With reports of a Kyrie Irving commitment to the Boston Celtics diminishing, the Knicks are trying to assemble a quick-reload super team after the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
It was the Woj Bomb heard around the world. The deal was reported and done faster than I could clock out and jump off the elevator. For anyone high on Kristaps Porzingis, this was a bad deal. Arguments about a one-sided swap of Porzingis for Dennis Smith Jr. took Twitter by storm. Jokes were made, grown men cried, I fainted. It was a bad time.
Whether you like it or not, Porzingis is a Maverick and Dennis Smith Jr. is a Knick along with Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan. Citing DSJ as the meat of the trade isn’t quite right. While he’s certainly improved from last year, he’s light years away from being able to impact a franchise as Porzingis could.
The draft picks? Considering that the Dallas Mavericks could have a dynasty in the works with Luka Doncic and Porzingis potentially being an All-Star pairing, it’s unlikely that the picks the Knicks acquired will account for much. I’d wager they’d be closer to the middle or the end of the first round than the lottery, where the coveted prospects typically reside. Even if they draft well, they’d be trying to squeeze a dollar out of 15 cents.
No, the rationale—or irrationale if you’d humor me—behind this trade was the potential cap space implications. Matthews and Jordan are in the final year of both contracts, leaving the Knicks with seven players under contract for the 2019–20 season. With six of the seven being prospects under rookie-scale contracts, the Knicks are in good shape to have roughly $74 million in cap space to sign the marquee free agents of their choosing.
The only problem is: why in the hell would anyone choose to come here? Seeing as how the last two All-Stars left the team less than amicably, it’s understandable why free agents would be apprehensive about signing with a leprous organization.
Still, no matter how you slice it, the Knicks took the toughest route to get to this point. They have the financial flexibility everyone had been raving about for so long, but at what cost? Because if they strike out, which is clearly on the table, this could haunt the Knicks for the next 15 years.
The Knicks’ best bet is to acquire one man first and foremost. He Who Takes Ankles. That’s right. The Knicks’ only hope of securing a future is locking in Mr. Fourth Quarter himself, Kyrie Irving. And yes, it has to be Kyrie Irving.
Why Should the Knicks Pursue Irving?
Kyrie Irving is the most desirable basketball player in free agency. He may not have an MVP award like Kevin Durant, but what he does have is The Shot. The Shot is everything. The Shot made him an NBA champion. The Shot became the springboard that launched him into Boston. The Shot is what gave him the right to be the leader of the Celtics. Kyrie is the youngest of the bunch of big-name free agents this summer. Securing his contract sets your team up for the long haul. In addition to his pedigree at such an early age, Irving has been balling his ass off this season.
He’s averaging a career-high in rebounds, assists, steals, and field-goal percentage this season while scoring 23.8 points per game. Irving isn’t in the MVP conversation, but he’s far more valuable than the accolade gives him credit. His shot chart is crazy and his handle is insane. He was the second-best player on a championship team with LeBron James as the first. Durant withstanding, if you’re the Knicks, who are in a point guard drought, you send Irving a blank check. And send him another one just to be sure he’s comfortable. But the Celtics are coming off of their best season in a decade. Why would he leave?
An Unhappy Home
Everyone can recount the story of last year’s Celtics: with their key players out due to injury, their promising young core led by basketball genius Brad Stevens overachieved by making it to the Eastern Conference Finals and taking LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the series. It was a seminal moment.
Unfortunately for them, Boston has taken a step back this season. The Celtics were the second seed last season but are currently tied for third. 50 wins are not a foregone conclusion as originally thought. Good, but not great; their current record is 35-19. Jaylen Brown has lower averages than last season in points per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, and assists this season. Jayson Tatum’s overblown hype leaves his progress up for debate, and Gordon Hayward is a shell of his former self. The Celtics aren’t a bad team by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re a far cry from what everyone expected them to be. Three LeBron-less years in Cleveland notwithstanding, Kyrie didn’t sign up for this.
Irving has even verbally expressed his displeasure with the direction of the team.
Kyrie Irving had a lot to say postgame but what stood out was “The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship level team. What it takes every day. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the Finals?”
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 13, 2019
What he said could be perceived as demoralizing, but that’s simply not the case. He urged his team to get better, and any pushback against the notion is counter-productive for a team hoping to achieve an NBA Finals appearance. Crying over hurt feelings isn’t a part of building a championship team, and Irving knows this. Irving was part of the greatest comeback in the history of the NBA. As the only current Celtic with that on his resume, maybe he deserves credit for that.
Why would Irving leave Boston, a team with a slew of young promising players, for the New York Knicks, a perpetual dumpster fire that just traded their star player for the chance at a star player? Well, for one, his saga with LeBron and his career following it have served as a period of growth for the six-time All-Star.
He admitted to calling LeBron during a trying time. Irving wants championships. He wants the Finals MVPs and everything that comes with it. He looked to the guy who had done it all, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll take a page from LeBron James. Irving is wise enough to know that James’ heel turn in Miami is what brought him to Cleveland. He’s also shrewd enough to follow that it brought James two consecutive rings and four consecutive NBA Finals appearances with the Heat.
The Miami Heat were a super-charged bad boy team. The Miami Cheat were unfair. The Miami Cheat disfigured the league’s competitive structure. The Miami Cheat got results.
Now, years later, Irving has the chance to build a super team of his own. With only one All-Star selection, Irving, and a litmus test for postseason success, Boston’s playoff outlook is a little hazy. Ironically enough, the Celtics have hoarded so many assets that they are now in a type of limbo. Danny Ainge is drowning in gold, and without an immediate star to pair Irving with, his hopes of re-signing Irving are dipping.
Why New York?
Leaving Boston seems likelier with every day that passes and every tense post-game presser that Irving takes. The “We Want Kyrie” chants from Madison Square Garden, although crude, can’t hurt the Knicks’ chances. Boston too has rabid fans, but the Knicks have a few things Boston can’t offer, and I’m not talking about a chopped cheese sandwich.
“WE WANT KYRIE” chants at the Garden ??? pic.twitter.com/IRDJlQK8gI
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 2, 2019
Every team in the league would want to sign Irving, but very few are ready financially. Right now, the Knicks are in first place with $74 million ready to come off the books. Next in line is the Sacramento Kings, Knicks West, with $58 million. A $16 million difference could be enough to sway Irving if the Knicks make it clear he’d have a say in who joins him in New York. Filling out the roster with desirable veterans is another story, but having first pick at a second star is an attractive proposition for both parties.
If the Porzingis trade taught us anything (besides that the Knicks’ front office has a gambling problem), it’s that the Knicks are all in. They’re all in right now. They’re so all in right now that they sacrificed their first-born for a chance at signing two of the top-five free agents this summer. It’s a championship-or-bust situation, and the dealing of Porzingis for meager assets proves that no one is safe. No one was a more cherished asset by the franchise than Porzingis. It’s safe to say that everyone is expendable.
Kevin Knox? The first-year player has been up-and-down. He’s not even in the Rising Stars game. Frank Ntilikina? He’s somehow worse than he was last season. Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier are pawns in a game of thrones. If Irving signs with the Knicks, that’ll be a commitment neither of them will be able to back out of if it goes south. But the rest of it? The Knicks have leveraged their future for the present and, if they sign Irving, putting him in the best position to succeed will be the only thing on their minds. He’ll have the undivided attention of the franchise. The Knicks are putting all their eggs in one basket. That might just be what Irving is looking for.
Easy Money (Sniper)
Irving learned a lot from LeBron. Building his own super team is definitely on the table. The Knicks are willing and ready. Choosing to kill their baby for success like Stannis Baratheon, the hardest part is already over. The Knicks can offer Irving $139 million over four years, nearly $35 million per year. It’s steep, even for a headliner, but likely the only sure-fire way to bring Irving to Manhattan. Irving’s game speaks for itself, and the financial commitment would be a signal that the Knicks are looking to commit to a second star as Irving’s equal, which five of the other top six teams can’t truly contend with. A max contract is closer to $30 million than $20 million these days, and it’s doubtful Irving wants to sign with a team that will have end-of-season results that amount to futility.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 2, 2019
The Kings, Clippers, and Hawks have no stars. They may have a young core of promising players, but Irving is in win-now, win-forever mode. The other two, the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers already have ball-dominant guards in D’Angelo Russell, who may finesse a max contract himself, and Victor Oladipo. Irving is looking to share the ball, but not among his rivals. No, he needs a premier forward or big to help him break down defenses and spread the floor. If Irving does sign with the Knicks, step one of the plan is over, but why would another top free agent choose the Big Apple?
Why Anyone Else?
Money is great, championships are great, but it’s rare to get them both. Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks’ former star, serves as a cautionary tale that going for one puts you farther from the other. However, the Knicks are looking to change the paradigm this July. Essentially, with Irving on board, whoever raises their hand first has the best shot out of the bunch to be a star and win a championship. Reasons to team up with Irving are plentiful and obvious.
Irving is the second-best point guard in the league, and that’s chief among the selling point for the free agents this season. Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins will all be free agents this summer.
You don’t leave Stephen Curry, one of the greatest shooters of all time, to play with Lonzo Ball as your point guard. Hell, as elite as he is, you don’t even leave to play with Kemba Walker. Curry is the best thing to happen to the Warriors’ franchise. So, if you leave, you leave to play with the last guy who beat him. You defect from the Warriors (or the Toronto Raptors) to join the only other point guard in the last six years to matter in the NBA Finals.
While the potential to trade for Anthony Davis is there for the Knicks, it’s expected that they patiently wait until 2020 when he becomes a free agent. Signing the guard now and the forward a year later isn’t out of the question since Davis wants out of New Orleans. A trade with the Lakers doesn’t destroy the Knicks’ chances either, since Irving and Davis share a history and remain friends. The Banana Boat Generation of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony never got a chance to team up in their prime, but Irving and Davis might be able to form their own iteration of the rumored pact.
James’ career was riddled with lessons for a young Irving. Backtracking, the narrative of The King returning to Cleveland; winning a hard-fought championship could be in the cards for Irving as well. Kevin Durant’s villainous arc and Isaiah Thomas’ held a lesson too. He’s not beholden beyond his contract. “I don’t owe anybody shit,” NBCSports, among other sources, reported.
Everyone is still reeling from the Porzingis trade, but the Knicks can’t lose focus. They have to steel themselves and remain shrewd this summer. The second the deal became official, New York pushed all its chips in. Signing Irving is the best shot they have at relevance. Any consolation is insufficient. The Knicks need Irving this summer.
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