Sports

Knicks mixed on Victor Oladipo as chances at NBA star evaporate

Unless the Knicks engage the Pacers in a trade for scoring guard Victor Oladipo, this could be all she wrote. Embrace the rebuild.

Indications are the Knicks have cooled on the idea of handing the keys to the franchise to Russell Westbrook.

According to sources, Knicks GM Scott Perry, who drafted Oladipo when with Orlando, would like to explore that avenue, but Knicks president Leon Rose is less eager. Oladipo has yet to return to elite form since knee surgery nearly two years ago.

According to sources, Oladipo is not as available as he might have been over the summer. He quickly has forged a strong relationship with Pacers new coach Nate Bjorkgren, but the 2019 All-Star is in the final year of his contract.

For now, after adding Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, Austin Rivers, Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans and starting point-guard incumbent Elfrid Payton, the Knicks still have $18 million of cap space and need to spend $7 million to get to the NBA floor.

There still could be another non-Oladipo trade for a rotation player or taking on a contract just to gain another draft asset.

The Knicks had $40 million in cap space and wanted to make a bigger splash despite a weak free-agent class.

But when they missed on main targets such as Fred VanVleet, Gordon Hayward, D.J. Augustin and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks adjusted. The Post has learned Rose even made a big push for athletic power forward Jerami Grant, who signed with Detroit.

Instead, Rose acquired high-character guys and maintained flexibility for the star-studded 2021 free-agent class. Without an established No. 1 option, the 72-game season may put them in good lottery position for the spectacular 2021 Cade Cunningham/Jalen Green draft.

“It’s a little surprising,’’ one NBA executive said. “You can make the argument they got worse.”

Rose was not made available for comment Monday and hasn’t spoken to the media since July.

Another gap year may look ugly and remain a challenge for win-now-at-all-costs coach Tom Thibodeau, but it might be a reality unless they secure Oladipo or Westbrook.

Meanwhile, the Knicks have draft capital up to the sky. After accumulating four second-rounders in the last five days, they own 19 draft picks over the next six drafts — eight first-rounders, 11 second-rounders. Those are useful in blockbuster trades.

Credit new strategy director Brock Aller, stolen from the Cavaliers, as the one mostly behind those gains. You also may want to credit Aller for having the intel the Cavaliers would pass on Obi Toppin at No. 5 in last week’s draft. Hence, the Knicks did not have to give up their other first-round pick to trade up.

Now, does Toppin start despite the presence of starting power forward Julius Randle? The start of training camp on Dec. 1 will be fascinating, with major battles at every position.

Thibodeau has 16 players under contract for 15 roster spots. As it stands, one current player won’t be around for the league’s opening night on Dec. 22. It’s likely 2019 second-rounder Ignas Brazdeikis will battle Evans, the former Wolves 6-foot-4 shooting guard who was the 28th pick by the Warriors in 2018, for the final slot.

The biggest battle royale is for the starting point-guard job, with four contenders. When Payton was re-signed for one year at $5 million, it figured he was the guy.

However, Sunday the Knicks signed Rivers to a three-year, $10 million deal, with the final two years not guaranteed. The Knicks have a chance to move into the future with Rivers.

Rivers and Frank Ntilikina are more combo guards, so Payton is the favorite to start, with Dennis Smith Jr. a long shot.

RJ Barrett will likely return at shooting guard, but even he could be tested by rookie Immanuel Quickley. The Knicks still have a vacuum at small forward, just as it existed after Marcus Morris was traded in February.

Conceivably, the Knicks could go with a three-guard setup of Payton-Rivers-Barrett. There’s hope small forward Kevin Knox, with his former assistant coach Kenny Payne on staff, is ready to make a big leap in his third season. Veteran Reggie Bullock is also a consideration.

That’s where Thibodeau faces the same-old dilemma whether to lean toward youth or veterans.

Toppin, 22, who signed his rookie contract Monday, could be used at small forward alongside Randle, though defensively that could be disastrous. Mitchell Robinson and Noel will battle for the starting center job.

It’s a deep unit but, like last season, doesn’t have a single star. At least, not yet.

SOURCE