Tom Thibodeau says Knicks need star after Giannis Antetokounmpo heartbreak

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Unless Giannis Antetokounmpo demands a trade to New York down the road, it appears “The Greek Freak” will never play for the Knicks.

And now 2021’s free agency doesn’t appear so juicy, especially with Anthony Davis signing a long-term deal with the Lakers and not a one-and one that would’ve put him on the market this summer.

The Knicks will have plenty of cap space in 2021, and coach Tom Thibodeau, on the eve of Wednesday’s preseason Garden opener against Cleveland, said the club has a “critical’’ need to add a star.

Antetokounmpo signed his $228 million super-max extension Tuesday, making the Knicks’ desire to make a blockbuster trade even more urgent.

“I think it’s critical,’’ Thibodeau said Tuesday on Zoom of adding a star. “When you look at every team in the league, particularly the playoff teams. … There’s a lot of different paths to getting stars. Sometimes it’s the development phase. I think when you look at Jimmy Butler when he came in, he hardly played as a rookie. He played more each year and then would become a top-10 player in the league. It’s a testament to his work ethic and how he approached things.

“So some guys continue to get better year after year. Sometimes you have to do it through trades, sometimes it’s free agency. But I think you have to be very aggressive in seeking out those opportunities. They just don’t happen by accident. You have to make them happen.”

Knicks president Leon Rose played it conservatively in free agency last month with the idea that 2021 could be a big boon in free agency. But that’s not looking so good now. Even Paul George signed a contract extension with the Clippers although Kawhi Leonard could opt out and be on the market.

Thibodeau admitted it’s hard nowadays to lure a star from his own team because of the major pay differential due to the super-max deals.

“I think the system is set up to help the team that drafted the player to keep him,’’ Thibodeau said. “So there’s a big advantage. It’s hard to get someone to leave. Every play, every situation is different. So you plan for everything. Being opportunistic is important. Sometimes there’s situations that arise whether it be through free agency or trade. But I think every day that has to be a priority for the organization to seek out those opportunities.

“When you look at what’s going on in the league, things can change very quickly. You work every day with your player development, try to improve through the draft, you have free agency and you have trades. I think you have to be very aggressive in each area. Sitting back and waiting sometimes is not a good thing.”

Rose’s top priority this offseason was to land veteran point guard Chris Paul in a trade, using his team’s cap space. But Paul wanted to be closer to his son in Los Angeles and was traded to Phoenix. Rose had other targets, including Toronto point guard Fred VanVleet, but they all fell through.

Now the Knicks hope their last two lottery picks, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin, can develop into special players.

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