the $100 million deal he signed that summer.
That will leave little on the books beyond the roughly $30 million that will be owed to Anthony and Jose Calderon, whom Jackson acquired last summer from Dallas in his first move. With Tyson Chandler’s strong season for the Mavericks, that trade looks worse each day.
It’s how Jackson does next summer that really matters to the Knicks.
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