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Rival execs: Kristaps Porzingis can lure top free agents to Knicks

Back in early July, Kevin Durant was in the Hamptons -- a group of villages on the southern tip of Long Island, New York -- meeting with potential free-agent suitors.

Around the same time, Knicks executives were having dinner with Joakim Noah at a hotel restaurant outside of Orlando, Florida, about 1,200 miles away from Durant.

They might as well have been 12 million miles away.

The Knicks never had a legitimate shot to land Durant -- or any of the other All-NBA level free agents on the market last summer.

Durant, for one, was looking for a chance to win an NBA title. The Knicks couldn’t offer that.

But New York has one selling point that Durant -- and other free agents -- have been intrigued by: Kristaps Porzingis.

Durant famously called Porzingis a basketball "unicorn" in January. His former teammate, Russell Westbrook, was also enamored by the 21-year-old Porzingis' talents.

Neither player ended up in a Knicks uniform. But some people around the NBA believe Porzingis could eventually help draw the Durants and the Westbrooks of the free-agent market to New York.

“He certainly will,” a Western Conference executive said this week. “With what he’s doing now, it’s easy to see that happening.”

Another Western Conference front-office member was more succinct on the topic: “Definitely. No question.”

There are plenty of numbers out there that quantify Porzingis’ rare blend of size and skill. Let’s start here:

According to Basketball-Reference.com, Porzingis is the 12th player since 1983 to have 1,500-plus points and 175-plus blocks in his first 100 games. Others on that list include Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Anthony Davis and Shaquille O’Neal.

Earlier this week, he had 26 points, 12 rebounds and 7 blocks against the Los Angeles Lakers. He made 3 of 4 3-point attempts.

That line was rather unique. According to Basketball Reference, Porzingis is the only player since at least 1983 to have totals of at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 blocks and 3 made 3-pointers in a regular-season game.

He enters Thursday's contest against Golden State with 60 points (7 of 8 3-pointers), 20 rebounds and 10 blocks in his past two games.

That’s why one agent who works with some of the NBA’s top players doesn’t hesitate when asked if Porzingis will be a draw to other free agents.

“Players really respect his game and would want to play with him. But not without Melo [Carmelo Anthony]," the agent said. "Not at this point. But in a few years? Yes.”

Added another agent: “I think guys will definitely [want to play with him] because he can stretch the floor and he’s unselfish. He’s also really, really talented.”

Of course, the opinions of executives and agents in December won’t mean much for the Knicks when they sit down with free agents in July. They’ll need to show players that they can compete for a title at some point in the near future. Porzingis certainly helps that cause, though he doesn’t cover up some of the flaws of the current roster.

One aspect that might be in the Knicks' favor: Porzingis is willing to help recruit.

"Of course, you want to build a team around you so you can win, so you can go all the way and win the championship one day,” Porzingis told reporters Wednesday. “Of course, that's on everybody's mind, I think, that's in a position to do that."

The free-agent class this summer might include Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Lowry. It may also include two Knicks guards: Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings.

Cap holds for both players will have a big impact on how the Knicks operate this summer. Depending on how they handle Rose and Jennings, the Knicks can have at least $24 million to spend. It would take a few minor moves to put them in position to land a max-level free agent.

If that happens, maybe Porzingis can help the Knicks entice a big-name free agent to New York -- a place many have eschewed over the past few summers. At the moment, none of this matters much to Porzingis.

“Right now, I'm not worried about who I can recruit. I'm just focusing on my team, being the best I can this year,” he told reporters. “And then going forward, you know, stuff can happen."

"Stuff" hasn't happened the way the Knicks had hoped over the past few summers. They had some strong signings last summer (Jennings, Courtney Lee) but struck out on Durant and other top-tier free agents. They couldn’t land LaMarcus Aldridge in 2014.

Future summers might be a bit different, thanks to a 7-foot-3 sales pitch named Porzingis.