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Breaking down some Julius Randle and Dennis Smith Jr. trade rumors

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Are the Knicks preparing a fire sale?

Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks
Nothing like some fresh trade rumors right out of the oven.
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks are no longer the absolute worst team in the NBA. Rejoice! While you’re busy rejoicing, however, the front office is contemplating which players could be booted from the franchise before February’s trade deadline, and new reports indicate that Julius Randle and Dennis Smith Jr. are among those who might not be long for New York.

The Knicks are 3-3 since Mike Miller took over for David Fizdale, and the team is riding high after a blowout of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden that included career high point totals from R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson (27 and 22, respectively).

The .500 record since Fizdale’s firing, including three wins in their last four games, has done a decent job of obscuring the team’s overall tally of 7-21, which is still third worst in the East and fifth worst overall in the league. Marcus Morris, the first Knick to be named as a potential trade candidate, may have faith that a postseason appearance is possible, but such an extreme turnaround remains unlikely. In the meantime, the Knicks are reportedly considering potential trades for both Julius Randle and Dennis Smith Jr.

On the Randle front, sourcing is scarce. Steve Popper of Newsday noted in a recent story that “an NBA source said it is believed that the Knicks would be open to moving Randle, though he has the contract locked in for next season.”

Randle certainly struggled in the early goings of the season, but so did everyone on the Knicks, and his play has improved in recent weeks. He hasn’t had more than 4 turnovers since Nov. 14, and is averaging 19.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3 assists over the last 10 games. He’s locked in for at least another year, and the Knicks have the ability to keep him for a third season if they so please.

Randle was this summer’s main consolation prize, and trading him midway through his first season seems like a pretty quick trigger to pull, if only because it would suggest that the gruesome twosome front office of Steve Mills and Scott Perry — now featuring David Blatt! — didn’t really understand who they were getting. Randle is a bully baller who’s at his best when he doesn’t have to run the whole show. He’s not a three-point marksman, and he isn’t up to par with, say, Blake Griffin as a point forward, but he’s still only 25 years old and therefore has plenty of room for potential improvement.

It’s hard to imagine what a hypothetical Randle trade would look like, but if the right deal came along he should certainly be considered expendable.

The next report is a little juicier. According to SNY’s Ian Begley, “several teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, are interested in trading for Dennis Smith Jr.

None of the other teams that apparently have interest in DSJ were named, but despite his overall struggles it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that there are folks out there who still believe he could be a difference maker of some sort. Smith Jr. is only 22, and considering the emotional turmoil he obviously dealt with due to the death of his stepmom, teams are smartly trying to gauge whether they could buy low on a guy who might still live up to his potential as a high-flying all-around point guard. Lest it be forgotten, DSJ amassed at least 15 points and 5 assists 27 times in his rookie year. Last year, he compiled such stats 16 times.

When it comes to the T-Wolves, perhaps the Knicks could net someone like Robert Covington in a DSJ deal. Covington, a career 36 percent three-point marksman, is a solid role player. But do the Knicks really intend to give up on DSJ, who was a lottery pick only three years ago, for someone like Covington, who’s pushing 30? Maybe if the agreement also includes a draft pick or two and some other throw ins. Per Begley, it’s “unlikely” the Knicks could snatch a first round pick for DSJ, which is unfortunate seeing as he was just recently a first round selection.

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves with potential Smith Jr. deals, because there’s an important little nugget in Begley’s piece:

Several teams in touch recently with the Knicks are under the impression that they’re open to moving one of their point guards.

Oh. One of their point guards? Does that mean… that Frank Ntilikina isn’t safe? Ugh. Or maybe Elfrid Payton could be up for grabs. Perhaps the New Orleans Pelicans, which are reportedly open to trading Jrue Holiday, miss their man and would be willing to entertain a package that includes Payton for Holiday, who is awesome. Probably not, though.

Trade season has only just begun, folks, and the Knicks are either going to be buyers, sellers, or a weird combination of both. Get ready for lots more speculation in the next couple months.