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The Knicks are in the hunt for Cavaliers point guard Collin Sexton, and his former coach at Alabama, Avery Johnson, believes the 22-year-old speedster would light up Broadway.
The Cavaliers have made Sexton “very available’’ in trade talks. They’re concerned about giving him a maximum rookie contract extension because of a potential awkward pairing with young point guard Darius Garland.
Johnson, the former Nets coach and CBS Sports’ top college-basketball analyst, would recommend the Knicks make the trade. He spoke to several Knicks officials before the 2018 draft, when Cleveland selected Sexton eighth-overall.
“Maybe a change of scenery will be better for him,’’ Johnson told The Post in a phone interview. “I’d be thrilled if he has an opportunity to play for the Knicks. I love the direction of that organization — coaching staff, front office, making the playoffs last year with really good, young pieces. If that were to happen, it would be welcome — I can’t speak for him — but as his former coach, I would really be excited for that opportunity.’’
Not everyone seeks the bright lights, but Johnson thinks Sexton is perfect for the biggest stage.
“For sure, he’s dynamic and Broadway will love this kid,’’ Johnson said. “He’s a magnet. He’s an entertainer. Broadway, Spike Lee, Knicks fans, all would embrace Collin. He’s very marketable.’’
The Knicks are desperately seeking a starting point guard. Sexton has played more shooting guard since the Cavaliers drafted Garland in 2019.
But Johnson, a former Spurs point guard, thinks Sexton can run the show at the “1.” Though Sexton averaged a career-high 24.3 points and shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range this past season, one of his biggest drawbacks is having been an integral part of three straight horrible Cavaliers’ squads. Plus, some scouts don’t consider him a playmaker.
“You don’t really have the classic point guard nowadays,’’ Johnson said. “They score the ball. Whether it’s point guard, lead guard, whatever you want to call it, he has the gift and ability to run a team. I’ve had a front row seats watching him grow and with his leadership skills, he’s very vocal, animated. I think his skill-set will translate at the point-guard position.’’
The question the Knicks have to ask before making a trade is if Sexton is worth the five-year, $168 million rookie extension he will be eligible for up until late October. The Knicks could wait until 2022 when he will be a restricted free agent.
One NBA personnel director said some intangibles don’t favor Sexton.
“He’s going to want the max because he think he’s the best point guard in the league,’’ one NBA talent man said. “He’s a dominant personality and the feeling is not all the players don’t like him.’’
Whether there are issues in the Cavaliers’ locker room is unclear. But there has been a whole lot of losing in Northeast Ohio.
Cleveland, in fact, reportedly would like a solid veteran in a Sexton package — which would put the Knicks at a disadvantage versus the Pacers, Heat, Pelicans and Lakers.
Instead, the Knicks have a trove of futures, including two first round picks (19, 21) in the July 29 draft. They also have two second-round picks (32, 58). And they have two of their last three lottery selections expendable, Kevin Knox (taken one spot after Sexton in 2018) and Obi Toppin, whom Cleveland liked in the 2020 draft.
It should be noted Toppin, buried behind Julius Randle, and Sexton have the same Creative Artists Agency rep in Austin Brown.
Sexton has had four different head coaches and, according to The (Cleveland) Plain-Dealer, 52 teammates.
Asked to evaluate his three seasons, Johnson said: “He’s gotten better. He’s hard worker. Nobody is going to outwork him. He’s learned to play on the ball, off the ball, which he’s even better. He continues to be very explosive. He’s gotten better independent of what the stats show. He’s gotten better at decision-making, moving the ball to his teammates. Unfortunately, his teams haven’t been very good and that’s reflected in their record. A lot of times when a team is struggling, he can’t maximize his talents, especially in the playoffs. There’s areas he needs to improve and he’s constantly addressing those areas on both ends of the floor.’’
Defense, which is Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s obsession, is one area.
“He was really good on the ball. He needs improve off the ball when he’s in a help position,’’ Johnson said. “That’s an area we wanted him to stay locked in as a help defender and long rebounder.
“This is all speculative but if that were to happen, Tom Thibodeau would love to coach him. I’ve seen him guard the best guards in the country. He’s never backed down from a challenge and he’s going to embrace Thibs’ style. We coached him really hard and he responded. That type of coaching and accountability, he’ll embrace it.’’
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