With few guarantees for the veterans the Knicks signed over the summer, it would behoove the team to sell high and return assets on players.
It is never bad to plan for the future, and that message cannot ring truer for the Knicks at the moment. To say it’s time to push the panic button seven games in is merely hyperbole, yet 1-6 with no concrete plan is not exactly encouraging.
The veterans the Knicks brought in have produced mixed results. Individually they are solid rotation guys; however, the way they have been used has not amplified what they are best at. The season is far from over, but one thing that may not be a stretch to say already is the Knicks will not play meaningful basketball beyond March.
On a positive note, their young core has been strong. R.J. Barrett has looked worthy of a top pick. Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier have remained effective when used properly, and Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina have taken steps forward. Their play could make it more tolerable should the team decide to pull the plug and once again enter the lottery.
The front office was well aware failure was a possibility. It was a key reason they opted to sign most of their free agents to two-year deals with a team options or partial guarantees in the second year. Those team options were a failsafe, a chance for them to audible quickly should the season unfold how it currently is unfolding.
Once again the Knicks should be sellers at the deadline, but unlike seasons past, they have something to offer. Outside of the core four (Barrett, Robinson, Knox, and Ntilikina), and even Trier because when inserted properly still offers value, everyone should be on the table.
To make it easier I broke down who to sell by tiers, from most valuable/likely to be dealt to least valuable/most likely to stay. Simple enough right? Let’s get started.
Tier 1: Must Sell
When I say “must sell” it is not a slight—quite the opposite, in fact. This group contains the players who are most appealing on the market and should yield the best return.
Marcus Morris might be the one player that drives you to drink during the game. He has also been the best performer from the free agent class. Morris has been forced to play out of position at the 3, and the clunky spacing with he, Randle and Robinson is clear evidence of that.
Bad lineup decisions aside, Morris has been one of the better defenders on the team and the best three-point shooter, hitting 48.6% from downtown on 5.0 attempts per game. He is also the one player the team has to get value for since he was the only one who signed a straight up one-year deal.
His revenge game in Boston also showed that he has the propensity to carry a team if needed, although given his shot selection may cause fans to down a bottle of Henny in a single quarter.
Morris should fetch the best return on the open market for the simple fact he is competent on both sides of the ball. There will always be a market for stretch fours who play defense and hit threes, and Morris probably knew this scenario would present itself before he signed.
His end goal is to land a better long term deal this upcoming summer. His stint with the Knicks is merely a showcase at this point, though he does still want to win games in New York. Thus far the Morris deal has been a success, and the final step to making the signing the best of the summer is to flip him for an asset in February.
Tier 2: Easy Sell, but For the Right Price
Another guy who will be hard to see go is Wayne Ellington. His presence on this team has been a good one. He has been the quintessential mentor for the young guys, showing them how to be a good pro.
Ellington has clearly had an impact on Kevin Knox, who cited how hard a worker Ellington is in practice—highlighting that even in practice he is making the same cuts, with the same intensity as he would in a game. When you talk about creating a culture, those are the stories you want to hear from your young guys.
As much as we want Wayne to stay, he too can fetch the team something close to the deadline. Just as stretch fours will always have value, so will sharpshooters. His shooting numbers have not been great thus far (29.4% from three) but neither has his minutes. In a lineup with Barrett, Ntilikina, Randle/Morris, and Robinson, those shooting numbers can go up. He can also catch fire at a moment’s notice, as his big fourth quarter in Brooklyn showed.
Ellington won’t fetch a first round pick, but he could get you a second or maybe a useful player. There is no rush to sell him because unlike Morris, Ellington can be brought back on a modest salary next season.
Taj Gibson has played sparingly this season, and by that I mean he has barely played at all. Through seven games Gibson has logged 50 minutes of court time. The reasoning behind that—when Gibson can be the ideal backup to Mitchell Robinson—is anyone’s guess. Gibson could still be plagued with a sore calf that limited him to start the season.
Whatever the case may be, good teams can use someone like Gibson. He is long in the tooth, but can still play defense and has shown he can hit a shot in the limited minutes he has been on the floor. He has not hit a three yet this season (0-for-3) but proved it’s in his arsenal during the preseason.
The problem with selling Gibson is there is not much to go off of other than reputation. Fizdale has opted to ride Bobby Portis due to his scoring acumen and has left Gibson out of the rotation. Should that change, Gibson’s value can take a bump up and a contender looking for a rotation big can call to inquire.
Gibson is the same case as Ellington: sell if you hear an offer you really like. His $10 million salary will not cripple the cap next season, and if we are being transparent, there is nothing to save big for right now anyway.
Tier 3: Hard Sell, but Try Your Best to Make a Deal
Elfrid Payton’s strong start to the season should not overshadow that he has no future in New York. The Knicks have Frank Ntilikina, who deserves a major role if not the starting role outright, and Dennis Smith Jr., and could be in line to draft a point guard in the 2020 NBA Draft—which is loaded with studs such as Cole Anthony, LaMelo Ball, RJ Hampton, and Tyrese Maxey.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Payton. He has proved what most already knew about him: he is a good defender and knows how to run an offense. Where buyers might be turned off is his inability to shoot from deep. Point guards who cannot shoot better be amazing at something, and Elfrid is simply good.
Payton could be brought back should Scott Perry not hear an offer to his liking, but he should be moved at some point. There are still good teams barren at point guard—most notably the Lakers—who could take a flier on Elf. If that call ever comes, Perry would be wise to take it.
The Bobby Portis Game was highly entertaining. We all knew it would happen, and it did not fail to satisfy. Portis is still young and good as a stretch five in spurts, but he does not hit shots at an efficient enough clip (33.3% from three, 43.5% from the field) to justify his porous defense down low.
His appeal to good teams would be his scoring. A team with better team defense could hide Portis easier, which would allow him to shoot his life away. His $15 million price tag seems steep and was a bit of an overpay, but he too has the team option for next season so is a pseudo-expiring contract.
The coaching staff seems to like Portis, and he does bring an edge to the team, so unless some team comes over the top rope it is unlikely that Portis is sold for the sake of being sold.
Tier 4: Perceived Untouchable, but Can Be Sold
It would not be the New York Knicks without a little chaos right?
Julius Randle’s season has gotten off to a rough start. His shot is not falling, and he has been prone to way more tunnel vision than anyone could have anticipated. There have been times when Randle has been so focused on creating something out of nothing down low, he bring flashbacks, of (*gulp*), Enes Kanter.
This seems to be more of a slump from a guy who has been asked to become the top option after being a rotation guy his whole career. Fizdale has given Randle a ton of responsibility, which may have led to Randle pressing a bit more than he should.
The likelihood of Randle being dealt is miniscule. Perry and Steve Mills liked him enough to give him a three-year deal seconds after Kevin Durant officially curved them. If you asked them if Randle were available they’d shoot it down immediately. After a few drinks, though, you may get a “well, maybe” out of them.
The only scenario in which Randle would be included in a deal is a swing for the fence type move.
A deal for Bogdan Bogdanovic is a possible one for Randle. The Kings have as much love for stacking power forwards as the Knicks, and Marvin Bagley appears to be made of papier-mâché.
Another chaotic deal could be for D’Angelo Russell. The Warriors are out of it, and Russell is likely not part of their big picture. He is on the books for three more seasons. The Warriors reportedly have their eyes on Giannis, so a D’Lo for Randle swap could help them get there.
Randle has a team option for his final season, which coincides with the summer Antetokounmpo is set to hit free agency. For the Knicks, landing Russell could be a shrewd way to try and lure Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker, who have stated their plans to team up. I’ll admit this is tin foil hat stuff, but anything is possible for the Knicks.
The trade deadline remains a ways away. The plan, for now, should be to win games. This roster was built to win, not to create future trades in another tank season. But as the NBA has proven over and over again, things change quickly, and any of these veterans could be rocking new threads in a New York minute.