Shortly after 9pm on Tuesday, Knicks’ General Manager Steve Mills was on the ballroom floor at the Hilton Midtown Hotel that was doubling as a television studio, answering the questions being asked in his direction at a rapid-fire pace. Mills, in his usual calm, almost emotionless demeanor, replied to most with some variation of how the Knicks knew they could get a great player through any one of the first five picks of June’s NBA Draft.
However his body language just minutes earlier on the dais, as NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announced the fourth pick would go to the Knicks, belied any words Mills said after the fact. Unlike when Dave DeBuscherre pounded the table in exaltation after winning the right to draft Patrick Ewing in 1985, this time ESPN cameras captured Mills dropping his head and slumping his shoulders, knowing that a chance at drafting a franchise-changing big man like Karl Anthony-Towns or Jahlil Okafor, had slipped away. The image captured an entire fan base’s emotions at that precise moment.
The Knicks couldn’t even win for losing.
“Sure, there’s a little disappointment,” Mills reiterated later. “Obviously we would have liked to receive the higher pick. But we went into this knowing anywhere between one and five we were going to get a good player. We went into this very optimistic and we will remain that way.”
The Knicks, who went 17-65, the second-worst record in the league, had a 19.9 percent chance of winning the lottery and a 55.8 percent chance of being among the top three. They also had a 31.9 percent chance of dropping to No. 4, but were guaranteed a top-five pick. Their late season run in which they won back-to-back games against Orlando and Atlanta ultimately cost the team the worst record in the league (Minnesota finished one game worse, and won the top pick). “Players are going to go out and play hard and try to win games, and that’s what we asked them to do every night,” said Mills of the Knicks’ winning streak towards the end of the season. “That’s just the way the ping-pong balls turned out this time.”
What the Knicks’ pick does afford them, however, is options. And that is something the team hasn’t had in a while. President Phil Jackson, who was conspicuous by his absence last night, has hinted that the team may look to trade down and parlay it into multiple picks, or they may look at point guards D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, the great unknown of this draft.
Mills played down the notion that the team would now have to wait for their draft pick to develop, and also hinted that free agency will play a part in who the team will look to draft.
“I think this pick is complementary to where we’re going, with a guy like Carmelo [Anthony] in place, and what we plan on doing with the $28 million of cap room we have,” said Mills. “Even if we got the first pick, I think that player would take some time to develop, so our view hasn’t changed.
“We’ll look at what kind of guys are going to move in free agency and have our draft plans accordingly.”
The Knicks will have a touch under $28 million in cap space after signing their draft pick to spend this summer on free agents to build around Anthony, who underwent season-ending knee surgery in February.
“I think we’re going to be open to a lot of things. We know we can get a good player at this pick. We’re also going to be open to talking to teams and looking at different options,” said Mills.
“We’re going to get a good player, we’re going to continue with our process; we’re going to build this team the right way.”
Feature image via: Getty