It’s been a few days. That the Unicorn will now be
hobbling flying over rainbows in the land of meat and cheese has officially sunk in. We will still be in our feelings for a while, but we’re Knicks fans, so we’re used to it.
There’s been a lot of he said/she said talk in the aftermath about who was actually more sick of who, but there are a couple of things we’ve become certain of over the last few days:
- Kristaps Porzingis didn’t really want to be a Knick (context on this in a bit);
- The Knicks have been desperately trying to clear cap space for a majority of this season, and not only was the asking price astronomical now, but according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, would only have gone up this summer;
- KP was apparently not ready to play with the Knicks holding him out against his will, or if he is ready to play, the Mavericks are taking the same approach; and
- There’s a chimney-full worth of smoke surrounding some combination of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis joining forces in Manhattan within the next six months
How at fault the Knicks were in letting Porzingis get so disenfranchised with the organization can and will be debated for some time, but it isn’t really pertinent to this particular conversation. The same goes for whether the Knicks would have been better served swallowing hard, keeping KP past the deadline, and calling his bluff by offering him a massive sum of money in July and daring him not to take it.
What can’t be debated is this: the upcoming summer and the names that will define it have combined to form a dome under which all of the NBA currently operates. It must, at the very least, frame our conversation about the trade New York just pulled off – arguably the most significant one in the team’s history – in this sense: can we really fault them for prioritizing cap space as the most significant asset they wanted back in the Porzingis trade?
Let’s put aside, for a moment, that one of the contracts they needed to move was one that Steve Mills himself inked just a year and a half ago. For as bad as the optics on this are, it would have been even worse if he had bitten his nose to spite his face and held onto Timmy in an effort to prove the contract was a wise expenditure of money. At least he recognized it for what it was: a bit of a disaster.
Now, Hardaway Jr. is gone, along with Courtney Lee, Trey Burke and KP’s relatively large cap hold. All told, the Knicks cap space for the upcoming summer more than doubled. Add on top of that the fact that they acquired two future first round picks which allow them to potentially acquire a star via trade, and the Knicks are well-positioned to go big game hunting.
If they hit, it’s a massive, massive win. If they don’t, the first question that should be asked is whether, instead of cap space and picks, they could have garnered a stronger return in the form of players and/or more picks in trading their own star player.
It’s not a discussion we need to have yet…not until the July feeding frenzy is over. Whether this was this even the best cap-clearing deal they could have gotten, however, is more than valid. According to SI’s Chris Mannix, there’s reason to wonder:
Porzingis fallout: Some bewilderment coming from several teams who were shocked Porzingis was available. Becoming very clear the Knicks did little in the way of league-wide canvassing for offers before moving KP to Dallas.
— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) February 2, 2019
Before we answer the question of whether they got the best deal, we have to look at what they dealt away.
Strictly speaking, Kristaps Porzingis was a distressed asset. He was an asset with massive, massive upside, but was distressed nonetheless due to several factors. For one, he had a checkered injury history, including the most recent one which now seems like it will keep him out for the better part of 18 months. On top of that, there is a looming contract deadline that could get messy – more on that in a second.
There are other minor concerns about his game and feasibility in a league where defensive versatility becomes more valuable by the hour1, but even putting those aside, there was reason to be skeptical that some treasure chest of picks and players awaited the Knicks in return for the
grumpy gimpy gifted Latvian, at least not if the Knicks wanted to clear their books in the process.
What else was out there?
With all this as the backdrop, there were some other potential trade partners, ones able to take on all the salary New York wanted to dump and send back unwanted expiring money in return2.
Just not as many as you might think: Atlanta, both Los Angeles teams, Denver, Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana and Sacramento is the entire list.
Now let’s add another layer: any acquiring team had to worry about doing the qualifying offer dance with Porzingis if he didn’t care to stick around. According to ESPN’s report, that’s one factor that scared off the Pelicans.
While there’s no way to know for sure, but given KP’s apparent distaste for organizational strife and/or losing, it would seem logical to believe he wouldn’t want to sign long-term with Sacramento, Atlanta or Chicago for one or both of those reasons. What would have made a deal with any of these three even less likely is that they all probably would have balked at sending over the young player the Knicks would have requested back – Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. from the Bulls, Marvin Bagley from the Kings and John Collins from the Hawks.
Even with the KP flight risk, Atlanta probably would have been cool with giving up Taurean Prince, but New York would have then asked for either the Dallas 2019 top-five protected pick or Atlanta’s own 2020 pick with very light protections. You could have argued a trade package like this would have been on par with what the Knicks got if Prince had taken a step forward this season, but that hasn’t been the case. Not only has he regressed a bit, but he’s a year closer to restricted free agency than DSJ. Unless the Hawks were willing to give up the ’20 pick without protections – hard to see given the fact that Atlanta is sure to be terrible next year as well – it’s tough to see this trade beating what the Knicks got.
We can also cross the Lakers off the list, as such a transaction would have taken them out of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, which would equate to Magic Johnson and LeBron James each conceding defeat. Ha.
That leaves Indiana, the Clippers, Denver and Brooklyn.
I doubt the Clippers would have given up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander straight up for KP given what he’s shown so far in his rookie year, but they definitely weren’t giving him up and taking back all of New York’s contracts, thus putting a crimp in their own notable summer plans, so cross them off too.
Denver has won five in a row and is back atop the Western Conference with Paul Millsap back playing a big role. He theoretically could have been the centerpiece of a trade with other young players coming back to make the money work, but those pieces – Trey Lyles, Juan Hernangomez and Michael Porter Jr. to name three – are players Denver likes, as opposed to Dennis Smith Jr., who the Mavs were clearly out on. This makes it less likely the Nuggets would have thrown in picks as well.
The real reason that this deal wasn’t going to happen is that, as we now know, Porzingis is unlikely to see the court this year. A Conference Finals appearance would mean everything to the Nuggets, and without Millsap, they’d have no chance.
Brooklyn is fascinating, just from this simple perspective: would James Dolan ever sign off on a move that sent his young star to the crosstown not-quite-rivals? It would have been a long shot, as the Nets would have needed to include newly-minted All-Star D’Angelo Russell to make the money work. Lose your best player in the middle of a playoff run, clog your own cap, and help out the Knicks in the process?
It’s a stretch. As Stefan Bondy reported earlier this season, the Nets were enamored with Porzingis. They’re also smart enough to know that Russel’s value will likely never be higher than it is right now. Perhaps most importantly, even with Lee and Timmy, they still could have had a boatload of money and maneuver towards max space in July.
The question – assuming Dolan would have stomached such a trade – then becomes whether it would have been a better deal for the Knicks than what they got.
For starters, there’s zero chance the Nets are ever sending out another unprotected pick as long as we all shall live. And who can blame them.
Even putting that aside, it would have been tough to see the acquisition of Russell working out well for New York. If they landed the max guys they seek, Russell’s cap hold gets vanquished and the Knicks have no player or pick to show for themselves in the deal. If New York struck out, they’d be left having to sign Russell to a hefty extension just to save face. They could then continue the slow and steady rebuild with an objectively worse “best” player – albeit one without any qualms with the organization – and far less cap space moving forward. It’s close, but it’s safe to say the deal they got trumps either scenario.
Last but not least is Indiana, which is maybe the most interesting of all.
Indianapolis doesn’t seem like KP’s kind of town, but they’re among the most well-run franchise in the NBA, which we know he craves. They’re also always in the playoffs, so there’s at least a chance KP would have given them a real shot at retaining his services.
The biggest issue here is that the Pacers are not an organization that tanks, so despite Oladipo going down for the year, it’s doubtful they would have included several expiring salaries as if they had no on-court value. The most likely combination would have been Thad Young, Tyreke Evans, Cory Joseph and Kyle O’Quinn, with the Knicks putting Noah Vonleh in the deal instead of Trey Burke as a Young replacement for Indy.
That just leaves the small matter of the young player the Knicks would get back in return. Aaron Holiday hasn’t played much in his young career – he’s averaging just 11 minutes a game – but he’s been good when he’s seen the court. You could argue that he’s the better prospect than Smith Jr., although the latter seems to have more of the skill set David Fizdale desires.
Then there’s the matter of draft compensation. Indiana has had some bad luck dealing away picks in the past – Kawhi Leonard and Caris LeVert were both taken with their selections – so it’s unclear just how willing they would have been to include any in the deal, let alone two.
Would the Pacers have entertained putting Domas Sabonis on the table? It doesn’t seem like something Indiana would do, but if they were, they certainly weren’t including picks as well.
So there you have it. If the Knicks swing and miss in July, we’ll have to come back and revisit whether there were any possible straight-up deals for someone else’s young stud or studs without any salary going out. Until then though, in these uncertain times, Knicks fans should rest assured that in this one, in this narrow framing of the entire Porzingis fiasco, they probably did as well as they were going to do.