NEW YORK – The first big stop for James Dolan’s plane will be to pick up Patrick Ewing, if the Hall of Famer wants a lift to Chicago to represent the Knicks at the draft lottery.
Maybe later it could fly Kevin Durant and another superstar to New York.
With the right mix of lottery luck and summer shopping, the Knicks know the chance is there to quickly improve what was the NBA’s worst record this season.
“We’re excited,” Knicks President Steve Mills said Wednesday, “and we’re not going to hide that we’re excited and we’re optimistic about what we hope the summer leads to.”
But, he added, the Knicks are also realistic. They’ve created the financial flexibility to give themselves the possibility to sign or trade for All-Star players this summer, but there are no guarantees of getting anyone. Especially because Mills said the Knicks would only target players who are on board with the way they want to build a team that can compete for a championship and not just a playoff spot.
First, the Knicks go into the May 14 lottery with a 14% chance of landing the No. 1 pick after finishing with a 17-65 record that matched the worst in franchise history.
It was Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman and Knicks owner, who called Mills with the idea of having Ewing represent the team on stage. Ewing was the prize when the Knicks won the first lottery in 1985, and he accepted the Knicks’ offer once he knew it wouldn’t interfere with his recruiting schedule as Georgetown coach.
Under the league’s new lottery rules, the team with the worst record could tumble all the way to the No. 5 pick.
“Our job is to prepare for every possible scenario,” general manager Scott Perry said. “So we know going into this draft we can either end up with 1, best-case scenario, 5, quote-unquote worst-case scenario, and we work all year long to be very prepared to tackle either scenario. And we’ll be comfortable doing so.”
Perry added it was too soon to even discuss whether the Knicks would consider trading the pick, wherever it falls.
No matter who the Knicks get during the offseason, they will need to determine who they want back from a team that was full of players who will become free agents. Mills said every player they met with after the season expressed an interest in returning in 2019-20.
He, Perry and coach David Fizdale responded to that with honest talk about the possibilities.
“We tell the guys, ‘This is what you did great, this is what you need to improve on. Assuming you get better at these things, we’d love to have you back as part of our group, depending on what happens with the draft, depending on what happens with free agency and also depending on what the business of this league looks like,“’ Mills said.
“We’ve had a lot of guys that improved in games over the course of this season and they may be in a position that no matter what we do, we may not have enough money to pay what they’re going to get paid from someone else.”
There would be even less money left if the Knicks are able to sign two maximum salary players. Rounding out a roster to complement them would be challenging.
“That would be a good problem to have and to figure out,” Perry said.
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