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Phil Jackson will attend Shaquille O'Neal's statue unveiling instead of scouting Kentucky vs. UCLA

That’s actually an understandable decision. Steve Mills will scout instead.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

On a night where three of college basketball’s most electrifying guards take the court for their NCAA tournament lives, two NBA executives with high draft standing have varying plans. That has something to do with Hall of Fame inductee Shaquille O’Neal, whose statue outside of Staples Center is unveiled at the same time as No. 2 seed Kentucky’s game against No. 3 seed UCLA on Friday.

Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson regretfully won’t attend O’Neal’s statue exhibit, according to’s Marc Stein. Instead, he’ll get a good look at some of the top prospects in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Conversely, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson won’t be in attendance during the Sweet 16 showdown. He’ll be at Staples Center, according to The New York Daily News, supporting O’Neal, a dominant force in the Lakers’ three-peat in the early 2000s.

Instead, general manager Steve Mills will attend and scout for the Knicks.

Both the Lakers and Knicks are approaching a critical summer for the trajectory of their franchises.

Los Angeles under-performed this season and have the second-best odds at landing the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft. Those odds aren’t likely to get any worse, since the Lakers have shut their veterans down for the rest of the year.

But if there’s a team that should win the underachiever’s award every season for 2017, it’s the Knicks. The Knicks went all-in for a playoff push over the summer, trading for Derrick Rose and signing Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Jennings (whom they later waived). But months later, the team still came up 18 games below .500.

New York has a 99.9 percent chance of landing a pick in the top 10, according to ESPN’s BRI, and about a 40 percent chance of that pick landing in the top five. The Knicks have only a 30 percent chance at a top-three pick.

But don’t snark too much on Jackson or laud Johnson for doing his job

Jackson and O’Neal have a unique relationship. He took the dominant center under his wing and put him in a position to win three NBA championship rings in Los Angeles. Under Jackson, O’Neal became the only player not named Michael Jordan to win three consecutive Finals MVP awards.

It wouldn’t make sense for the Zen Master to miss his pupil’s commemoration.

You can argue Jackson doesn’t even need to be in the building to see UCLA-Kentucky. He can rewatch the game like any other person and rely on Mills for in-person observations.

Johnson, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. His general manager is an ex-player agent that just got hired, not necessarily a scout. Magic must take on a more active role to lift his Lakers team back to prominence. He also doesn’t have the same close relationship with O’Neal like Jackson does.

So unlike Jackson, he can’t afford to pass on a valuable opportunity to catch some of the nation’s top prospects in action, especially when his Lakers could land UCLA guard Lonzo Ball.

That doesn’t absolve Jackson of his duties as team president. The Knicks have just a 76-158 record since he took over three years ago, and a notoriously impatient fan base has given him leeway long enough.

Drafting Kristaps Porzingis bought Jackson some time, as did the pleasant surprises in picking up Willy Hernangomez, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and Ron Baker.

But time is ticking and the Knicks’ president needs to hit big in the draft. Hopefully Mills can be his lucky charm at the game.