Frank Ntilikina (277591)
Credit: Contributed

On Sunday at Madison Square Garden, after the Knicks were defeated by the Los Angeles Clippers 123-114, David Fizdale offered the politically correct answer when asked what his marketing strategy will be this summer to differentiate the Knicks from other franchises seeking to attract the NBA’s top free agents.

“I don’t even…not to dismiss your question,” replied the Knicks head coach to the reporter, “but honestly I can’t get into free agency stuff and I have no thought process about what I’m pitching. I got Doc Rivers sitting in that other locker room with a damn good basketball team I gotta be focused on.” Indeed the Clippers, who will be extremely active in the free-agent market this summer, are in a place where the Knicks aspire to be next season.

They are currently 45-30, fifth in the Western Conference, and are fine-tuning for the post-season. Under the steady and competent leadership of owner Steve Ballmer, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, general manager Micheal Winger, Hall of Famer and consultant Jerry West, who is one of the most exceptional executives in sports history, and Rivers, the Clippers have assembled a symbiotic mix of productive veterans and young talent that is likely to be highly appealing to the league’s elite free agents.

In contrast, the Knicks, at 14-60 when they host the Toronto Raptors at the Garden tonight (Thursday), are at the bottom of the NBA’s standings and are headed towards the worst record in the franchise’s history. But they possess the valuable asset of cap space to sign two free agents to max contracts when July arrives and will be assured a high lottery pick—optimally the No. 1 overall spot—to dramatically change the fortunes of the organization.

So Fizdale, along with Knicks owner James Dolan, team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry will soon have to to craft and sharpen their ability to sell the likes of impending free agent Kevin Durant on why he should choose the Knicks over other expected suitors. Part of that persuasive communication will be presenting a roster that Durant et al. views as a strong cast.

So the evaluation of players such as Frank Ntilikina, rookie Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Damyean Dotson is critical. The Knicks can’t afford to miss on any player. Mitchell Robinson is unquestionably a potential cornerstone. With so many moving parts and injuries for Fizdale to navigate this season, the job of developing and assessing the young players has been challenging.

On Sunday Rivers said the undertaking of growing young players can be difficult on the veterans as was the case with former Knick Enes Kanter before he was waived in February.

“…It’s really hard on the veterans that are on the team,” asserted Rivers. “I found that to be very difficult because the practices, you spend a lot of time teaching stuff that they know already so they’re over it. But you have to. And then you spend time during games leaving them in because they don’t know and you have to let them learn. So that’s a tough job. I think Fiz has done a heck of a job.”

With a possible seminal summer for the Knicks approaching, the skills of the players and executives are under deep scrutiny.