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Phil Jackson has a broken heart and broken team entering the offseason — admitting the exit interviews a disillusioned Kristaps Porzingis blew off were “one of our most disappointing ones we’ve had.’’
There is no way to fix a broken egg, and maybe no way to fix the broken Knicks, but we will attempt to decipher Jackson’s grand plan for the draft and free agency.
Jackson finally laid out a plan after snubbing the local media for seven months, indicating his breakup with Jeanie Buss was one cause of his silence. Jackson’s 49-minute presser acknowledged a clearer defensive strategy being needed next season, including defending the pick-and-roll. Incessant triangle talk obscures the fact the Knicks’ 31-51 season was due to failure to make stops in their multitude of final-possession losses.
According to The Vertical, Porzingis is planning a long trip back to Latvia and may not return to New York until close to the start of training camp, avoiding the practice facility where Jackson is expected to have more triangle clinics. Porzingis told The Post this week he had no interest in representing the Knicks on the lottery dais May 17 because he would be in Latvia.
“The glaring issue this season was defense — both team and individual,’’ former Knicks scout Scott McGuire told The Post. “Winning in team sports is a lot of work, commitment and sacrifice, and the defensive part was lacking big time.’’
Coach Jeff Hornacek’s most honest statement came in January when he said the roster may have players “just not capable” of playing defense. The remark didn’t sit well in the locker room but it was dead on. Before the season finale Wednesday, Hornacek said adding one defensive-minded player could change it. Losing one defensively lax player also could help, which is why Jackson wants to ship Carmelo Anthony.
“Sometimes it just takes getting one other player in here that lends that,’’ Hornacek said.
Among the free-agent wing defenders: Andre Iguodala, who could slip in nicely to replace Anthony as starting small forward; P.J. Tucker, who loves Hornacek from Phoenix; and Memphis stalwart Tony Allen. Rugged-defending combo forward Taj Gibson is a New Yorker and has told confidants of his desire to one day play for the Knicks.
Jackson denied the coaching staff wasn’t focused on defense.
“Ninety percent of the time when I’m in with the coaches and we’re in film sessions talking about the game, it’s about defense,’’ Jackson said.
The Knicks president said they went more to the triangle offense in February to help transition defense, but that didn’t help the pick-and-roll D, which he branded as the most critical skill in modern times.
“That has to be everything about what you’re defensively, do you switch, do you have guys that are capable of switching?’’ Jackson said.
Jackson credited undrafted rookie Ron Baker for his “on-ball defense’’ late in the season reshaping the club’s mindset. Jackson also said he will “recommended full-court pressure as an alternative.’’
Especially with Anthony’s scoring sorely being missed, the Knicks will struggle mightily if their defense doesn’t rise to the NBA’s top level. Porzingis has talked about the unclear vision of repeatedly changing defensive stratagems.
“Some of the guys came in with preconceived ideas of how they wanted to play defense, then physically they weren’t able to play defense in the format they wanted to,’’ Jackson said. “That became a push and pull between the coaches and players.’’
Jackson may be fooling himself if he thinks he will net a bona-fide 20-point scorer in return for Anthony, but Boston’s defensive forward Jae Crowder — a Zen Master fave — would be a nice haul.
The Knicks could add a stout small-forward defender in the draft, but they’ll have to get lucky with ping-pong balls to get there for Kansas’ 6-foot-8 two-way stud Josh Jackson.
The prevailing theory is the Knicks will draft a point guard. But Jackson hasn’t ruled out re-signing Derrick Rose, because they need scoring without Anthony and Jackson’s belief Porzingis isn’t ready for No. 1-option status. Problem is, Rose has lost his way on defense, is even a larger injury risk and doesn’t have good chemistry with Porzingis.
Tied for the sixth-worst record, the Knicks have a 5.3 percent chance of landing the top pick, but probabilities are they pick in the Nos. 5-8 range. Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball are the top-two rated point guards, but getting Kentucky’s high-motoring De’Aaron Fox may be a fine consolation as a two-way lead guard with size.
If Jackson doesn’t land a point guard in the draft, the free-agent market is decent. He will have no shot with Anthony ally Chris Paul, but Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday (whose brother Justin is a Knicks free agent), George Hill, Shaun Livingston and Kyle Lowry are fair game. Lowry’s agent is Jersey-based Andy Miller, who represents three Knicks (Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O’Quinn). Cap space is an issue, however. Even if the Knicks renounce Rose, they’ll have just $22 million of cap room to spend. That could increase as one of the assets of an Anthony trade.
The Knicks also have two second-round picks this June. Jackson said his college scouts aren’t looking for the best athlete, but team-oriented, cerebral skills being more important because of their triangle future. That is why his former Bulls scout, Clarence Gaines Jr., is so treasured.
“We know what we want and we are interested in developing that and turning away from just say this guy can jump out of the gym, this guy can do a triple-double game or dunk the ball,’’ Jackson said. “That is not what we are interested in. We are interested in skill players that know how to play together in team form.”
Jackson said he “didn’t come here just particularly to win a championship,” adding this young core is “three or four years’’ away from competing for a title. But with Anthony likely gone, homing in on defense, teamwork and better coaching is the Knicks’ lone chance of escaping a fourth straight nightmare season.
Breaking down the roster
SF Carmelo Anthony: Big longshot to stick — maybe if Phil Jackson quits or can’t find a good deal outside Sacramento.
PG Derrick Rose: Free agent could be used in sign-and-trade for draft pick or kept on modest, risk-free one-year deal.
PF Kristaps Porzingis: Frustrated exit-interview boycotter no longer is untouchable, but hard to see getting back equal value for 7-foot-3 future All-Star if he is unhappy Anthony is a goner.
SF Mindaugas Kuzminskas: Hit rookie wall but still is Jackson favorite as team-oriented, triangle type who moves well without ball but must defend with more tenacity.
PG Ron Baker: Free agent got the biggest kudos during Jackson’s press conference as example of how to defend fiercely. A keeper.
SF Lance Thomas: Missed final 11 games with mysterious hip injury. Despite being injury-prone, defensive mindset is cherished.
SG Courtney Lee: Knicks overpaid but he played well enough. Will be more aggressive as a scorer next season if not dealt.
SF Justin Holiday: A free agent, only Knick to play all 82 games but may get a sizable payday elsewhere. Worth keeping if it also attracts brother Jrue because of his two-way game.
C Willy Hernangomez: A building-block bargain on a multi-year deal, showed rebounding, post and passing skills, but needs to defend pick-and-roll better. Porzingis’ best friend.
C Marshall Plumlee: Undrafted free agent needs option picked up by July’s summer league. Showed enough brassy play and finished with a bang.
C Kyle O’Quinn: Deep at this position, could be trade piece with modest contract as backup big man who weaved some great games off bench.
C Joakim Noah: As Rose might say, do they have choice? Contract/surgeries make him untradeable, but no longer starter.
PG Chasson Randle: February signing didn’t overwhelm but showed Jackson has a knack for triangle and some defense as insurance PG.
SG Sasha Vujacic: Wouldn’t be bad as assistant coach next season for triangle brain but he wants to play more and may depart.
SF Maurice Ndour: Showed defensive grittiness and scoring ability in final games after being off the map.