Knicks fans woke up Thursday morning hearing that Kristaps Porzingis had met with the Knick’s front office and was unhappy with the direction of the club and what his role was moving forward. It seemed like not even 15 minutes later, news was out that a deal to ship him to Dallas was imminent.
Clearly, there’s no way the whole construction of the trade happened that quickly and as we now know, these trade discussions had been going on for a few days, with Scott Perry saying they had spoken to 8 or 9 different teams over the course of the season in potential trades. Let’s try and break this down and make sense of it all the best way we can.
Starting with the framework of the deal, the Knicks received Dennis Smith Jr, the expiring deals of Wes Matthews and DeAndre Jordan, and 2 future 1st round picks. The 1st round picks are unprotected in 2021 and top 10 protected in 2023. The Mavs got Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr, Courtney Lee and Trey Burke. This deal certainly opened things up for the Knicks financially. By getting rid of the contract of THJ and Lee, they have opened up roughly $75 million of cap space heading into this summer, enough for 2 max free agent spots. To do it at the expense of the teams best player hurts, but only until you’d dig further.
Let’s be honest about Kristaps Porzingis. He was the best player we have had since Melo and certainly one of our better draft picks. Probably the best since drafting Pat Ewing. But we need to dive into his Knicks career a little further for some context. As Knicks fans, we are desperate for a star, that we tend to overvalue players that are good. So many comparisons to Patrick Ewing were thrown around when speaking about Porzingis. He’s not Pat Ewing and not even close. 296 Knicks games have been played since Kristaps was drafted, he has played in 186 of those games. He has never shot over 45% from the field in a season (basketballreference.com) and has consistently seen his numbers take a dip after the first month or so of the season. He has suffered numerous injuries over his short career, from an elbow injury, to his left Achilles, groin, ankle, and now an ACL tear. The number of lower extremity injuries that he’s suffered being in only his 4th year is a disturbing trend for a guy listed over 7 feet tall. Tough to be really confident as a front office signing a player like that to a max deal.
We all know that the Knicks major goal was to have the cap space requisite to chase max free agents this upcoming summer. Now with this trade, New York has space for 2 of those big names. Of course, just having cap space doesn’t mean much, you’ve got to do something with that space. To make a move of this magnitude, there has to be some indication the front office has from some back channel about their chances this summer to land a big fish like Kevin Durant. The Knicks have set themselves up with a nice treasure chest of picks (7 first rounders in next 5 years) and boatloads of cap space. That’s a lot of ammo to build a team with and the Knicks certainly have many avenues they can choose from moving forward. The front office has done exactly what it set out to do since Scott Perry signed on. I wrote a week ago that the next couple of weeks would give us insight to where the Knicks felt they were and here we are. The front office clearly likes their chances in free agency and are certainly swinging for the fences.
It wouldn’t be fair to not speak about the other players in the trade. Tim Hardaway Jr always played hard for the Knicks and played through injuries as well. He should have an easy time adjusting to his role in Dallas without having to be the primary scorer anymore. Courtney Lee was a class act during his time in New York, you’d be hard pressed to find a more professional guy than him even as he was benched game in and game out. Always mentoring the young guys and applauding them from the sidelines didn’t go unnoticed and we should thank him for that. Lastly, Trey Burke was able to revive his career in New York and took his situation of being in and out of lineups in stride. All 3 of these guys were easy to root for and we should wish them all well in their careers moving forward.
Lastly, we don’t really know the timeline of how this all went down. From different sources, we were told that Kristaps had asked for a trade and the club honored that request after KP made it clear the he didn’t want to be a part of the club moving forward. But how it got to that point, we may never truly know. The relationship between him and the franchise was never a strong one, but the Knicks new regime made every attempt possible to show Porzingis how important he was and how they saw him in their plans moving forward. Coach Fizdale and his wife flew to Latvia before the season began to visit him and develop a relationship. Even with all these attempted efforts from the new regime, it always seemed it was never enough for Kristaps. He wanted the new regime to pay for the mistakes of the old one, which Scott Perry had nothing to do with. The fact that him and his team had so many demands and complaints while he’s still on his rookie deal is truly mind-boggling. This isn’t a player in the same stratosphere as LeBron or KD to be making demands of the front office. Not only that, he’s not even on the court a lot of the time, only appearing in 63% of total games in his Knicks career, in which the team has accomplished nothing of significance.
The Knicks front office has operated responsibly this season by developing a young core while getting the best possible draft slot possible and creating cap space. Offloading an injured player with your 2 worst contracts and also acquiring a young point guard, 2 expiring deals, and 2 first round picks is an incredible business move by the Knicks front office. Strong arming a guy who really doesn’t want to be here into signing a max deal is not good business. Kudos to the front office.
In the end, the Mavericks are better off getting to pair Doncic with Porzingis. It’s a move their fans are certainly excited about and rightfully so. However, Knicks fans should also feel good about the move after settling down following a day filled with lots of emotions. Some fans don’t feel good about losing Kristaps and they aren’t wrong. But what the front office did was get rid of a player who ultimately didn’t want to be here. There are only so many gestures you can offer someone before it becomes clear they are a diva and nothing you do will ever be good enough.
Unlike the other players social media accounts thanking the city and the fans when they found out they were traded, Kristaps posted a gif of him and Luka Doncic shaking hands while smiling last game at The Garden. This type of petulant response, however little, shows his true colors and feelings about New York. All his talk about loving the city, the fans, and The Garden were fake.
The Knicks will get a superstar and savior that we all desire and deserve. It isn’t going to be Kristaps Porzingis and likely never would have been anyways. Signing him to a max deal would’ve been a giant risk for the Knicks franchise considering his injury history and the fact that he’ll probably never be the best player on a true contending team. The Knicks now have an opportunity to land no-doubt max players to take on the challenge of making the Knicks a contender and Madison Square Garden a tough place to play for opponents.
Let’s hope the front office hits a home run and turns the flexibility of today into a contending team this summer.