MILWAUKEE — As Knicks brass eyes the future, there’s one striking attribute the club would like to accomplish: get more athletic. Whether that can be achieved at Feb. 8’s trade deadline is still unclear.
The attempts next week to alleviate their glut at center could accomplish that mission.
Not one of their four centers is considered a superior athlete. Not starter Enes Kanter. Not floor-bound backup Kyle O’Quinn.
Not even young gun Willy Hernangomez, 23, who has received more inquiries than any Knick despite not being in the rotation.
Because he’s an old-school center in the new age, some executives doubt the Knicks would even net a first-round pick for Hernangomez. The Knicks love that his salary ($1.5 million, $1.6 million) will remain modest for the next two seasons.
Exiled Joakim Noah used to have a lot more athleticism, which helped him win the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year, but that was a few surgeries ago. He turns 33 this month.
The blowout loss in Boston on Wednesday, when the Celtics played four rookies in their rotation, was another example of getting undone by a more athletic club. It’s also a reason Doug McDermott, not a great athlete, has seen his playing time dip recently.
It’s no surprise then the Knicks have interest in the Nets’ athletic defensive forward, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 23, but The Post reported Brooklyn seeks a first-rounder.
The notion of needing more athleticism truly hit home in two blowout losses in Memphis and Los Angeles during the recently completed six-game road trip against the West.
The Grizzlies and the Lakers played above the rim as the Knicks essentially stood by and watched. Without under-the-weather starting center Marc Gasol, his replacement, second-year man Deyonta Davis, was throwing down alley-oop dunks, as were Ivan Rabb, Jarell Martin and JaMychal Green.
In Los Angeles, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, both reportedly on the trade block, did a number on the Staples Center rims in combining for 56 points. Former team president Phil Jackson and then-GM Steve Mills passed on Clarkson in the 2014 draft — their first in charge — for Cleanthony Early, who is clinging to his career in the G-League with Santa Cruz.
According to multiple sources, Jackson’s three and a half year reign included orders to his scouts to look for players who would make good, cerebral fits in the triangle — with the notion athleticism is not a major priority.
In fact, there’s a notorious remark Jackson uttered that backs that claim.
“We keep insisting upon the type of players we want,’’ Jackson said at his season-ending press conference last year. “Behind the scenes, we are interested in developing and turning away from just, say: ‘This guy can jump out of the gym, this guy can do a triple-double game or dunk the ball.’ That is not what we are interested in. We are interested in skill players that know how to play together in team form.”
Mills is still around as top gun, but the organization’s philosophy has shifted with the additions of GM Scott Perry, who then hired Bucks player development director Craig Robinson to be the third man.
Under that umbrella, it’s unsurprising the Knicks have not ruled out moving Hernangomez if a solid offer comes. The Spaniard was featured in the summer’s online essays written by Mills and Perry as part of the core five the club will seek to build around.
But that came before they traded Carmelo Anthony for Kanter and McDermott. Kanter and Hernangomez are duplicates with neither being a mobile defender, while both are excellent rebounders and scorers.
Hernangomez, a first-team All-Rookie selection, is hardly opposed to being dealt. Brass isn’t concerned about whether his close friend Kristaps Porzingis will be offended. The belief is Porzingis will want whatever is best for Hernangomez.
In early January, Hernangomez responded to The Post’s report that the club has received more inquiries about him than anyone else on the squad.
“I feel great to know other teams are interested about me, right?” Hernangomez said. “My situation is like this right now, not playing much. But I’m ready. I like to be with my teammates. I like to be a part of this team. But I don’t want to [sound] selfish, but I want to play. I’m ready for everything.”
Meanwhile, the Knicks are still in a playoff hunt but have lost their way since Christmas, heading into Milwaukee on Friday with a 23-29 record. That game marks the end of the daunting 20-game stretch in which 16 are on the road. In the first 19, the Knicks are 6-13.
They don’t seem the same collection that beat the Celtics at the Garden on Dec. 21.
“They have an identity,’’ Porzingis said after Wednesday’s Boston blowout. “We’re trying to find one ourselves.”
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