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November mailbag: Knicks trades, Knicks free agent plans, Knicks bench mobs

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Who to bring in? Who to send out? Who to rock out?

NBA: New York Knicks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Late November is for Thanksgiving. Late late November is for mailbags. This one goes out to my student loans. Like my debt, may these mailbags never end.

1) “It’s no secret that the Knicks are trying to deal [Courtney] Lee. There’s been talk about [Tim Hardaway Jr.] playing his way into trade bait. The question is, do they really want to push the button on either of them, when:

  • There’s no guarantee we sign anybody of significance with any cleared cap space.
  • They are a content and steady influence on the youngins (which a newly acquired FA may not be).
  • [Kristaps] Porzingis hasn’t stepped on [the] court yet this season.

Basically, the front office has preached patience, and moving either of these guys isn’t really devastating, but I’ve seen this go wrong sooo many times. Do we make a play, or let this thing happen organically?”

— Lanky Franky

I’d trade Lee yesterday if I could. He’s a solid player and character, neither of which should be undervalued when your rowboat’s full of rowers who’ve never rowed much. Even if the plan is for the youngins to shoulder the load, there’s a learning curve to respect. You don’t play sink-or-swim in the middle of the ocean. But these Knicks are mostly tadpoles; I think they can handle the inevitable submersions.

If I can move Lee for anything that doesn’t involve taking back money or years, I do it. But it takes two to trade, and what do teams see when they see Lee? He’s tap water. He’s flyover country. He’s Mr. Median. He’s Mr. Mean. Not this Mr. Mean:

Lee is mediocrity incarnate. It’s hard to imagine the following ever happening:

INT. CONFERENCE ROOM

GENERAL MANAGER: So after all the analysis, we’re in agreement. Our coaching isn’t holding us back. Our players have bought into the schemes; they’ve given all they can. We’re close to the mountaintop, but keep coming up short. What are we missing?

EMPLOYEE 1: (silently thinking)
EMPLOYEE 2: (chews pencil)
EMPLOYEE 3: (twiddles thumbs)
EMPLOYEE 4: (furrows brow)

GM: Wait a minute! What about —

ALL IN UNISON: Courtney Lee!!!

Hardaway is young (by non-Knick standards) and does good things. He shouldn’t be your best player, or second-best, or third, but he’s a starting-caliber piece on a champion. The Knicks aren’t going from 0 to 60 anytime soon. The Knicks aren’t even in danger of speeding in a school zone. But to get from 0 to 60 you gotta pass 30 at some point, and Hardaway helps get you there. Do teams that are going 50-55 think he can get them to 60? It only takes one.

I wonder, with cap relief, whom the Knicks might pursue. You know the usual suspects. (“PO” = player option...had to clarify since for most of P&T, “PO” = parole officer; I put it to you, readers: which of the POs below would make the best & worst parole officer?)

The Knicks seem to be on a youth-or-superstar-or-bust kick, so in case you’re wondering which unrestricted free agents are 25 and younger: Ben McLemore; Nik Stauskas; Wayne Selden; Richuan Holmes; Elfrid Payton; Christian Wood; Noah Vonleh; Mario Hezonja; Tyler Lydon; Kevon Looney; Malachi Richardson; Wade Baldwin IV; Marquese Chriss; Furkan Korkmaz.

I like Vonleh. I respect Hezonja as a child of God, but that’s it. Stauskas can shoot, something most Knicks can’t. Looney intrigues, though importing any non-star from Golden State based off what they’ve looked like the past few years is like buying an outfit that looks good when you’re looking in skinny mirrors.

I trade Lee ASAP. I trade THJ if and only if someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse; “cap space for in case some big-time free agent offers to let us hitch our wagon to his star” is not an offer I can’t refuse. If a Godfather deal doesn’t materialize, I hang onto a young (enough) player who’s added to his game every year since entering the league (by which I mean ending up in Atlanta, which let’s be honest was really Tim’s first legit NBA experience).

2) “...based on the season so far, which of the Knicks’ potential FAs would you keep and who has no place next year? And what kind of deals would you give to the keepers?”

— Porzingis Almanack

Enes Kanter:

Hezonja:

Ron Baker:

Mudiay is tricky. If he finishes the year looking more like the guy we saw through the Memphis win, I’d bring him back happily for three years for like $10M per. When you resume consciousness after fainting at that suggestion, hear me out: IF you luck into a 22-year-old who can dribble-penetrate and set up others, especially if you’re invested in the development of a recent lottery pick who may be best suited to sharing guard duties rather than playing lead guard, that’s a guy you invest in. Mudiay has good size. A Mudilikina backcourt can switch without giving way to too many mismatches.

At times Mudiay’s early years remind me of Chauncy Billups. Before I lose some of the weaker readers in the group, put down your pitchforks and advanced stats and hear what I’m saying. Mudiay is not THE SAME as Billups. I’m saying there are aspects of Mudiay’s career to date that are SIMILAR. That doesn’t mean I think he’ll end up a Finals MVP and probable Hall of Famer. I’m saying a few teams gave up on Billups too soon and spent years regretting their lack of faith. One of those teams was the Celtics. So what I’m really saying is “F%#& the Celtics.”

Vonleh is someone the Knicks may want to keep around; given his youth and assuming he fits in next to Porzingis, I’m fine giving him three years, $25M. His per-36 numbers are mostly in-line with his career norms, though in New York he’s playing more minutes, shooting fewer threes and making more of them. I know the past couple losses have thinned the David Fizdale bandwagon considerably, but Mudiay and Vonleh are two guys most people, in and out of the league, would have heard were available and thought “Yeah, ‘cuz you’re Mudiay/Vonleh.”

The Knicks have seen these two grow in a way that we used to think of as #SPURSMODEL; if the Nets had signed either and seen this kind of play, Sean Marks would have to cut his Nobel Prize speech short to fly to the Vatican and be sainted. The salaries I’m suggesting are if these two players put forth mostly a full season of the best-case scenarios we’ve seen from them so far. If not, I’d give them the same good-bye I’ve got ready for Trey Burke come next summer.

I admire Trey’s story. I dig someone taking a hit and bouncing back. If he wants to stay in New York at a bench-player’s salary for bench-player dollars, maybe that works. But I don’t see that happening.

3) “If the Knicks finish with the season with the worse record in the NBA, we’ll have a 14% shot at the #1 pick. Should we Knick fans stop hoping for Zion to prevent disappointment?”

— Russ

If you’re a Knick fan looking to prevent disappointment, channel your own private Alexander-in-Phrygia and don’t try to untangle your emotional knot. Slice that shit in half and quit following the Knicks. That’s the only surefire way to prevent disappointment. Otherwise, swallow your pride, swallow some blood, embrace the pain, and keep on keeping on.

4) “When the chips are down—when you really need some sideline shenanigans to motivate the guys on the court—who are the 5 Knicks you would want starting on your bench??”

— Buffalo 66

This guy.

That guy.

Them guys.

And the quiet one. You always want a quiet one. Keeps people on their toes.

December’s right around the corner. See y’all then.