CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s crazy how the paths have turned out with D’Angelo Russell and Kristaps Porzingis.
You can now make the argument that in 2015, the Knicks could have been better off if the Lakers had passed on Russell for Jahlil Okafor, the 76ers snatched Porzingis and the Ohio State southpaw point guard had dropped to No. 4.
Russell was No. 2 on Phil Jackson’s draft board. Porzingis was fourth, and the Latvian — for better or worse — fell to four.
Thirteen months ago, Russell was a malcontent Lakers draft bust trying to find his way in Brooklyn while Porzingis was “The Franchise.”
This weekend, a still-rehabbing Porzingis is getting settled in a new home in Dallas, out for the season, out since last February, out of New York by his choosing.
Russell gears up for his first All-Star Game on Sunday at Spectrum Center, a proud member of the Nets.
“Enjoying every bit of it,” Russell said during All-Star Saturday’s Media Day. “Soaking all this in like a kid in a candy shop.”
It is not a surprise the Nets are a bigger deal than the Knicks in Charlotte — just like they should be the bigger deal in New York when the season’s unofficial second half begins this week.
The Nets stand in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 30-29 record — 19 more victories than the sad-sack Knicks, who will go six straight years out of the playoffs.
“We got a lot of guys participating in a lot of activities,” Russell said. “There’s a lot of buzz around Brooklyn. We’re bringing the excitement back. Brooklyn is a huge barrel. Brooklyn has a lot of success in its history.”
On All-Star Saturday night, it was a Net — not a Knick and not Stephen Curry — who stole the show. Joe Harris outdueled the hometown hero Curry to win the 10-man 3-point contest.
That event proved as entertaining as the dunk contest if you saw them live — and not just the television highlights of all the dunks made and not all the ones missed.
New Knick point guard Dennis Smith Jr. botched a career’s worth of dunks during his display (and he almost won).
There are no fairly tales in this Knicks season, so Smith finished runner-up to Queens product Hamidou Diallo. Wearing a Superman undershirt, Diallo jumped over Shaquille O’Neal on his first try and threw it down, elbow buried in the hoop a la Vince Carter. Some are calling it one of the best dunks ever.
Smith had his moment, taking a lob from his famous rapper friend from Fayetteville, N.C., J Cole. Smith jumped over his chair for the throwdown.
Other than GM Scott Perry, there was no Knick present to help Smith on his final-round dunk because Kevin Knox, who participated in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge, left town for the Tennessee-Kentucky showdown.
Smith told The Post he made a late call to ask Curry and Dwyane Wade for assistance if he reached the finals. Smith soared over Wade on his fourth attempt for a “50″ dunk, but he couldn’t top Diallo.
Four Nets were here in total. Jarrett Allen may have been out of place in the pinball-scoring Rising Stars Challenge, but rookie Rodions Kurucs, the best Latvian player in New York, did well in the competition (11 points, five assists).
Kurucs joked afterward he’s now “King of New York” with Porzingis gone. He also campaigned for a Latvian Heritage Night in Brooklyn after the Knicks canceled the one at the Garden.
As for Russell, he is used to the glare of the spotlight after spending a season with Ohio State and two with the Lakers. He has had to make the adjustment to Brooklyn, always in the Knicks’ shadow.
Now the Nets have a chance to emerge with this young, winning, Kenny Atkinson-coached ballclub. They never tanked because the franchise had lost almost all of its first-round picks with the Kevin Garnett trade that nearly ruined them.
“They’re really a fun, exciting team to watch,” one NBA scout said last week.
As David Fizdale finds his footing in his first year, the Huntington native Atkinson is already there.
“He’s been great,” Russell said. “He’s gotten better as well. I think just with the youth that we have on the coaching staff and as players, we’re all getting better together. It’s a good feeling.”
If Smith’s athleticism doesn’t transform him into a special point guard and free agency turns into a summer bust, the Knicks may long regret Russell not falling to four.
“I got a second opportunity to play basketball and be a professional,” Russell said.
As the Porzingis-less Knicks wait on pingpong balls and Kevin Durant’s decision, a Russell-led NBA team is growing in Brooklyn.
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