The Knicks look to be pushing all of their chips into the center for a blockbuster 2019 free agency. Why shouldn’t they add All-Star Anthony Davis via a trade, too?
Two weeks back, as the New York Knicks earned the third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, The Knicks Wall published a post discussing the potential options for trading the pick. It involved brief thoughts on R.J. Barrett versus Jarrett Culver, how the Knicks must move on from “losing” the lottery and falling two spots, and some potential trade targets if the Knicks intend to speed up their contention window.
The conversation spilled over to Twitter, where people lost their minds over an Anthony Davis trade and a potential price tag. Several questions about how the Knicks could think about blowing up their youth project, acquiring an “injury-prone” player or even worse, “do the Carmelo Anthony trade” over again. Different levels of concern were expressed through various messages on social media.
But there are so many different angles to an Anthony Davis trade to discuss. So, let’s examine why the New York Knicks should move Heaven and Earth to acquire Anthony Davis.
One key point before we continue: the Knicks should only consider this if they can acquire two max-level free agents. Ideally, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Kemba Walker would be a fine substitute for Irving.
Giving up the kids
The biggest fear from readers was that the Knicks would give up all their young players for Anthony Davis. Let’s address that first.
To preserve cap flexibility, New York would have to wait until they’ve added top talents to the roster, and then move assets over for Davis. To make that work, it would be Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr, Frank Ntilikina, the third overall pick—presumably R.J. Barrett—and Mitchell Robinson to entice New Orleans to make a move on Davis.
If you looked at the names and their draft statuses, you could say New York is moving four lottery picks for Davis.
All of these players are talented—but potential gets you fired, and four of these players have warts. Ntilikina, a topic of his own singular trade rumors, is a defensive specialist at this point. Smith Jr. is a fine talent, but his poor shooting creates concern on his long-term future. Kevin Knox might be the furthest away, shooting 37% from the floor with below-average defense in his rookie campaign.
If you table the 2019 first-round pick, this trade will be about giving up Mitchell Robinson.
In his rookie season, Robinson looked like a future star at the center position. One thing The Knicks Wall Podcast co-host Bryan Gibberman said about Robinson that stood out: at 20 years old, Robinson already has four elite or close to elite skills in his offensive rebounding, shot blocking, finishing, and defense.
Look…ill be happy to be wrong and the Pelicans trade AD. I wouldn’t.— bryan gibberman (@BryanGibberman) May 15, 2019
I’ll take 1 year of AD, Zion & Jrue and see what happens. That’s an incredible top 3.
If they still trade him Knicks should be all over it. Try to keep Mitch & Dot. Everyone else can go
In a world where the Knicks won the lottery, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation, but with the third pick, Robinson also has to be in the deal. He’s the only piece you worry about long-term, because Robinson could be an elite defender. Still, you’re trading an elite defender for an elite defender and a player who can carry an offense in Davis.
If the Pelicans become a Spurs-like dynasty with the pieces the Knicks provide in a trade, then we can have a different discussion. Until then, the Knicks would be offering several pieces of potential, the third overall pick, and Robinson for Anthony Davis.
Criticism of the ‘Melo Trade and the differences
The fear of the Carmelo Anthony trade lingers over opinions of an Anthony Davis trade, but the Knicks’ acquisition of Anthony and the rumored trades for AD couldn’t be more different.
Right off the bat, the first difference is that Anthony Davis is a clear cut top-10 player. Anthony, at the time of the trade, was a very controversial player in the basketball hierarchy and remained a divisive player through his Knicks tenure. In short: Davis is a better player than Anthony was then.
On the floor, the difference between New York’s potential trade for Anthony Davis and New York’s 2010 move for Carmelo Anthony is the assets remaining.
In trading for Carmelo, New York completely stripped its asset farm, throwing every player and every draft pick to acquire a player who planned on coming to the Big Apple in free agency four months later. New York doesn’t have to do that.
If New York were to trade Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr, Frank Ntilikina, their 2019 first-round pick (third overall), 2021 first-round pick (Dallas), and 2023 first-round pick (Dallas) to New Orleans for Anthony Davis, then the Knicks would still have all of their own draft picks moving forward.
The next three drafts—2020, 2021, 2022—would see New York with their own first-round picks and a second-round pick in each draft. New York would be able to tout three of the top 30 players in the league with an avenue to replenish the roster with young talent behind them.
Another small note to mention: This front office has done a fine job adding young talent in undrafted free agency and in the second round. We already discussed Robinson, but Damyean Dotson has developed well as a second-year guard. Allonzo Trier and Luke Kornet are two undrafted players who provided decent minutes for New York last year.
The difference in talent between Davis and the Knicks’ core, the ability to add talent in the future, and the front office’s eye in adding young, undrafted talent should alleviate some concerns in a potential Davis trade.
Anthony Davis: The perception and the reality
The perception around Anthony Davis isn’t the reality. Some people look at Davis and question his ability to stay healthy despite the fact he played 75 games in each of the previous two seasons and largely missed time because of his “situation” after his trade request.
Davis’ health is perfectly fine, and players shouldn’t really play 82 games a season.
Aside from that, Davis is a rare talent who fits specific criteria the Knicks should desire. He fills three boxes right now:
- A top 10 or Tier 1/2 player
- Under the age of 30
- 12 months away from unrestricted free agency as of July 1st.
It’s an odd criteria, but a key one. The first one is simple—acquiring one of the best 20 players in the world gives you a better chance of winning a championship. Being under the age of 30 suggests a player in or around his prime. At 26 years old, Davis is entering his prime and has several big seasons left in his career. Take a look at the top free agents this season and their ages:
- Kevin Durant – 30
- Kawhi Leonard – 27
- Kyrie Irving – 27
- Jimmy Butler – 29
- Kemba Walker – 29
Kevin Durant is 30, but 30 with four straight seasons of NBA Finals on his odometer. Jimmy Butler is 29, but has wear and tear from playing under Tom Thibodeau. Kemba Walker is 29 with very little playoff experience, and smaller point guards tend to age poorly. Leonard is 27, but out of New York’s range, while Irving is 27, in New York’s range, but has a litany of knee issues in his past.
The point is it’s hard to acquire talented players in their prime. Of the next two free-agency classes, only four players fit that criteria listed above: Irving, Leonard, Davis, and Bradley Beal. Draymond Green is borderline because he’s projected for 2020 free agency, but will be 30 at that time.
Extend it to 2021 free agency and you have Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo—two players who recently qualified for the supermax extension.
The perception of Anthony Davis is that he is an injury-prone player who languished on New Orleans the last three years.
The reality is he’s a top player in the world entering free agency in the dawn of his prime seasons.
The Knicks would be insanely good
The combination of Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and one of the top free agent point guards would make the Knicks a title contender, which is ultimately why you have to do the trade if the opportunity presents itself.
Continuing with the rose-colored glasses view, the combination of Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie Irving offers New York three of the six best players in the Eastern Conference, which means in any potential playoff scenario, the Knicks are walking into the series with at least two of the three best players.
Defensively, a combination of Durant and Davis would provide all of the length. Durant is an excellent team defender who can handle most players in isolation. Davis offers the ability to alter and reject shots at the rim. Throw Dotson—a fine defender—and some veteran players into the mix, and you could create a formidable defensive unit.
Offensively, there is some concern with Durant and Irving’s isolation games blending in and finding touches for Davis. However, there is enough to go around, and all three players are strong enough off the ball to make it work. The gravity from those three will create plenty of open shots for teammates.
And while depth appears to be an issue, the Knicks would still have their room exception worth $4.8 million to offer, and veteran minimum contracts with a chance to compete for a championship. It’s tough to count on either yielding a good playoff performer, but it could be enough to build depth to keep New York’s “Big Three” healthy.
With the finals starting, it’s a good time to start looking into what next season will look like for the Knicks. Assuming the roster will include the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, or Kemba Walker, the Knicks will be the first team to ever finish dead-last in the league and then open as a top-four NBA title contender for next season. Not all sportsbooks have official odds, but a few of the top sites have already released those numbers. Take a look at the reviews to see which ones update their odds the quickest, because not all will have released them just yet.Just browsing a couple of the sites, the Knicks’ odds to win fluctuate from +1500 to +1600. It might not be a wise bet right now, since the trades haven’t happened.
New York should consider deals that allow them to keep Mitchell Robinson and the third overall pick—but at that point, who can you get? The Knicks find themselves with assets that, when combined, allow you to get a big name. However, when you strip pieces away, it becomes difficult to find an ideal trade for New York.
The combination of Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., and a few draft picks is not as appealing and would return significantly less.
With Davis, Durant and one either Walker or Irving, you have a chance at the Finals next season and the ability to add talent both in the draft and free agency in the following offseason. Much like Philadelphia this summer, New York would be fishing for the piece to put around the stars.
This is the perfect time to make the jump. Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, and Toronto—the four best teams in the East—all have big free agents and could grow weaker. The team with fewest key free agents is Toronto, but Kawhi Leonard is also the best of the bunch.
If Irving leaves Boston, they take a considerable step back in the near future. Philadelphia could be stuck if Jimmy Butler leaves, and Milwaukee sold a ton of assets and will have to make some decisions on Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon this summer.
There’s no Oklahoma City–like team coming up in the East either, now that Atlanta failed to secure Zion Williamson. New York could be ascending at the perfect time.
Depending on what happens this summer, New York could walk into the 2020–21 season as a team with a good chance of making the finals.
The concerns around an Anthony Davis trade came through in waves as The Knicks Wall Twitter account shared the story about how New York could move after the draft lottery. There were some questionable opinions provided (Jrue Holiday), but Anthony Davis received the most vitriol—with many citing that a potential deal was “too much” to give up for an “injury-prone” player.
Anthony Davis is, in fact, exactly what New York needs. Even in a world where New York can only land Kevin Durant, the Knicks should strongly consider moving the assets over for Davis because the combination of Davis and Durant offers you two of the top 10 players in basketball.
You worry about his pending free agency status, but any team that acquires him would be able to offer him the most money, and in New York’s case, a major market craving a winner.
Entering the biggest offseason in franchise history, the New York Knicks have a chance to go all out and offer the fans the best chance at a championship since the 1993–94 season. They have a chance to build something sustainable for the first time in over two decades.
But it comes with the tough decision of moving potential for a proven player. While there are concerns, those concerns are relatively minor, and New York should move ahead with an Anthony Davis pursuit.
Whether they get him is another question.