All-Star weekend has come and gone, and now it's time for rumors, more rumors, even more rumors, maybe a trade or two, and then a couple more rumors.
The trade deadline is Thursday, February 18 at 3 PM EST. I see two major indicators of the Knicks' standing heading into Thursday:
1. The salary sheet. For the first time since about 2010, the Knicks can, if they want to, improve the team with a trade. Compared to the top-heavy rosters of teams past, this team is diverse in age, skill level, and -- most important -- contract size. They've got someone hanging off every rung of the salary ladder, and thus could assemble various packages to match the contract of absolutely any player they desire in a trade. Other teams may edge New York in terms of talent offered, but this isn't like previous years in which the Knicks couldn't even take a shot. At the very least, it's fun to play with the Trade Machine this year. It was not before this year.
An important aspect of the above is that the Knicks probably aren't desperate to dump some sort of burden. They've had to make some unpleasant (at the time, anyway) deals to move the contracts of guys like Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith for cap room's sake. This year, Jackson may look to send Jose Calderon and his guaranteed $7.7 million somewhere else, or he may wish to deal Arron Afflalo or Derrick Williams lest they pick up their 2017 options, but there seems to be less pressure to do so. There is already cap space, and the team is already partially built.
Basically, if the Knicks part with guys they like, there's a decent chance they can get guys they like in return.
2. Phil Jackson's overall vibe. Dad just fired his young, hand-picked coach in the middle of the season. Dad has also said clearly that he's looking to make a deal. Via ESPN:
"We're looking to improve this ballclub, there's no doubt," Jackson said Monday during a news conference on the firing of Derek Fisher. "We know that we have some good guys. The chemistry is pretty good. The talent can still be better. It always can, so we're looking."
... but he did not project confidence in the Knicks' ability to compete in the deadline market:
"Do we sit in a really favorable spot? Probably not," he said. "We don't have a tremendous amount of favorable trade items that are on our roster."
It's hard for me to appraise the Knicks, since I care about them very much, but I suspect Phil's got more leverage than he says. Either way, this is no longer a team trying to strip down or stay put. They wish to improve, and they'll give it a shot this week before the summer's open season arrives.
We've established the Knicks can and will be aggressive. So what do they want? Meaningless-for-now Carmelo Anthony rumors aside, things have been pretty quiet, so this is mostly guessing:
1. They could go after a lead guard. That's what this roster needs more than anything, and free agency this summer won't provide a lot of options. So I'm sure the Knicks called about Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder when the Hawks reportedly made those guys available. Brandon Jennings's name has come up, though I doubt the Knicks view him as someone who'd meaningfully improve the team. That's it for rumors, really, so we're left to look around at the rest of the league. I see a lot of imperfect guards in imperfect situations worth at least a call: What it would it take to get Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight or Archie Goodwin? Jrue Holiday? Jeremy Lin or Kemba Walker? Cory Joseph? Ricky Rubio? Cameron Payne? George Hill? Any of 27 Celtics guards? ... I could go on. Please do not get too worked up over any one of these players listed. The answer in most cases is "too much." I'm just spitballing to demonstrate that there are all sorts of guards after whom the Knicks could inquire. Because again, they could put together a package -- perhaps an insufficient one -- to balance a trade for any of those guys.
In general, if the Knicks want a player, guard or otherwise, they can at least try to go after him. This is a remarkably rare circumstance in recent New York history!
2. They could try to open cap space for next year. Again, this doesn't seem as desperate a need as it did in seasons prior, but maybe the Knicks are into it. I don't know if other teams *want* Calderon or either of the option bros, so maybe the Knicks would have to send out a useful free-agent-to-be like Langston Galloway or Lance Thomas to make that sort of deal happen. I am not advocating such a trade, by the way.
(Fun thing worth mentioning here: Lance Thomas has a no-trade clause. So does Lou Amundson.)
3. They could just sit back and take calls. Perhaps Phil was right and the Knicks aren't in good position, but I bet they'll get some inquiries. Maybe someone puts together a really enticing package for Robin Lopez. Maybe a good team will swap real assets to get Galloway or Thomas for the playoff run, or maybe Kevin Seraphin or even Afflalo/Williams/Calderon. Maybe a rebuilding team would deal a useful veteran to get the next few years of Jerian Grant or Kyle O'Quinn. It's tough to guess which Knicks other teams might like. Probably someone! Or hey, maybe a team wants to dump a bad contract in New York and send along a good player to make the deal worthwhile. Who knows!?
4. They could trick the Warriors into trading them Stephen Curry for nothing. Something involving mirrors, maybe? An email scam? I don't know exactly how this would go down. I'm not an industry insider. The point is there are a lot of things the Knicks could try.
5. They could do nothing. This is always the likeliest possibility, even when rumors abound. And it would be fine. Way better than some rash or inadequate deal. I just hope Phil sends Bob Myers at least one email claiming to be a Nigerian prince before he settles for the status quo.
The beauty of a balanced roster and an unfinished basketball team is New York can look to "buy" and "sell" at the same time. The rumors are sparse, yet the possibilities are endless. This is different! And hopefully good! Happy trade deadline week!