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3 reasons the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis trade makes sense

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Peep before you leap.

NBA: New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a Knick fan, you’re hurting. Been hurting. For years. This time was gonna be different. Those other times were, too. But them was then. This now really did feel new. Today you don’t know what to feel. Lost? Ashamed? Alone? I get it. No one can tell you what you should feel. But I’m here to tell you why this dark’s different. Did Lucifer really fall if he enjoyed the ride?

Yesterday afternoon the news dropped. The Knicks. Trading Kristaps Porzingis. There was a crack in the planet. I was picking up CBD treats for my dog — somehow I can’t get edibles these days, but my dog can — when I found out. Between Twitter, Slack, and NBA radio, the consensus was clear: the nudnik Knicks had screwed up. Again. Not again. Bigger than even the Knicksiest standards of screwing up. Knick Twitter looked and sounded like the first 15 minutes of Bird Box.

Maybe I’m too deep in grief to recognize I’m in denial. But I encourage you to step off the ledge. I’m not bothered by this move. Not a bit. Here are three reasons why.

1) A successful Knicks/Porzingis marriage was always a longshot

Porzingis’ sustainability as a franchise player has been a concern since the day he was drafted. His greatest strength — an unprecedented mix of height and athleticism, a man who makes centers look like small forwards yet has the touch and skills of a small forward — is also a major concern. His body is literally unprecedented. There’s no blueprint for how 87-inch ballers reliant on finesse over force turn out. No blueprint for how or if 87-inch humans recover from torn ACLs.

10. 16. 34. 50 and counting. That’s how many games Porzingis has missed his first four seasons. 157,000,000. That’s how many dollars locking him up via the designated maximum rookie extension would have cost. Over five years that’s $31M+ per season. Joel Embiid, Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns have all signed max rookie extensions. Here’s how many games they’ve missed per season, including this one:

EMBIID: 82, 82, 51, 19, 4

BOOKER: 6, 4, 28, 13

KAT: 0, 0, 0, 0

Embiid’s deal includes a series of incentives and triggers designed to protect the 76ers in case the injury issues that plagued his early pro days re-emerge. Other than a hand injury that cost him six weeks of the 2017-18 season, Booker has been pretty healthy for Phoenix. And Towns is Cal Ripken Jr. (interestingly, KAT’s chief antagonist, Übermensch Jimmy Butler, missed between 15 and 24 games five of his first seven seasons). Porzingis missed nearly as many games just last season as Booker has in his career.

It’s possible all the time KP has had to rest and recover and build up strength helps keep him healthy going forward. But be real. How many of y’all reading this were openly or secretly terrified of maxing him out only for him to break down again? And if that happened, you know what you’d be hearing? “Typical dumb Knicks. Putting all their eggs in that fragile basket. Tsk tsk.”

If the Knicks went forward building around Porzingis, odds were against them finding a home for the $30M in annual salary owed next year to Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. Before the trade, they were a little short of cap space to add a max contract. The coin of the NBA realm is top players positioning themselves to pair with multiple other top players. Was Porzingis a draw? Yes. To what extent? Were Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving walking away from championship contenders to pair up exclusively with someone who had injury issues even before tearing his ACL? How confident were you of that?

Also:

Can you IMAGINE the fallout if KP were still a Knick at the end of the season and announced he was signing the QO? If Porzingis had a healthy and productive 2019-20, the team would either have to risk keeping him and losing him for nothing that summer or trying to trade him with his value diminished due to his impending unrestricted free agency. And these are best-case hypotheses. If he hurt himself again between now and then?

Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

This is also where I remind you even with the worst record in the league there’s an 86% chance the Knicks don’t win the lottery. Somewhere in a dimension very much like ours, the Knicks are picking 4th and KP’s taking the qualifying offer.

2) The Knicks’ plan didn’t change; the Pelicans’ did, which scared Porzingis.

A little over three months ago, the deadline for Porzingis to sign the max extension came and went. Nothing happened. The world moved on. Because the world and Porzingis understood: waiting another year was an accounting trick designed to give the Knicks more money to spend in free agency this summer while still maxing KP out. Since he’d spend most if not all of this season rehabbing, it cost him nothing. He wasn’t playing and risking another injury and the potential loss of millions. It just meant instead of signing for that money then, he’d sign for it later, hopefully after the Knicks used the flexibility afforded to them to bring in a better caliber of teammate to pair alongside him. He knew what was up. What changed?

In an October Daily News article, Stefan Bondy wrote the following:

“David Fizdale had never, with a decade of experience as a head coach or an assistant, entered a season without the expectation of winning.

Until he joined the Knicks.

Now, as Fizdale explained ahead of his New York coaching debut Wednesday against the Hawks, he’s reaching for a lower bar.

‘The last 12 to 14 years success was determined on how far you went (in the playoffs),’ Fizdale said. ‘I don’t think that’s a fair gauge for this team.’

The reality of rebuilding quickly infiltrated the Knicks and their culture under Fizdale, who, unlike his predecessor Jeff Hornacek, has the job security to withstand losing. According to most projections, the Knicks will drop 50 or more games for the fourth straight season...”

The press knew what was up. You knew. I knew. Porzingis must’ve known, too. This season, while tough to stomach as far as what that “lower bar” feels like as they lose night after night, has followed the main beats of the plan. Their 11 leading minutes earners are all younger than 30; seven of those 11 are 23 or younger. Regardless of how the lottery pans out, odds are the Knicks will be adding another promising youngster to the core. KP knew what was up. So what changed?

Anthony Davis notifying the world he wants out of New Orleans served as a wake-up call for anyone living under a rock that the NBA is a business and that there’s a hierarchy of stars; the higher up, the more agency those stars can exercise. Porzingis is a star. Davis is a superstar. The Knicks — the same Knicks KP has never had qualms about calling out over the years, publicly, to challenge their desire to build a winner — were always going to inquire about a trade for Davis. Which meant having to be willing to discuss anyone and everyone in their war chest. KP and their first-round pick this year were their shiniest baubles.

Porzingis dreamt of playing in the NBA his entire life, I’m sure, and I’m just as sure he never dreamed of landing in New Orleans. When he realized the Knicks were weighing whether he could land them AD, he was reminded of how little agency he holds at this stage of his career. I don’t hold that against him; athletes’ rights to self-determination in their professional lives is something future generations would have been horrified by if we hadn’t killed the planet before they had a chance to look back on us.

But KP, Big Brother Janis and the Holding Company being suddenly, irrevocably concerned about the Knicks’ “losing, franchise direction and culture”? Horseshit. Their concern was him ending up somewhere he didn’t want to work. Faced with that fear, they played the same “I’m too fierce and noble a competitor to stomach losing” card Kobe Bryant clung to late in his career and Jimmy Butler busted out to bust out of Minnesota.

I understand where Porzingis was coming from. In his shoes, I pro’ly do the same thing. But the Knicks’ plan didn’t deviate. At least, not until Porzingis changed his tune and they had to decide whether to commit to a mercurial, injury-prone gamble who might sign the qualifying offer and leave next year anyway. Pass.

3) The best part of this trade is how un-Knicksy it is.

The first big trade the Knicks made after the Patrick Ewing era ended was sending Marcus Camby and pieces to Denver for Antonio McDyess. McDyess played just 10 games in 2001-02 and missed the entire 2002-03 season after multiple surgeries on a Patellar tendon rupture, but so what? The Knicks got the biggest name in the deal, the best résumé. The next big trade the Knicks made shipped McDyess to Phoenix for Stephon Marbury. And yeah, acquiring Marbury meant taking on the $36M or so left on Anfernee Hardaway’s contract, but so what? The Knicks got the biggest name in the deal, the best résumé. The year after it was Eddy Curry in and a couple nameless draft picks. Who cares about zygotes when you get the big name in the trade?

The last big trade the Knicks made before yesterday was when they sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick. People lost their minds. The Knicks sent away the biggest name in the deal and got no big name back. Carmelo’s since flamed out for two teams, been cut by a third and will be traded or waived by a fourth without ever suiting up for them, all the while costing those teams $51M. Kanter is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing, likely gone within a week. McDermott lasted a half-season before being discarded. That second-round pick became Mitchell Robinson, a.k.a the only name in this entire paragraph anyone cares about. The players they acquired from Dallas yesterday aren’t the big names in the deal. That’s OK. Or to look at it in reverse: the Mavs just mortgaged their future betting on a guy with injury red flags who’s gonna cost them a lot of money to keep. Does anything sound more Knicksy than that?

The Knicks no longer have the dream of Porzingis. The Knicks do now have a point guard (don’t — DON’T — try to drag me down with your brill-fucking-iant observation that Dennis Smith Jr. has flaws. We’ve spent the past four months infighting over whether Emmanuel Mudiay or Frank Ntilikina should start. Neither of those players have cemented themselves as starting-caliber yet. DSJ has. If Mudiay or Frank put up the triple-double Smith did Wednesday, y’all would fill up emergency rooms having OD’d on your own hype).

The Knicks have a surplus of draft picks. First-round picks, even. You can be the Celtics and use those to build young, cheap depth with upside and outside appeal. You can package those in a trade down the road for a star. The Knicks have enough cap space to sign two max players this summer. If they don’t, the front office seems to be run by adults for a change, so even missing out means they can preserve that space until the next Anthony Davis becomes available in a trade. Or use that space to acquire assets from other teams looking to shed contracts. Brooklyn is lauded for doing this as if they split the atom. The U.S. built the first A-bombs, but the Soviets weren’t far behind.

Porzingis is gone, but not forgotten. He was the best dream we’ve had in years. Wake up. Welcome to reality. No need for shame or sorrow. You’re not alone here. You’re not lost. I don’t think the Knicks are, either.