From last game’s confrontation between THJ and Allonzo Trier, to Enes Kanter complaining again about playing time, lets look forward into what could be an active deadline for the Knicks, as well as what their place in the tank standings really means going into this summer.
Officially, the Knicks have placed THJ, Courtney Lee and Enes Kanter on the trading block. Seems obvious that these would be the candidates available, but I suppose when official announcements are made, it just seems that much more real. Being able to trade these guys is a lot more complex than simply shipping them out to another team. After this season THJ still has 2 years and roughly $37 million left on his deal (basketball reference.com). Moving him isn’t necessarily difficult, as long as the Knicks are willing to include an asset along with him. To this point, the franchise has stood firm that no assets will be attached in trades. Probably the smart move, since it would likely cost a future 1st round pick to move THJ, or the addition of a youngster like Frank Ntilikina.
Courtney Lee is a similar situation, although once the new salary cap year starts on July 1st, his contract becomes an expiring one, and a true asset for the Knicks to have. At that time, no asset would likely need to be attached to move him, but if they want to move him by the trade deadline, one of the 2nd round picks from the Hornets that the Knicks own would likely do the trick. Lee has almost $13 million left on his deal after this season, so there isn’t really a rush to trade him since he becomes an expiring contract in the summer. Moving one of the contracts of THJ or Lee is important to clear space to afford a max player like Kevin Durant, but that doesn’t have to happen right now.
Enes Kanter is in his last year of his Knicks deal and is being paid roughly $18 million this season. This really complicates the reality of trading him, because although he is an expiring contract, his salary is difficult for teams to take on while balancing returning salaries to the Knicks, who do not want to take on additional money past this year. Any trade would likely require a third team to get involved and to this point, there hasn’t been any traction on a third team to make this deal happen. More than likely, if the Knicks are unable to move him by the deadline, then they would work with Kanter and his agent on a buyout and allow him to sign with any team. Kanter has continued to complain through the media about his playing time and has essentially indicated without directly saying it, that he wants to play elsewhere if he won’t get minutes in New York. Coach Fizdale has made the right move by playing the young guys and an end to this marriage seems to be on the horizon.
Now although he isn’t officially listed on the trade block, another player garnering attention is Noah Vonleh. He has had a career year to this point and teams around the league, notably the Philadelphia 76ers, have noticed. He’s averaging 8.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game this season, compared to 4.9 points and 5.3 boards in his career (per basketballreference.com). He signed a non-guaranteed contract in the offseason and has fully outplayed that deal. Now, the Knicks are in a tough spot here. Since Vonleh signed a contract that wasn’t guaranteed, he essentially bet on himself to better his status for his next contract. The Knicks didn’t negotiate a team option last offseason with him, so he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. With the Knicks likely to pursue some top free agents, they may not be able to resign Vonleh, as his value has skyrocketed. This puts the Knicks at risk of developing Vonleh for the season and losing him for nothing in return. Trading him at this point and attempting to resign him this offseason would be the smart business move. The Knicks should try and gain an asset from his season and hope that trading him doesn’t alienate him to the point where he wouldn’t consider resigning in New York this offseason.
What the Knicks end up doing at the trade deadline is still a mystery. What the franchise does over the next few weeks will give us an insight as to where the franchise thinks it’s headed from here and what chances they believe they have of bringing in a big free agent. What I know is that without a commitment from a superstar, this franchise is in no position to be trading away draft picks to clear salary or even attaching young, controllable assets. That is poor business and we have seen this franchise get burned far too often in the past for making poor choices. Some recent 1st round picks the Knicks gave up in the trade for Melo turned into Jamal Murray and Dario Saric. There is no rush to trade anyone if the deal isn’t right. Just be patient and wait until the new salary cap year on July 1st when you have a clearer idea of what’s achievable. Let’s hope the same mistakes are not repeated.
Time for a tank update! As of today, the Knicks are in the number 2 spot at 10-36, trailing only the Cavaliers for the worst record in the league. Now what does this mean for the Knicks chances picking 1st vs other spots under the new lottery draft rules? The Knicks currently have a 14% chance to land the number 1 pick, which is the highest percentage they can have and is tied with the Cavs and the Suns, who currently sit with the 3rd worst record.
Now although the bottom 3 teams all have the same odds to pick 1st, how far back you can fall changes depending where you finish. At the moment, the lowest the Knicks could pick is 6th and have a 20% chance of landing there. The Knicks have a 13.4% chance to pick 2nd, 12.7% to pick 3rd, 12% to pick 4th, and 27.8% chance to pick 5th (tankathon.com). The team is in good position to land a top 3 pick (40.1% chance) and should continue developing the young players the rest of the season, while making shrewd moves at the trade deadline.
The Knicks own all their upcoming first round picks (finally), have Kristaps Porzingis nearing his return, and a young core that is developing well this season. There’s a lot to look forward to, the front office just needs to stay patient.