LOS ANGELES - Phil Jackson's team has lost the most games in the NBA this season, but the Knicks' president hasn't lost his sense of humor.
"My partner said, 'You're sitting on all this information, come on out and destroy a basketball team that you love,' '' Jackson said. "That's what I've done.''
Jackson's first year as an NBA executive has been an utter failure. He called it "a project gone awry'' Thursday morning at UCLA, where the Knicks held their shootaround. But Jackson said he already has fast-forwarded to next season with the moves he's made and the direction he plans to take.
The Knicks, who took a league-worst 12-51 record into their game against Jackson's old team, the Lakers, likely will have a top-five draft pick and more than $30 million to spend in free agency.
Jackson wants the turnaround to be quick. He said it's hard to project how a 19- or 20-year-old rookie will develop, so signing veterans who can help immediately is the plan.
"What we're trying to do is we're trying to look at what advancement can be gained in the short term, how quickly we can recover and get back in the hunt and chasing what we consider the right way to go, and that's get a championship,'' Jackson said. "We know what the first-round pick is going to mean for us. But we also know that we're going to build our team on free agents.
Like a third of the league is going to be free agents next year. That's where our priority stands. Although I think you get movers or franchise players from a draft.''
The Knicks have four players with fully guaranteed contracts for next season: Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cleanthony Early. Langston Galloway has a partial guarantee. But Jackson said the Knicks will bring back some players who aren't currently under contract.
"We're going to ask them to come back,'' Jackson said. "They're going to fill out a good part of our roster. We can't bring in eight guys and expect them to play together. That's not part of our plan. So there are going to be guys who are going to be really good team members that are participating on this team right now. That part of it is important for us. But it also says something about how we're going to play.''
Jackson said he doesn't think the Knicks' record will have an impact on whether a player wants to join them. He referenced the Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73 in 1972-73 and reached the NBA Finals four seasons later. It's a different era, though.
Jackson still is bent on establishing a system and a style of play that players will enjoy because he thinks money won't be a determining factor for free agents. The new television contract that will kick in next summer is expected to raise the salary cap more than $20 million to about $90 million.
"It's not about who's going to have the most money anymore,'' Jackson said. "That's not what it's going to be about because that playing field is pretty much evened out, especially with this amount of money coming into this league. It's going to be who's attractive enough to get people they want to play in their style of ball the way they're doing it."
"There are only a few teams that you can see in this league that say, 'OK, this is our definitive way we play.' We want to be one of those teams so we can have an eyesight on who can play in our system and who wants to play.''
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