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Let’s start here, to set the scene: I have lived in New York my entire life and I have been a Knicks fan for 25 years. So yesterday was a strange day, to say the least. This entire Knicks’ season has been atrocious. They currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a miserable 10-40 record. The general feeling in the New York tri-state area about this? It was fine. We knew that this was a tank year. We knew the Knicks had a really good chance at the number one pick (presumably Zion Williamson). We liked the development of some of the young players, like Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier. We knew the Knicks would have some cap room to play around with this summer, where the free agent pool is loaded. Most importantly, we knew that the Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, would be back from his torn ACL.
Then in the span of about an hour, our Unicorn was gone.
Here’s how it played out for me, a scenario probably not dissimilar to other Knicks fans in the New York area: I was at work (yes, we writers have day jobs) when I got an alert on my phone that Porzingis had requested a trade. Work was busy, I didn’t have time to think about it then. Shortly after, I went to lunch and listened on my car radio to the details. Porzingis apparently met with team management to discuss the future of the team and his concerns about their ability to build a winning culture. Somehow, that turned into a trade request. By the time I had finished my sandwich, Porzingis was out the door, on his way to the Dallas Mavericks.
It was a whirlwind lunch.
First the details: The Knicks sent Porzinigis to Dallas, along with Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Courtney Lee. In return, they received Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wes Matthews and two future first round picks. There are a lot of pieces involved in this trade: it almost seems like the two rosters essentially switched.
Once the news broke, I got plenty of texts from friends wanting my opinion. My social media feed was filled with New York fans bemoaning the Knicks for trading away Porzingis. I’ve thought about it and here’s my apparently unpopular opinion: this trade may wind up being a brilliant move by the Knicks.
There’s one thing many Knicks fans are ignoring in the whole story and that is the fact that Porzingis apparently requested a trade. Once that happens, it’s all over. You have to move that player. The Knicks fans would’ve turned on Porzingis once he retook the court, even if they aren’t admitting that to themselves now. Look at the recent trade requests of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George or Kyrie Irving, or the still unfolding Anthony Davis situation. Once a player doesn’t want to be there, you need to get them out of there before you lose them for nothing. The Knicks didn’t waste any time in doing so once Porzingis made his request. That’s reason one why it made sense.
Reason two is simple money. As previously mentioned, this years free agent class will be stacked, with names like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins and Kemba Walker, among others. The Knicks want to be active this summer and by making this trade, they’ve basically guaranteed having 73 million in cap space. That’s enough for not one but two max contract players. The Knicks shed Hardaway’s horrendous contract as well as some additional relief by moving Lee. Approaching a big free agency period, that’s a fantastic move. Reports are coming in that the Knicks will likely buy out DeAndre Jordan and Wes Matthews, giving them a little more precious solvency. From a financial aspect, this was a home run trade and anyone telling you different isn’t paying attention.
The third reason is tangible assets. The Knicks point guard situation has been a mess. Frank Ntilikina hasn’t really panned out. He’s a very good defender with a very limited offensive game. Trey Burke was never part of the long term plan. The Mavericks will likely move rookie sensation Luka Doncic to running the point full time and Burke will serve as a solid back up to him. Dennis Smith Jr. is a significant upgrade at the position for the Knicks. The Knicks also get two future first round picks, which they’ll need to keep building. This trade checks all the boxes: get rid of a disgruntled player, move some bad cap problems and get back usable players and draft assets.
Here’s the biggest argument I’ve heard as to why this isn’t a good deal: it all hinges on IF the Knicks can attract the free agents this summer. It is a very valid concern, especially considering the mismanagement under owner James Dolan. Yes, I will freely admit that if those free agents don’t come, this will be a horrible deal. If they do, it will be great. Ultimately the reality is we don’t know how this deal plays out. Was it great for Dallas and bad for New York? Was it the opposite? Did both teams win? Did they both lose? Those questions hinge on two major points: 1-Do the Knicks acquire two major difference makers? 2-Does Porzinigis come back strong and stay healthy?
Those are both very big “ifs.” Both teams took some major risks swinging for the fences here. If Porzinigis is healthy, he and Doncic could be the foundation of something very special in Texas for years to come. If the Knicks were to hypothetically land say Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler (and possibly Zion Williamson), Madison Square Garden will have plenty of reason to be excited. By the same token, if Porzingis is riddled by lower body injuries, like so many talented big men before him (Bill Walton, Yao Ming, Greg Oden, etc), this could set Dallas back years. Take it from a Knicks fan: trading away first rounders is a very risky business. If the free agents don’t come, the Knicks will continue to be an NBA punchline.
I know my fellow Knicks fans are cynical and we’ve been given plenty of reason to be. This organization has not earned our good faith. So is it crazy to think they’ll somehow land two max free agents? Is it crazy to think that this time next year we could be looking at a roster with Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Zion Williamson, Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. making serious noise in the East?
Probably. But it’s no less crazy than believing a 7 foot 3, 240 lb. basketball player coming off an ACL tear at only the age of 23 is going to have a long, healthy and successful career. Calling Porzingis the Unicorn is very fitting: his potential is a lovely dream but it likely won’t ever really exist.
So don’t buy the hype. The Knicks may have just shot themselves in the foot. It’s just as likely they hit a home run. Time will tell. Stay tuned.