Scott Perry and the Knicks have the flexibility to compete in the summer while holding onto key young players, as evidenced by the trade deadline’s moves.
The NBA trade deadline is when teams show their cards, signifying the culmination of all the rumors and leaks endured during the first three months of the season. By the end of January, teams know who they are. Contenders look to beef up, basement dwellers offload any salvageable assets, and the teams in the middle choose whether to chase meaningful basketball or lottery odds.
The Knicks, part of that basement-dweller group, opted to offload more than anyone expected, cleansing themselves of the remaining contracts weighing down their cap room, and parting ways with their franchise player. Their decision to cut ties with Kristaps Porzingis was not same old Knicks—this was progress.
Reports suggest that Porzingis was willing to bide his time until leverage swung in his favor this summer by threatening to sign a qualifying offer. General manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills felt these threats to be true and spent January hunting for a potential move—eventually settling on a Dallas Mavericks deal with more value than meets the eye.
The Mavs took on Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, clearing the way for two max slots this summer—a top priority for the Knicks. Wes Matthews grabbed a cup of coffee before heading to Indiana, but the rest of the deal is littered with positives.
Dennis Smith Jr. is a talented guard whom many think Knicks should have picked in the draft two years ago. New York now has Smith and Frank Ntilikina—who thankfully survived the deadline—in addition to Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier, and Damyean Dotson. Smith Jr. is now the top guard on the team, and the most athletic point guard the Knicks have had in quite some time.
The hope, for now, is that DSJ can play alongside Frank in the backcourt. The Magic called to inquire about Ntilikina, but the Knicks were not looking to deal, a further sign they want to kick the tires on the backcourt pairing. Smith’s athleticism can open up a Knicks offense that has been downright ugly this season (104.4 offensive rating).
We saw the immediate infusion Smith Jr. can have during his 25-point, six-assist, and five-rebound performance against the Pistons. If this becomes the norm, Perry has found his point guard of the future or created a new asset to chase an Anthony Davis or maybe even a Bradley Beal.
DeAndre Jordan’s presence holds the sneakiest value. In the immediate, he is the starting center and ideal mentor for Mitchell Robinson, who has some young DJ in him. The team asked Jordan to take the young guys under his wing, and Jordan seems to be more than happy to help. On the court he can show Robinson where to fit in on offense and how to anchor a defense. It feels like ages ago now, but Jordan was the defensive anchor for the Clippers during the Lob City era.
Where Jordan’s value skyrockets is in the chase for Kevin Durant. Jordan is one of KD’s best friends in the league, and the team believes he can be another olive branch to bring KD east. Jordan was not bought out like Enes Kanter or Wes Matthews—could he stick around to play with his buddy? It’s a nice gamble by Perry and Mills, who can look to bring him back for next season with the mid-level exception, who can also be used on Noah Vonleh who was not dealt. Given the stakes this summer, no stone can be left unturned.
This summer is shaping up to be a seminal one for the league, similar to 2010. In the season leading up to that summer, then Knicks president Donnie Walsh purged the roster for a run at LeBron James and a friend. The new hope is Durant and a friend—but unlike 2010, the Knicks have a safety net if things don’t go according to plan.
Draft picks, something that once felt like a myth, are the saving grace this time around. In addition to successfully clearing cap space for two max slots, Perry was able to add two more first-round picks, giving the Knicks seven firsts over the next five years. The plethora of picks and financial flexibility allows the Knicks to avoid purgatory.
Purgatory is being a team that simultaneously has neither a chance at winning a title nor landing a top draft pick—like Portland for example. This is a place you don’t want to be; a place the Knicks can now avoid.
The Porzingis trade, coupled with the buyouts of Enes Kanter and Wes Matthews, keep the Knicks antifragile to the potential madness that lies ahead. They head into free agency with upwards of $70 million in cap space and zero long-term commitments on the books, giving them the option to complete their rebuild or extend the timeline, should Kevin Durant opt to remain with Golden State.
Their upcoming draft pick is their shield, their safety net, and their golden ticket. If the lottery goes their way, Perry and Mills gain even more control over the future. Presumptive first-overall pick Zion Williamson can become the new face of the franchise or the centerpiece in an Anthony Davis blockbuster trade.
The Lakers failed to get a deal done, and Kyrie Irving’s possible departure in Boston leaves the Knicks as front-runners, should the ping pong balls bounce favorably in May. If they are able to add Davis, not only can Durant join him, but maybe Kyrie too.
But once again, if the lottery doesn’t go their way, they don’t have to panic. They can still head into next season with another young player in their nucleus. Still, we are talking about the New York Knicks. The only way the front office can fumble their favorable situation is if they do what they did when LeBron didn’t come—spend just to spend. Bringing back Emmanuel Mudiay or Vonleh, or even worse, throwing the money meant for Durant at damaged goods like DeMarcus Cousins could exemplify these treaded grounds.
There are a few ways the front office can botch the future, but for the first time in a long time, the Knicks are not at the mercy of everyone else.