One of the definitions of insanity stated by the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary reads as: “extreme folly or unreasonableness; something utterly foolish or unreasonable”. Since reaching the NBA Finals in 1999, insanity is as good a descriptor as there is to quantify what the New York Knicks have done over the past 20 seasons.
Bloated contracts were signed (Jerome James), assets were sacrificed unnecessarily (Carmelo Anthony trade), management clashed (Phil Jackson vs. James Dolan), and so much more has turned a storied franchise into the laughing stock of the league. Madison Square Garden has become more famous for big performances by opposing players than for anything the home team has been able to pull off.
So when news broke that their lone bright spot in the darkness that is mediocrity, third-year forward Kristaps Porzingis, was growing tired of the consistent losing and lack of consistency in the front office it looked as if things were only getting worst. As the saying goes, it is usually darkest before the dawn.
However, the dawn might have started with the deal the Knicks ended up making sending Porzingis along with Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, and Trey Burke to the Dallas Mavericks for Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews and two first-round picks (the first unprotected and the second one top-10 protected).
With Porzingis being held out the entire season as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered February of last year, this season was all about developing the rest of their young players and setting the franchise up to attract big names in free agency this summer. Many people thought a player as young and talented as Porzingis would be a critical part of any offseason pitch. The Knicks decided that wasn’t their best path.
Though it seemed like the Porzingis deal came together in a blink of an eye, Knicks general manager Scott Perry and president Steve Mills have made it known in the aftermath that they have spent all season looking at any path that allows them to be a player in free agency.
Porzingis discussions had been happening, but the reason they jumped on the Mavericks offer is two-fold. The first is that they get the contracts of Hardaway Jr. and Lee off their books and replace them with the expiring deals of Jordan and Matthews. After this deal, the Knicks could have upwards of $70 million dollars in cap space this summer — enough to fit two max deals. The second is getting more draft capital, and first-round picks at that.
We’ve seen in previous salary dump deals that the team taking on the extra money usually receives the draft picks in these acquisitions. However, by sending out Porzingis, the Knicks were able to not sacrifice any of their draft picks and pick up two additional ones for the future.
The recent move that matches what the Knicks pulled off is when the Lakers dealt D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets on draft night. Russell, now an All-Star, wasn’t nearly the prospect that Porzingis is (even coming off an ACL tear) and that shows as the Lakers only got an expiring Brook Lopez and a late-round first that became Kyle Kuzma. For the Knicks, the most likely outcome is that these picks land within the 15-20 range, but in the years the picks do transfer, it gives New York two bites at the apple.
As much promise as unmade draft picks carry, this deal hinges on whether or not the team is able to capitalize by bringing in two top-tier free agents this summer. Kevin Durant has been the pipe dream ever since he decided to re-sign with the Golden State Warriors for one-year heading into the 2018-19 season. Most people within the NBA have claimed to hear whispers that Durant has the Knicks circled as his next destination if he leaves the Bay Area.
After giving his word that he would re-sign as long as the team would have him back, Irving — at Madison Square Garden no less — seemed more hesitant about committing to remaining with the Boston Celtics past this season. When asked if he still is planning on re-signing with the Celtics he deadpanned in response, “ask me July 1st.”
Adding Irving to Durant would instantly bring the Knicks back to the elite level. But, the potential outcomes don’t end there. The Knicks currently own all of their picks and have added in the two as part of the Porzingis deal. Many presumed that Porzingis would be made available in a potential swap for the disgruntled Anthony Davis, but according to reports, the Pelicans weren’t as high on the recovering Latvian.
If Davis remains with New Orleans through the season (which seems likely) could a compilation of the Knicks young players (Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson) and first-round picks — including the potential number one overall pick in 2019 if the ping pong balls bounce their way — be tantalizing enough to get Davis to New York? If it is, this seemingly hastily-made move before the deadline could result in the Knicks netting three All-Star players by the 2019-20 season.
The Knicks have a chance to rebrand themselves in a way that has been much-needed for this once storied franchise. Sometimes it takes brash moves to jumpstart a turnaround. The Davis-Durant-Irving trio is a longshot, but by moving Porzingis, Hardaway Jr’s and Lee’s salaries they now have hope. Something that the Knicks franchise has been sorely lacking for two decades.