After missing out on one of the top three picks in Thursday’s draft, the New York Knicks have a difficult decision to make with the fourth overall pick, one that figures to have a major affect on the one year old tenure of team president Phil Jackson. Even with close to $30 million to spend in free agency, the team has so many holes and weaknesses that it has to nail every personnel decision it makes, and when decision involves a player that has his entire career ahead of him and could be worthy building the team around given Carmelo Anthony’s age and injuries, it becomes that more crucial to the team’s success in both the near- and long-term future of the franchise.

18077632-mmmainWith Minnesota rumored to be taking Karl Anthony-Towns with the first pick, and the Lakers thought to want Jahlil Okafor to pair with Julius Randle long-term, the intrigue of the draft starts with the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been linked to nearly every prospect ranked after the two bigs. The choice seems to be down to Emmanuel Mudiay, D’Angelo Russell, and Kristaps Porzingis, who has risen up draft charts in recent weeks. The Knicks are thought to be highest on Russell, and are rumored to be contemplating trading the fourth pick if he is taken ahead of them.

Right now though, with Knicks only having four players under guaranteed contracts for next season, the need to maximize that pick is pressing for a franchise that won less than 20 games last season and still couldn’t get the first overall selection. As a result the Knicks have entered into preliminary discussions with several teams that would involve trading the fourth pick, with the ideal package being a pick in the top 15, paired with a young player the team can build around and play next to Anthony for the next four years.

ty-lawsonThe Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons have all been linked to the Knicks as trading partners within the last week. The Nuggets are shopping point guard Ty Lawson and also own the seventh pick, but seeing as how Denver was asking for two first round picks for Lawson at the trading deadline, it seems highly unlikely they would settle for one pick, even in the top five, while also giving up a pick in the process.

The Pistons were rumored to be interested in Tim Hardaway, Jr. while reportedly shopping Brandon Jennings, recovering from an Achilles’ tear, in a report denied by president/coach Stan Van Gundy, who presumably putting the end to any deal by stating his pick wasn’t being traded. Because one would think the Knicks would require the Pistons’ pick with Jennings due to the risk for Hardaway (likely without a pick returning to Detroit due to Hardaway’s age and lesser contract), this would rule them out as a trade partner.

The trade report that should make Knicks’ fans excited is the story from Sean Deveney of the Sporting News, who stated the Suns engaged New York in discussions for the fourth pick that would have seen the Knicks get explosive combo guard Eric Bledsoe and the 13th pick in the draft. Given the Knicks dearth of talent and the reality of what free agency may not bring them this season, turning the fourth pick into two guaranteed starters would be a best case scenario. Bledsoe, 25, started his career in Los Angeles with the Clippers, before being traded to Phoenix as part of a three team trade. Since then has averaged over 30 minutes a game, while scoring over 17 points a game, and is still young enough to grow in the right system. At 6’1″, he is built more as a point guard but has played better when paired with a quality point guard while being allowed to play as a shooting guard who can distribute, and he set a career high in assists this season as a result (6.1 per game). While he has missed over 20 games in two of his five seasons in the league, he was able to play 81 games this past season, hopefully putting his fragile reputation of years’ past behind him.

usa-today-8280751.0The risk in the trade for the Knicks, outside of Bledsoe’s health, is the drop in talent from what they can choose from at the four spot down to the 13th. In addition to Russell, the Knicks have shown interest in small forward Justise Winslow from Duke, center Frank Kaminsky from Wisconsin, and point guard Cameron Payne from Murray State. Highly touted power forwards such as Bobby Portis from Arkansas, Trey Lyles from Kentucky, and and Kevon Looney from UCLA could all be on the board as well, meaning the Knicks would conceivably still have a choice of a potential starter or two if they move down to the high teens. If they make the trade and Payne is available, the Knicks could have a remade backcourt in Payne and Bledsoe, one that could compliment each other and allow Payne to learn on the job, while given Anthony potentially the best backcourt he has had on the Knicks. If available, Kaminsky would fill a major hole long-term, and take the onus off New York having to pursue Marc Gasol or Brook Lopez in free agency (as both would appear to be long shots). All three power forwards are ranked within the top 20 on most prospect rankings, and Looney in particular was profiled as being a good fit for New York recently on ESPN.com.

While this trade would still have a long way to go before being finalized, the point is that the Knicks are in a desperate position of needing to overhaul its lineup, and will have to contend with free agents who might not be eager to play on a rebuilding team. The Knicks are expected to pursue players like Tobias Harris, Greg Monroe, Wesley Matthews, and Patrick Beverly. The problem is most of these players will want max contracts of as much as $13- $15 million per year. With Anthony’s contract of $25 million still on the books the need to reduce cost becomes that much greater, because $32 million in cap space can be spent relatively quickly. While Bledsoe’s contract is for $14 million a year over five seasons, if he can be added with a lesser draft pick who would require less of a salary than the fourth pick, the Knicks would add two starters while still having close to $20 million in cap space remaining to add another starter (or two) to help make them a better team than last year.

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