Leon Rose managed to walk a tightrope at the deadline, improving the Knicks in the present while maintaining their future flexibility.

The trade deadline was much maligned from the media writ large and has since been debated on the impact that it had on the league. While some people lamented the lackadaisical deadline in terms of star movement, others are quick to remind you that players like OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and James Harden have all been traded during this season.

Whether you were moved by the deadline or not, there is no debate that it had an impact on the New York Knicks. All of a sudden, Leon Rose and company have earned the reputation as one of the smartest front offices in the NBA. There is not a single person worth their weight that was not praising the performance of the Knickerbockers’ front office over the last week.

What made the deadline maneuvering of the Knicks so brilliant was the fact that they were able to go get some talent to increase their depth while maintaining cap flexibility AND keeping all of their first-round picks as potential trade chips going forward.

In what was clearly a seller’s market, teams reportedly asked for outlandish prices, or else chose to hold onto their guys until teams become more desperate and more picks become available this summer. So, whether you choose to believe that the Pistons once turned down two firsts for Bojan Bogdanovic, it is no doubt impressive that the Knicks were able to land both Bogdanovic and Burks without parting with a single first-round pick.

Between the Anunoby and Bogdanovic deals, the Knicks offloaded the majority of their young talent from the last few drafts (but not Miles McBride!), as well as the majority of their tradable contracts. The Fournier contract was the big piece to attach to every theoretical star trade the Knicks could make, and they exchanged it for a much more interesting, flexible, and valuable contract to use in the future, in Bojan Bogdanovic.

Evan Fournier was an expiring contract with a team option that could have been picked up to move him as an expiring for next year. Instead, they moved him for Bojan Bogdanovic’s 19 million dollar partially-guaranteed contract for 2024-2025. What that means is due to contract stipulations with games played, the Croatian is only guaranteed 2 million dollars for next year. So in layman’s terms: the Knicks have until June 29 to decide whether they want to pick up Bogdanovic’s contract and pay him the full 19 million for next year or let him go and only keep that last 2 million on the books.

If the Knicks  pick up the contract, they’ll have a 19 million dollar expiring under contract for next year as a trade chip for a bigger contract. That is remarkably similar to the 19 million dollar expiring contract that the Knicks could have picked up for Fournier, except unlike Fournier, Bogdanovic has value on a basketball court. That gives additional flexibility to the Knicks who could flip Bogdanovic for something of value, as well as clearing way for a bigger contract.

If the Knicks do not want to pick up that contract, they all of a sudden have 27 million dollars coming off the books between Bogdanovic and Burks’ 10 million dollar expiring contract, which they could get creative with, taking back salary in something like a sign-and-trade, although logic would suggest the Knicks’ plan on retaining both guys with bird rights in hand, which gives them the ability to take on additional salary and continue fleshing out their roster.

The other major factor from this trade deadline was, as previously mentioned, that they did it without sacrificing any first-round picks from this year or the future. This is key when accounting for theoretical star trades going forward, because they are uninhibited by the Stepien Rule or any other draft stipulations. The arsenal of picks in the Leon Rose armory is not limited to holding for the inevitable star trade, but it also increases their flexibility in the present as well as the future.

The Knicks held onto both of their 2024 first-round draft picks, belonging to themselves as well as the Dallas Mavericks. Those picks are currently projected to manifest as the 18th and 23rd, and while both the Mavs and the Knicks got better, having both picks available gives Leon Rose the ability to do what he has always done in the draft: wheel and deal. If there is a guy that this FO wants, they have proven they will make the moves to go get him, and if not, they will accumulate as many assets as possible.

Of course, the roster could change dramatically before the next season, and what happens in the postseason will certainly impact what happens this off-season. The team as it currently stands has been built in a way that lends itself to flexibility with roster management. The young players have been all been shipped out (except Deuce), so it is time to restock the cabinets with rookie contracts.

In the upcoming months, I will lead you through more draft coverage than you can possibly handle, and go over all of the possible candidates for the Knicks’s three draft picks this summer. Right now, however, let’s look at it from a macro sense. Draft philosophy  is complicated, and there is not one right way to approach it, and it can look different for every different team. While some teams are playing for potential, others are looking for ready-made role players.

The free agents this summer for the Knicks besides the aforementioned Bogdanovic and Burks include OG Anunoby with a player’s option, Precious Achiuwa as a restricted free agent, and Isaiah Hartenstein as the only unrestricted free agent besides Burks. If Precious and Hartenstein were to leave in the summer, the Knicks would have to look for backups in the frontcourt. However, if we were to assume that the Knicks would try to keep both Achiuwa and Hartenstein who have thrived in the absence of Mitchell Robinson, that leaves the backcourt as the most likely place for reinforcements from the draft.

While Deuce McBride is still a viable backup point guard option in the eyes of many, and there is the tantalizing idea of Rokas Jokubaitis finally coming over, there is still a dearth of guards left on the roster after the removal of Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. There are quite a few veteran college guards that could be available in the draft, that would help supplement the backend of the roster.

While the Knicks have smartly managed to give themselves long-term flexibility, they have done so while continuing to move forward in the present. They are armed with interesting contracts for maximum cap flexibility and an arsenal of draft picks unmatched by nearly anyone in the league outside of Oklahoma City or Utah. The next six months will only be the start of the next chapter of Leon Rose’s master plan, but if he continues maneuvering in such creative ways, this is just the beginning.

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