The way Phil Jackson spurned the NBA's biggest free agent is actually a great sign for the Knicks

Phil jacksonBrad Barket/GettyPhil Jackson is taking the long road in the Knicks’ rebuild.

The New York Knicks had an unexpectedly quiet summer in free agency.

They were expected to chase the biggest free agents to quicken their rebuild, but instead settled for Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez as their two biggest signings — not exactly marquee names.

However, it seems that this may have been Phil Jackson’s plan all along. In particular, Jackson seemed to show little interest in the biggest free agent of the summer, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge, who signed with the San Antonio Spurs, spoke with Basketball Insiders and said he and the Knicks both decided to call off a meeting after the Knicks told him they only wanted him to play center as opposed to his natural position, power forward.

“About the New York Knicks, they told me that they wanted me to play strictly [center],” Aldridge said. “So they didn’t want to meet with me. People was saying it was me, but it was both parties agreeing that we shouldn’t meet.”

Aldridge has played power forward his whole career, and like many power forwards, doesn’t like shifting up to play center, where the play is more physical, particularly on defence.

The natural reaction to this would be to wonder why the Knicks would essentially give the best free agent of the summer an ultimatum: “Play our way or no thanks.” However, it’s actually an encouraging sign for the Knicks going forward — they both recognise the current small-ball trend in the NBA and that to build around Carmelo Anthony, they have to go small and place shooters around him.

Lamarcus aldridge blazersScott Halleran/GettyLaMarcus Aldridge signed with the Spurs.

The Knicks’ most successful season in the last 15 years came when they played Anthony at power forward, placing three guards around him to spread the floor. If they were going to sign Aldridge, they wanted to ensure he’d be on board for the same plan. Otherwise, Aldridge and Anthony occupy similar spots on the floor, particularly in the high post and midrange areas. If Anthony played small forward, Aldridge played power forward, and they put a center on the floor, the spacing on offence would be poor. The Knicks tried this with the Anthony-Amar’e Stoudemire combination and it failed.

This is not to say the Knicks plan to solely play Anthony at the four — he played small forward for the majority of last season — but it shows an understanding of what works best. Furthermore, No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis is a natural power forward (for now), but can spread the floor, so Anthony can remain a small forward if Porzingis is out there with him, creating space on offence.

This summer, Jackson made it clear that the Knicks rebuild would be a slow, patient one. Though Knicks fans would obviously like to see the team return to playoff contention sooner than later, it’s also refreshing to see Phil Jackson recognise that the Knicks need to have a certain roster construction, and he won’t bend the rules just to chase a flashy name.

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