Phil Jackson defends Knicks' selection of Kristaps Porzingis

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Friday, June 26, 2015

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- AlthoughNew York Knicks fans and perhapsCarmelo Anthonymight see it differently, Phil Jackson says he was told that draftingKristaps Porzingiscould be a "once-in-a-lifetime" pick.

"When someone says to me [that] this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I have to be alert," Jackson said of what Knicks basketball adviser Clarence Gaines Jr. told him and how Porzingis eventually became a Knick. "And [I have to] consider that after he's been in this business for as long as he has, I think he has as good of an eye as he has on talent."

Late last winter, Gaines texted Jackson from Madrid, where he was watching the 7-foot-2 forward play. Gaines, who was on the Bulls' staff with Jackson during their six championships in the 1990s, said he had an "eye-opening" experience.

That is how the process began of Porzingis becoming the fourth overall pick by the Knicks on Thursday night, Jackson said. While Anthony might be "furious" and "livid" with the Knicks' draft, according to what sources told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, Jackson painted Porzingis' potential as too much to pass up on even if it may take longer than Anthony and fans might like for Porzingis to develop.

"Carmelo is always on my mind, he's our favorite son at this point in his life, and that's the way it should be," Jackson said of how much Anthony matters in decisions made about the franchise's future. "But the second-most important thing is what we do for this franchise."

"We anticipate it's going to be rough regardless of whether we have a 19-year-old KP or a 19-year-old whomever," Jackson later admitted. "They're still young players and have a lot of maturation to go."

General manager Steve Mills scouted Porzingis and liked what he saw in the 19-year-old. The forward will have to immediately put on weight and muscle because he weighs just 230 pounds, but the Knicks feel his skills can translate in the triangle offense.

"We have to trust these guys as eyes for our organization," Jackson said of his talent evaluators. "We look at the talent from the professional level a lot of times, [but] we don't always see talent at 16, 17 and through the college level, and the potential growth players have."

Porzingis, who averaged 8.1 points in 75 career games for Sevilla in the ACB,said he will work hard to turn all the doubters into believers. He heard boos the moment he was picked at Barclays Center on Thursday.

"Right now I'm a stretch 4, [but] I can step inside," Porzingis said after being introduced to the New York media on Friday. "I don't just want to be a 7-1 guy who's only 3-point shooting. So right now I see myself as a 4-man. For the future, obviously when I get stronger and I will get stronger ... I will be able to guard 5s and play the 5 position."

Just how long it will take Porzingis' body and game to mature is the big question surrounding the Knicks franchise. Jackson and the Knicks are entering Year 2 of the Jackson rebuild, and there's uncertainty as to how much Porzingis will contribute this coming season for head coach Derek Fisher, who is coming off a 17-65 rookie campaign.

"I spoke to Pau Gasol recently, he said he was 227 [pounds] when he was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies[and] approximately the same height," Jackson said. "[Gasol] was trying to reassure me [that] I was a skinny kid when I came in the NBA, too. I think another stone or so, [Porzingis] should weigh before he's four or five years in the league. Maybe two stones."

"It's about strength," Jackson added. "We see Kristaps evolving, not use the word power forward, but maybe even center as he grows and matures in this game. So he's going to be able to play multiple positions because of his skill and the distance he can shoot the ball at."

Porzingis may not know how he will adjust to NBA competition initially. But the Knicks expect the Latvian's transition in the United States to go rather smoothly. Porzingis speaks three languages, including fluent English, and had to adapt to living in Spain at age 15 when he started playing basketball there.

"I'm going to adjust to life in America," Porzingis said. "For me it's going to be easy, because I already know the language and I already know the culture, and I've had a moment like that when I was 15, so for me, it's going to be easy.

"I have to prove myself once again now against the best players in the world, in the best league in the world. For me, it's a huge challenge, so I have to just keep working, I can't stop at any moment or think the job is done. For me, now is the time to prove that I'm worthy of playing in the NBA."

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