A deal is not close, but the Knicks and Kings are discussing a trade that would send Enes Kanter out west in exchange for Zach Randolph’s expiring contract, with perhaps a third team getting involved, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski.
Why would these teams do this?
The Knicks are obviously in a delicate position with Enes Kanter, as they look to prioritize developing their young core, and find lineups that have a chance to stop somebody. Kanter has had a bit of a resurgence in the past few games, but has grown disgruntled in losing his starting spot to Luke Kornet. His playing time is likely to suffer even more once Mitchell Robinson returns to the lineup.
Zach Randolph finds himself in a similar situation in Sacramento, with even more drastic consequences. He has not played this entire season, as the Kings are also prioritizing development. It is worth noting that Randolph signed with the Kings during Scott Perry’s short executive tenure in the royal city.
In the simplest of scenarios, the two teams could exchange veterans on expiring deals, believing that each side is better off mixing the other’s veteran with their young core for the remainder of this season.
Exchanging two players in similar situations doesn’t exactly move the needle much, as both players would find themselves in the same predicament, just in a different city.
That said, the Knicks would be ridding themselves of the constant media storm that seems to follow Kanter, while also saving themselves some money in a straight swap for Randolph. Remember, the team is carrying plenty of dead cap weight this season from Noah and Baker, so while James Dolan doesn’t usually pinch pennies, it wouldn’t hurt saving a few. The Kings might feel that Kanter serves their team better than Randolph does for the remainder of this season.
Beyond Kanter and Randolph’s situation, there is also added motivation for these teams to work together on a trade. New York wants to clear 2019 cap space and Sacramento has cap space to burn. Meanwhile, Sacramento has incentive to add productive players to their roster in a potential playoff push this season. The Kings are currently two games out of a playoff spot in the West, so adding players who they think can offer a competitive mix to their young core could be attractive to an organization looking to maximize revenue from playoff gates.
What are the cap mechanics of a potential deal?
Since Sacramento is $11 million under the cap, they can use that cap space to make any trade that leaves them no more than $100,000 over the cap once the trade is completed.
If Zach Randolph is the only outgoing piece, the Kings could accept up to $22.7 million in salary in return. Enes Kanter has a cap hit of $18.6 million, so a straight up deal would work. However, as mentioned above, there might be more to this potential deal than a straight-up swap of two veterans on expiring contracts.
Sacramento can take back more money by aggregating contracts, and they have a few expiring deals that they could use (i.e Iman Shumpert or Kosta Koufas).
This is where things get intriguing for the Knicks. If they were able to attach Courtney Lee (and his 2019 salary) to Enes Kanter, the Knicks could make a deal work by taking back as little as $19 million in expiring deals (such as Randolph + Koufas).
Sacramento might ask for something extra to actually pull the trigger on such a deal, since they would then be adding an extra year of salary obligation in Lee. The Knicks could use the two second round picks they have from Charlotte, or find a third team to help sweeten the pot.
Of course, the same logic could be applied to including Tim Hardaway Jr. in a deal. His salary would require the Knicks to take back more money (if coupled with Kanter), and perhaps New York would be willing to take back a little bit of term to move Timmy’s larger contract.
Either way, there is a potential framework to help Sacramento improve their roster (either with a 3-and-D veteran in Lee, or a 26-year-old scorer in THJ) in exchange for cap relief to the Knicks.
Which brings us back to Kanter. If the basis of the rumor is the Knicks and Kings are discussing an exchange of Kanter for Randolph, while adding Lee or THJ to the trade makes some sense, it makes even more sense for the teams to negotiate a trade involving those players independent of Kanter. Sacramento has the cap space and expiring contracts to allow them to acquire either Lee or Hardaway Jr. quite easily. Adding the Turkish big man would only be important if Sacramento feels he can offer them a boost this season in a quest for a playoff spot.
Why are Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. important to consider in every trade rumor? Because if the Knicks somehow trade Lee’s 2019 salary for expiring contracts, it would put the team in position to control their own destiny to create as much as $46 million in 2019 cap space (depending on where the cap officially falls and where they ultimately draft). That number balloons to $52 million if you replace Lee in the deal with Hardaway Jr.
For dreamers, Kevin Durant’s max salary under a $109 million cap would be $38.1 million.