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Point/counterpoint: Should the Knicks trade for Kings guard De’Aaron Fox?

Do they like him? Or“like” him like him?

Sacramento Kings vs. New York Knicks Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Our first trade tête-à-tête stirred up much internal debate within the Knicks fanbase over Ben Simmons’ viability as a trade candidate. So Matthew and I decided to do it again with another potential Knicks target, De’Aaron Fox. The search for a point guard becomes more pressing in light of the team’s continued struggles at the position with Derrick Rose out. Is it finally time to pull the trigger on a Fox deal?

Escobedo: The Ben Simmons debate was fun! The discussion around whether we should trade for the malcontent guard allowed us to have broader discussions on the ceiling of the Knicks’ young core and Julius Randle’s trade value in potential swaps. Now we are targeting another lead guard to solve our 30-year-old PG chasm with De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings. The Kings have managed to draft pretty well the last few seasons. This has led to a logjam at the one and two spots, leading Fox to be the primary trade candidate due to his contract (another five years, ascending from $28 million this year to a whopping $37 million in 2025-26). So what does Fox bring?

For starters, he’s 6’3” and just turned 24. So lots of promise there as a switchable point guard on defense with a ceiling. Many critics have considered this a down year for Fox shooting-wise, though he’s still averaging over 20 a game for the third year in a row. His shooting numbers have taken a hit, especially from 3, where he is shooting an abysmal 25%.

I will confess, Fox has been my number one point guard trade target since Scott Perry joined us July 14, 2017, literally three months after taking the job of Vice President of Basketball Operations with the Kings. In those three short months, he selected Fox in the draft (four spots above Phil Jackson’s Frank Ntilikina pick) before quitting and joining the Knicks as general manager. I still resent James Dolan for letting Jackson stick around and select Frankie Smokes. I imagine if he would have fired him and had just about anyone else in that role, we could have nabbed Donovan Mitchell, or more likely, Dennis Smith Jr. Fox seems like the perfect Tom Thibodeau point guard in that he’s fast, attacks the basket, can find open shooters and will take big shots. What’s not to love? The potential cost, maybe? I might agree with you.

Miranda: I’ll give you two reasons not to love Fox, particularly at his pending price point. That 25% from deep isn’t an anomaly. Fox is a 31% shooter from distance over his career, closer to Elfrid Payton than league average. I imagine we’ll discuss Randle as trade bait for Fox, but that strikes me as slightly less than a lateral move, since Fox has had zero success leading the Kings anywhere but the lottery, whereas at least Randle has last year on his resume. So trading for Fox, who costs more than Randle and has never shown himself to be above Randle’s level, seems a strange play.

If you were to somehow acquire Fox without trading Randle, I’m not sure what the point would be. It’s hard to envision Randle, Fox, RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson all in the same starting five when none of them are plus-shooters. Maybe this is where I’m reminded that Fox earns his bread because of his speed and not his shooting. Dude can jet and jump.

There’s another concern. If the Knicks have any identity as a franchise in the 50 seasons since their last championship, it’s their habit of picking up former stars who are no longer in their prime. From Walt Bellamy, Spencer Haywood and Maurice Cheeks to Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Kidd and Kemba Walker, the Knicks have a kink for faded glory. Fox’s appeal is based entirely on his speed — Sacramento didn’t give him the biggest deal in their franchise history because of his shooting or defense. It’s the vroom vroom, meaning Fox is forever an injury away from never again being as good as he is right now. Is Fox now, at his athletic prime, worth a max deal? I’m not sure he is. If I’m Leon Rose and the Kings come offering him for Randle, some young players and draft picks/swaps, what’s my response?

Escobedo: I understand and agree with your sentiment on how business has been done in the past, even if Amar’e was just entering his prime when he arrived. I went through the roster of every NBA team, parsed out the better-than-average/Kemba point guards, and came up with about half the league’s teams qualifying. Most of the guys who qualify are not going to be traded barring a demand by the player in question. Of the available point guards who are significantly better than any point guard on our roster, Fox is the best option. I am not interested in Collin Sexton (who is out the rest of the season), Malcolm Brogdon (who can't be traded until next season) and Damian Lillard (who would require half the team going back in the trade).

Fox interests me, but only in a swap for Randle. Having nearly $60 million in salary tied up in two non-All-Stars (Fox and Randle) is a poor short-term and long-term plan. But swapping them and adding a 20-points-per-game lead guard to our lineup frees Obi Toppin to start and keeps a 20-a-night player in the lineup. Fox comes with many of the same effort issues Randle is accused of. He could even be empty stats on a bad team guy. But the upside is there if we can add him to the young core while swapping Randle out of town. Randle fits the need up front for Fox and Sacramento is inept enough to do such a deal. The real question is, are Leon and company ready to give up on Randle? I say no. If you can swap Randle for Fox, do it. If it costs picks and youngsters like Obi, hell no.

Miranda: I never seem to get very far in life without reverting to the teenage Knick fan I was in the ‘90s. It seems that comes up again now when discussing reasons I don’t want Fox. Those Knicks teams were desperate for guards who can shoot (today’s Knicks kinda are, too). There are lots of frustrating ways to lose games — giving up offensive rebounds bugs me the most; missing free throws is a close second — but watching guards on max deals who can’t shoot missing shots is no fun at all. The worse he shoots, the more defenders can play off him, which not only lessens his threat as a scorer but as a passer, too. Fox is shooting 46% from the field, tied for his worst mark since his rookie year, as well as that career-low 25% from deep; relatedly, his assists per game and assist rate are the lowest since his rookie year, he’s taking fewer shots from deep and at the rim (pro’ly ‘cuz he can’t get there as easily with his shot so off) and more shots from all three midrange areas.

As far as moving Randle for Fox, that doesn’t feel like a fit for the Kings unless they make another deal. Sacramento already plays Harrison Barnes as a small-ball four and gets 20+ minutes a night from both Marvin Bagley III and Chimezie Metu. Why would they want Randle?

Escobedo: I think Randle makes perfect sense in Sacramento, as Barnes is not part of their long-term future and Randle would become the best big and even the best player on the roster. I only like this trade as a Randle/Fox swap, because again the idea of tying up $60 million between two guys who are not locks as All-Stars is worrisome. Especially when neither has much of a winning record as the best player on their teams. I’ll say it again, I am totally against packaging any combination of young players and picks for Fox. I just don’t think he impacts winning in a way that validates such a move and his shooting has been atrocious since entering the league. But, of all the points guards seemingly “available” via trade, he is the best of the bunch. Although a sign and trade for Jalen Brunson is easier to swallow and would cost way less.

I think Fox has a ceiling he has yet to reach. Which intrigues me. And the visions I have of him leading he break at breakneck speed with Toppin, Barrett, and now Cam Reddish on the wings is something I have never seen as a Knicks fan. Over the past 20 years, the Knick point guards have been a collection of slow, flat-footed jump shooters terrified or physically incapable of driving to the hoop. At least Fox is the antithesis of that, and that is enough for me to move Randle, whom I am less and less high on by the game.

Miranda: When we started working on this roundtable a few weeks ago, I was pretty dead-set on Randle > Fox. My questions about Fox remain, but the stunning and unprecedented drop-off in Randle’s play and energy, coupled with his refusal to talk to the media while he and the team sink, has made me reconsider. I’m not at all certain Obi is a sure thing to fill in as the starting power forward — right now he reminds me more of an electric reliever with incredible numbers that people wanna project over a starter’s workload; that rarely applies.

But with Rose and Kemba short-term answers at the point and Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley not natural fits at the position, I can see the argument that the Knicks are younger and may fit together better with Fox, RJ, Cam, Obi and Mitch. I don’t know that they’d win more games — that lineup would be atrocious from the field and Mitch would be Black Friday busy trying to cover all their mistakes. But while Fox isn’t a perfect solution, sometimes simply changing up the problem can be a step in the right direction.