The TKW staff reacts to the news of the Kristaps Porzingis trade and opines on what it means for the future of the franchise.
The deed is done. The New York Knicks are prepared to move on without their 23-year-old, ace-in-the-whole Unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, trading him to Dallas for a package centered around Dennis Smith Jr. and two future first-round picks.
The Knicks also cleared cap space by taking on expiring contracts in DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews, while moving Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr.—two players who were signed on for another season in New York.
The Knicks Wall staff writers Jared Hamburg, Harrison Liao, Nick Scolaro, Kevin Gamgort, and Eli Cohen give their near-immediate reactions to the news, and their takes on where the ‘Bockers move from here.
What was your initial reaction to the Knicks trading Kristaps Porzingis?
Jared Hamburg: I was and still am taken aback by the trade. Kristaps Porzingis and the hope he represented carried this team through some of the toughest times the New York Knicks and their fans have gone through. The speed at which the news of an incoming trade hit the wire was astounding, as if it was planned all along. I’m incredibly sad that Porzingis couldn’t fulfill his destiny here in New York with the Knicks.
Harrison Liao: Remember all that talk about how the Knicks, after decades of short-circuiting the path (not going to use the other “P” word here, Sixers fans) to long-term success, were finally investing in “all the right things,” like developing raw talent, rebuilding through the draft, excising Phil Jackson and Isiah Thomas-related ghosts, hiring a modern coach and front office combo—and, oh yeah, being patient with Porzingis and slowly molding him into the future of the franchise? Yeah, me neither.
Nick Scolaro: Disgusted and appalled, particularly at Porzingis’ camp. It takes some nerve for a guy who has done zero winning to stroll into a front office and request a trade like he did. The front office/Coach Fizdale have been increasingly more accommodating to KP and had seemingly turned the franchise toward the right direction. I felt more patience from KP would have been appropriate in this situation. I was a little upset at the organization rushing the trade and not finding a better compensation package before immediately shipping him out of town, but I understood their rationale.
Kevin Gamgort: Absolutely shocked. I was in class while this unfolded and went to the bathroom to check the Slack chat and Twitter regarding Porzingis demanding a trade. Just 30 minutes later, it was already a done deal. Did not expect this at all. It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that we will never see KP play again in a Knicks uniform.
Eli Cohen: Despair and disbelief. When the reports of the meeting between team and player broke, I figured Knicks fans would have a few weeks of debating the importance of such a meeting before everything went back to normal. Within a half hour, he’d been traded. It all happened so fast it made my head spin.
Did the Knicks really lose this trade? Is there any glimmer of hope they can succeed in the near future after sending their 23-year-old All-Star away?
Jared: How this trade fares in the future is dependent on the health of Kristaps Porzingis. If KP remains healthy post-ACL injury, this could be a colossal trade that bites the Knicks in the ass for 10-to-15 years. The Knicks essentially received $75 million in cap relief this summer, as well as three first-round draft picks—Dennis Smith Jr. (second-year pro, former ninth overall-pick), a 2021 unprotected pick, and a 2023 top-10 protected pick. A bunch of relative unknowns in exchange for a potential superstar, depending on his health.
Harry: Yes, but also maybe not. On face value, the Knicks improve their flexibility for what is shaping up to be a very volatile summer in terms of free agency. After clearing Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee’s sizable contracts, they’ll have space to sign two max contract players come July, while managing to hold onto almost all of their most valuable young assets: Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina (yes, he still has value), and their juicy 2019 first-round draft pick. Dennis Smith Jr. is not the bust many pundits make him out to be, either.
On balance, though, this trade is a disaster. Why clear extra space to risk airballing on a max-contract worthy free agent when Porzingis was already that guy pre-injury? Maybe the Knicks have intel that we don’t, and lost faith that Porzingis could fully recover from his ACL tear. It’s one of the only logical explanations for selling this low on the most promising young star this organization has had since Patrick Ewing.
Nick: No, I don’t believe the Knicks lost this trade. If we’re being real, Porzingis was a tad overrated and not the star yet that lots of people anointed him to be. Sure, they probably could’ve got more for him, but there was no point in going forward with a guy who has proven to be injury prone and didn’t want to be a Knick. They are better off having additional cap space, taking a shot at a couple of big-time free agents and seeing what they have in Dennis Smith Jr. If the Knicks do strike out this summer and don’t land a big name, they still can move forward with their young core and build their team organically without a diva on the roster like Porzingis.
Kevin: It all depends on this summer. If the Knicks are able to get a top-three pick and land one or two star-quality max players, I’ll believe in the current regime. If they strike out in free agency, this may go down as the worst trade in Knicks history.
Eli: Of course there’s a glimmer of hope; we won’t be able to say for sure whether the Knicks won or lost this trade until we see who they sign this summer and who the two first-round picks turn into. But even if those two aspects of the trade end up working out in the Knicks’ favor, the methodology of how this trade went down is hugely concerning.
The Knicks chose a massive risk (betting everything on landing two max free agents on the heels of one of the worst seasons in Knick history) over a much smaller risk (calling Porzingis’ bluff regarding the qualifying offer), and the chances are good that the Knicks walk away from this trade with nothing but Dennis Smith and a couple projected mid-20s draft picks to show for the greatest homegrown player we’ve had since Ewing.
At what point can we definitively say the Knicks won/lost this trade—today, tomorrow, the summer, next year, in five years?
Jared: This summer is make or break for the Knicks. So many “what ifs” flying around. Scott Perry needs to land one, if not two, big fish in this upcoming free agency. No in-betweeners. If Tobias Harris is considered one of the big fish, we’re all screwed.
Harry: This summer. It’s already a bad trade, but we’ll know if the Knicks won or lost it in a few months, depending on if they use their new wealth of cap space wisely or not. If they spend it all on Boogie Cousins and Tobias Harris, it’s a big “L.” If it nets a Kevin Durant and/or a Kyrie Irving-level player, then it’s a win, I guess. Still a terrible trade if Porzingis returns to superstar form, even if the Knicks do luck out this summer.
Nick: I believe if the Knicks are able to land big time free agents this summer and be ultra competitive next year, we will look back on this trade as a success. The only way I would view this trade as a failure is if the Knicks are still awful in three to four years, and the Mavs become an Eastern European powerhouse with Luka Doncic and Porzingis as the faces of their franchise.
Kevin: Definitely this summer. If they land a Durant or Kyrie-type free agent alongside their top pick, I believe this trade will be a win. It also doesn’t hurt that the 2021 first-round pick is unprotected and the protection on the 2023 first round pick is only 1-10.
Eli: Even though the picks don’t convey for two-to-five years, it will be this summer that determines whether this was worth it. The free agency class of 2020 is weak. If they don’t land the type of superstar they’re planning on signing this summer, rolling the money over to next summer is unlikely to provide results that will make Knicks fans happy.
Lastly, do you put any blame on Porzingis and how will you remember his tenure with the team?
Jared: Yes. KP and his agent-slash-brother, Janis, are responsible for the toxic relationship developed in just three and a half years. Phil Jackson messed up, but he was fired for it. KP claims he was on board with our new GM in Scott Perry and new head coach in David Fizdale, but couldn’t even wait an entire season on the sideline while rehabbing. KP acted like a spoiled kid who didn’t know how good he had it. The reason the Knicks were able to get KP was because they were not-so-secretly tanking. It’s just unbelievable how much drama has swirled around his name over just nearly four seasons—and he never matured.
Harry: I feel like I just Venmo’d Ja Rule $20,000 to go see a show on a beach where a Unicorn plays basketball, but now I’m watching a documentary in my one-bedroom studio about how dumb I was to believe it was ever going to happen. That’s how this feels. Hell yeah, I blame Porzingis—but I also blame Fizdale, Steve Mills, and Scott Perry, who are Ja Rule in this scenario, I think.
I’ll remember the hype that surrounded Porzingis in New York—Michael Rapaport dubbing him the “Lativian Gangbanger [sic],” that kind of stuff—more than any on-court stuff. All put-back dunks will be deleted from memory. This is a sad day.
Nick: I do put the majority of the blame on KP in this situation. The Knicks did a lot to cater to his desires by firing Phil Jackson and hiring a competent GM and coach in Perry and Fizdale.
To me, KP and Janis come off as extremely entitled divas, and clearly didn’t have any faith in the direction of the franchise.
I will still hold some fond memories of KP, like his rim-rattling dunks and meme-worthy facial expressions on the court. I still commend him for shrugging off draft night boos and initially proving people wrong—however, these memories will be clouded by his impatience and his lack of commitment to the franchise.
Kevin: If he actually demanded a trade, then I do put blame on KP. He knew the situation coming into this season and was aware of what he was getting into. The Knicks were prepared to build a team around him and conveyed to him that this wasn’t a quick fix. I found it impulsive that KP demanded a trade at this point, which makes me think he’s receiving bad advice from those around him. As for KP and the Knicks, I will always think about what could have been. However, there’s nothing we can do at this point besides move on and hope for a successful offseason.
Eli: Without knowing how everything went down, it’s hard to say definitively how much blame each party is due. It’s easy to put yourself in KP’s shoes and say that for all the team’s talk of building, there had been little actual progress made. And if KP’s healthy and the team asked him to sit so they could keep tanking, his frustration is understandable.
But he and his brother are not blameless. This isn’t the first time they’ve tried to flex on the front office, and the truth is, sometimes great players end up on bad teams. All he had to do was sit tight to the summer, make a little post-All Star Break comeback, and the team would be his. Then he could’ve demanded a trade and the Knicks would’ve had a chance to get back something more substantial for him. I’ll remember him like I remember the ex-girlfriend I never quite got over, the one who got away—fondly, with many hypothetical “what-ifs” and a stab of pain each time I picture his face or see him and Luka, bounding and astounding together in Dallas.