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Kurt Rambis' dilemma: Play the young guys or try to win games

Kristaps Porzingis will one day be the New York Knicks' version of Draymond Green. Kurt Rambis is sure of it.

Rambis can see Porzingis playing center in a small-ball lineup, guarding multiple positions and punishing teams with his offensive versatility.

Just like Green in Golden State, only several inches taller.

“There’s no doubt,” Rambis said Friday night. “He’s 20 years old. We keep forgetting that.”

There are times when Rambis wants to forget it as well. He finds himself fighting the desire to insert Porzingis at center for extended stretches and let him learn through his mistakes.

“Sometimes I sit there and we talk and I’m racking my brain (thinking), ‘Should we just go ahead and give him that challenge and let’s see what happens?' ” Rambis says.

But then the desire to win games -- to instill a winning mindset into these Knicks, he says -- takes over.

“I’m focusing on the win and I’d rather not take that gamble at this point,” he says.

And therein lies Kurt Rambis’ dilemma.

The Knicks have won just four times in their last 20 games. At 26-38, they are miles away from playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. But Rambis, an interim coach who would like to have the job on a permanent basis next season, wants to win games. Which makes sense.

Phil Jackson, according to league sources, hired Rambis as his interim with the hope of keeping him on as his next head coach.

Rambis needs to show bottom-line improvement to validate that hope. Hence, the need to win games.

But the interim coach also has a another reasonable explanation for his commitment to winning at the tail end of this lost season: “I still want our guys to get this arrogance, this confidence that you need in order to win ball games. You have to have this mindset that you play with. You can’t be apprehensive. You can’t be thinking, ‘Woe is me.’ You can’t be worried about yourself, you can’t be thinking, ‘Well, we’re going to lose.’ It’s about getting their mind in the right frame so that they’re thinking no matter what the circumstances are, they’re going to figure out a way to win. And that’s part of my job (and) goal as a coach is to get these guys thinking that way.”

There’s value in this approach. But the Knicks also have a future to consider.

So there’s also value in giving Porzingis minutes at center in a small-ball lineup even though you don’t think he’s ready. Or playing Jerian Grant extended minutes at the expense of Jose Calderon or Sasha Vujacic even though he may not be capable of handling the workload.

Rambis on Friday said that he’s had conversations with management about increasing Grant’s minutes but he's not committed to doing so at the moment.

“Is there going to be a point in the season where you just go 'we’re going to play the young guys'? I’m not there yet,” Rambis said. “If management tells me at some point in time that we’re there and they want to make that change, then that’s something that I’ll defer to them. As a coach, I’m not there yet. So I’m going to go with the guys that I trust and have the experience right now.”

For right now, that probably means Grant’s minutes will continue to fluctuate. He’s averaged 8:30 per night under Rambis and has incurred three DNPs. That also means Porzingis won’t be playing center in small-ball lineups and permitted to play through his mistakes. Case in point: Friday night against Boston, Rambis said he pulled Porzingis because he was having a tough time generating interior offense and defending smaller players as the Knicks' center.

“The versatility that he’s going to bring in the future is going to be off the charts, but he’s just not there yet,’ Rambis said.

He isn’t. There's no arguing that. But should Porzingis have the chance to try (and maybe fail) at center for an extended stretch now that the Knicks are out of playoff contention?

Or should the Knicks do all they can to win over the final five weeks of the season?

This is Kurt Rambis’ dilemma.