The trade deadline. It’s still so far away, right? Wrong!
We are but a mere two-and-a-half weeks away from what could be the Knicks’ most active trade deadline in recent memory.
Does this team, a mere three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, make a buyer’s push for their first playoff appearance since the magical 2012-13 season?
Or do these Knicks, only four games out of top-five lottery position, effectively call it a season and ship off some veterans in an attempt to get younger and/or pickier?
It’s an unenviable position for general manager Scott Perry, for sure. That’s why I’d like to lend my services as an amateur assistant GM, and offer up some options for the good Mr. Perry. Everyone loves options!
Option 1: Go big or go home
You may have heard that Harlem native Kemba Walker is apparently available via trade, as the floundering Hornets try to reboot their struggling and cash-strapped team. The Hornets are also reportedly batting their eyelashes at the Knicks to try to get a deal moving to send Kemba home.
The price of acquiring Walker is pretty straightforward: give up some attractive assets, and take back one of the Hornets’ other large contracts. Those contracts look like this:
— Nicolas Batum (four years, $100 million)
— Dwight Howard (two years, $47 million)
— Marvin Williams (three years, $42 million)
— Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (three years, $39 million)
All of those are pretty gigante, and for a Knicks team that’s already pretty cash-strapped themselves with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Joakim Noah on the books, you’d have to bank on the Walker/Kristaps Porzingis/THJ core for at least the next few years.
There’s pros and cons to making a move for Walker, like with any other player. The pros are easy to wrap your head around. Walker is a great 27-year-old scoring point guard, averaging 21.7 points per game on .549 TS% this season. He made his first All-Star appearance last season. He averages 5.9 assists per game, which would make him only the fourth Knick point guard to average that much in a season since ’07-08 (one of which is this year’s Jarrett Jack).
On top of all of that, Walker makes an incredibly affordable $12 million for this season and next.
The cons are probably less about Walker and more about the cost to acquire him. Give up just enough for a 27-year-old All-Star and you’re a genius. But give up too much, and you could set your franchise back a few years. He also leaves a little to be desired on the defensive end.
My solution would be this:
Knicks receive: Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Iman Shumpert
Hornets receive: Enes Kanter, Willy Hernangomez, Ron Baker, JR Smith, Channing Frye, Knicks 2019 first round pick (lottery protected 2019, top 5 2020, unprotected 2021)
Cavs receive: Dwight Howard, Courtney Lee, Michael Beasley
So why do all the parties involved make this trade?
For the Knicks, they get Walker (obviously), who’s no doubt the best player in the trade. They also take on Batum and his huge salary, which the Hornets will be glad to be rid of as they try to reboot their franchise and tank out this year. For the Knicks, however, Batum could be a perfect fit — a versatile small forward who can guard multiple positions, score a little, and is a good passer. His salary sucks, but the Knicks are leaning into the fact that Joakim Noah and Hardaway (plus Porzingis’ extension in two years) will make freeing up money kinda difficult in the near future. They also get back Iman Shumpert and his $10ish million salary for the next two years. OAKAAK.
Importantly, the Knicks hold onto their 2018 draft pick and Frank Ntilikina, along with protecting their 2019 pick in case this core doesn’t coalesce as expected, so the youth movement can still be in full effect. I’ll also fully admit that the idea of Frank and Kemba potentially playing big minutes together gets me moist (a small ball lineup of Kemba/Frank/THJ/Batum/Porzingis just sounds like a blast).
Cleveland gets some fresh new vets to pair with LeBron in his quest for another ring, including a much-needed rim protector in Dwight Howard. They also ship off some of their least productive players this year and don’t take back much more long-term money.
The Hornets get two young pieces (Hernangomez and Baker), a first-rounder, and a lot less long-term money. Kanter might opt in, but at worst he’s on the hook for two years. Smith’s contract roughly equals Kemba’s, but they also offload Batum and Howard’s $40+ million combined annual salary in the process.
Option 2: Trim the fat
This year’s Knicks are so likeable, it’s hard to really prognosticate about who to jet. But there’s one undeniable truth about this team: it has too many centers, and a good way to help the team both now and in the future would be to offload at least one of them for a player of a different position or a draft pick. So who’s the odd man out?
There’s Enes Kanter, who, statistically, has been pretty great. He’s averaging almost a double-double and a team-leading .204 win shares per 48. And yet… when you watch the Knicks play with him out there with Porzingis, something just doesn’t seem perfect about how they fit together.
Then there’s Kyle O’Quinn, who is almost Kanter’s equal as far as being an advanced stats darling, yet seems to play better with Kristaps to my eye. But O’Quinn might be the most tradeable of the bunch, with his very affordable $4 million expiring contract (compared to Kanter’s $17 million this year with an option for next year).
Then again, there’s Willy Hernangomez, maybe the most most tradeable, due to his 23-years-oldness, his being less than a season removed from an All-Rookie first team nod, and his usual dose of stellar per-minute numbers.
Oh, and then there’s Joakim Noah, who is just flat out untradeable. Not gonna happen.
So, out of the three actually likely candidates to garner interest on the trade market, here’s one option for each:
Knicks receive: Julius Randle
Lakers receive: Willy Hernangomez and Doug McDermott
This is certainly a risky trade from the Knicks’ perspective — you give up a young, cost-controlled player in Hernangomez (he’s signed two more years after this one for around $1.5 million per season) for a player on the final year of his rookie deal in Randle. On top of that, McDermott has been a decent role player at times this year.
But a Porzingis/Randle frontcourt could have the potential to be great. Randle has popped up in trade rumors for a while now, but hasn’t been dealt due to the fact that teams are now convinced they could just wait and sign him in restricted free agency this summer. So that means the Knicks’ offer of Hernangomez would probably be more than generous enough.
Randle’s per-minute effectiveness this year has been pretty amazing. He’s averaging 13.3 points per game, which is .1 more than last season in almost six less minutes per game. His 55 percent shooting is easily a career high. On top of that, he’s an agile defender that could prove to finally be the perfect frontcourt partner for Kristaps Porzingis, allowing him to operate in his spots on offense while patrolling the paint on defense.
If you’re going to trade Willy Hernangomez, it makes the most sense to try to get someone who’s still young and fits with the team. As it turns out, Randle is actually about half a year younger than Hernangomez, so mission accomplished!
Knicks receive: Jabari Parker, Matthew Dellavedova
Bucks receive: Enes Kanter
Finding a trade partner for Kanter is kind of difficult. He’s clearly a good player, but as mentioned above, it’s difficult to really find a perfect fit for him due to his unique skillset. Milwaukee might be about the closest thing.
The Bucks made a big investment in Eric Bledsoe to be the Robin to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Batman earlier this season, but they didn’t really address one of their bigger problems — the lack of a good true center. Kanter doesn’t necessarily fill the Bucks’ need for a rim protector, but he does alleviate arguably a bigger issue for Milwaukee — their league-worst 38.6 rebounds per game.
And while Kanter’s not exactly DeAndre Jordan on the defensive end, he’s at least proven to be able to fill space adequately on that end and provide some decent man-on-man D against the opposing team’s center. Unlike on the Knicks, where it’s best to have Kristaps Porzingis patrolling the paint, in Milwaukee it would provide some much-needed relief for Giannis and allow him to serve his better role as a roving perimeter defender than can sneak in for some highlight blocks from time to time.
As far as the Knicks, this opens up the door for the youth movement, and maybe the tank. Jabari is trying to return in the first couple weeks of February, but there’s honestly no telling if he’ll be even close to full strength coming off of his second ACL surgery in the last three years to the same knee. Dellavedova has been pretty trash so far this year, but he makes salaries work.
Much like Randle, Parker could potentially be a really nice fit with Porzingis on both ends of the floor. He shot a career-high 35.5 percent on 3-pointers last season before suffering the ACL injury, and rebounds well for a combo forward with a career average of 5.6 per game. The Bucks, however, have not seemed to really miss him when he’s not on the floor, in some cases arguably doing better without him. For that reason, I could see the Bucks moving on from him this season, the final of his rookie contract, before having to make a decision about paying him in the offseason.
Knicks receive: Davis Bertans, Joffrey Lauvergne, Spurs 2018 second round pick
Spurs receive: Kyle O’Quinn
This one just feels right, doesn’t it? O’Quinn screams “Spurs” to me for some reason. He’s a good passer, good hustle guy, good rebounder, and seems to make the right play more often than not when he’s tuned in. Something just tells me he would be a great addition to the Spurs, and they’d probably be happy to acquire him for his skillset off the bench.
Meanwhile, the Knicks get to unite Porzingis with his fellow countryman Bertans, who’s a pretty solid combo forward. He’s shooting almost 39 percent from 3 this season and is posting a .595 TS%. He grades out pretty well on most metrics in his 13 minutes per game as well, including a +9 net rating on the season. A lot of that may have to do with the coaching, but it’s still impressive.
Lauvergne I’d imagine would probably be bought out of his minimum salary upon reaching the Knicks, since he’d just add to the center problem that this trade aims to alleviate. And hey, a bonus second rounder near the end of the draft is always nice, too, especially considering the Knicks don’t have their own pick this year in that round.
Option 3: Free Courtney
The case of Courtney Lee has been an interesting one this season. Here’s a guy that, no doubt, is a large part of the team’s successes to this point in the season. At 32 years old, he’s posting career-highs in almost every single statistical category, particularly in 3-point percentage (a robust 43.4%) and points per game (13.6). It’s been a very atypical season for a guy that should, in theory, be starting the downswing of his career.
So it seems fitting that the Knicks should probably try to offload him, right?
He’s old. The Knicks have made a very public commitment to going young.
He’s probably best suited to be on a contender. The Knicks are, as presently constructed, at least a couple years away from truly being in a situation to win anything.
So, painful as it might be to ship off a guy who has become a steady presence for this team the last couple years, that may be the best business decision. I honestly think that half the league would welcome Lee in with welcome arms for the right price, but here’s two deals that I think could make sense:
Knicks receive: Cole Aldrich, Marcus Georges-Hunt, 2018 first round pick (via Oklahoma City, protected picks 1-14 through 2020)
Timberwolves receive: Courtney Lee
Welcome back, Cole! By which I mean, I still haven’t forgiven you.
Luckily for the Knicks, Cole Aldrich’s $7 million final year of his current contract can be bought out for about $2 million as long as they do it prior to June 20, which they surely would.
In actual news, Georges-Hunt gives the Knicks an interesting prospect at the shooting guard spot that was a pretty solid player at Georgia Tech from 2012 to 2016 (16.7 points per game on 44 percent shooting his senior season). Georges-Hunt, plus a late first-round pick, gives the Knicks some real ammunition to continue this youthful rebuild.
On the other side, Tom Thibodeau gets a positively Thibodeau-y player in Courtney Lee, who would probably spell Jimmy Butler off the bench and help the Wolves not grind into dust under the immense weight of Thibs’ short rotations. Considering Thibodeau is in charge of all operations for the Wolves and is notoriously un-trusting of rookies, I doubt he’d have much of a problem giving up OKC’s pick that will likely fall in the mid-late 20s.
Knicks receive: Terrance Ferguson, Alex Abrines, Kyle Singler
Thunder receive: Courtney Lee
What, these guys again?
Yeah, I think the Thunder could actually make a good trade partner for the Knicks yet again this season.
Oklahoma City is in a unique spot right now, trying to convince Paul George that he could have a future with the Thunder long-term as he hits free agency this offseason. But even if he bolts, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams are around for the long haul, meaning a true rebuild probably isn’t in the cards for at least four or five more years in Thunderland. That makes T-Ferg and Abrines probably a little more expendable to the Thunder than they would be to most teams, in interest of winning now.
Lee would also make a perfect Westbrook complement as a catch-and-shoot player with good defensive chops. Imagine Andre Roberson, but he can actually get the ball within two feet of the cylinder when he shoots it.
For the Knicks, you get two guys that I was pining for in a Melo trade during the offseason. Ferguson is very raw, but an astounding athlete that seems like he could have the potential to be a starter-level shooting guard. And Abrines already has a deft shooting touch, but isn’t the best on the defensive end. Singler would likely ride the bench, but the final year of his contract is reportedly a team option, meaning he’d only have to be in NY for the next two seasons at his $4.5-5 million price tag.
And that, my friends, are some of the ways I would approach trade season if I were Scott Perry. I would, however, love to hear what some of you have to say about the situation in the comments!