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Toppin and Poppin’: A trade deadline preview spectacular (ft. CJ McCollum rumors)

Abe and Jay discuss the state of the Knicks on deadline week.

NBA: New York Knicks at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Abe: Jayson, it’s appropriately one of Stringer Bell’s infamous 40 degree days here this Monday afternoon in New York City, rainy, and shitty, but not in a way that is so rainy and shitty that it’s remarkable or particularly interesting. It’s the doldrums of February — it feels like the weather will be boring and tedious and disappointing forever and there’s no hope of it ever changing. Let’s discuss the Knicks.

The trade deadline at 3 PM EST Thursday represents the final real chance the Knicks have as a team to make a change before the end of this season, the problem is identifying the right partner to swap problems with. The market is a pupu platter of damaged assets, with few teams sharing the Knicks specific current peril as a mid level franchise on the treadmill of mediocrity, locked into its older “core” of not great options for the foreseeable future.

We’ve discussed this a bit offline and are in agreement if the Knicks are able to make a trade, it should be freeing up space and playing time for our younger players. So the team position should be enviable, if front office shares our vision, it’s addition by subtraction and any asset we get back for our handful of useful veteran players is a plus, but it counterintuitively doesn’t feel to me like the position we’re in is enviable. Why are “the vibes” so off right now?

Jay: The vibes are off because we have a coach and a front office that are not on the same page. It is clear to me that Leon Rose traded for Reddish — a low risk/high reward move — so he can see what he had in a younger player. Thibs has not yet gotten to the point where he has thought about giving minutes to Reddish. The fanbase — guys like you and I — understand that this team is not going anywhere and it is time to see if any of the upstarts can become key rotation players in the future. We can’t do that if the coach is still hellbent on playing Kemba Walker instead of Quickley, Burks instead of Grimes, and not using Fournier with the bench unit.

The trade deadline is rapidly approaching and I’m more afraid than bullish — afraid that management will go for a move that whispers “win now” but actually screams “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING.”

Abe: I think that’s right. It’s just so fucking crazy to me that our coach is literally Art Howe and we’re seriously discussing trading useful players to force his hand. It kind of reminds me of one of our shared favorite episodes of Mad Men, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” The show had written itself into a corner, felt kind of stale with no real way out, and they found a brilliant way to shuffle the deck and reset the series. The Knicks feel like a team in need of a similar shuffle.

Let’s start talking about what those moves could be, what they might look like, what we’re hoping for and/or what we’re afraid of. The straight up Fox-for-Randle rumored swap was pretty much everywhere last week. You into it?

Jay: That Mad Men episode is great. One of the more interesting aspects about it is Don Draper telling Bert Cooper that old guys like to fall and take everyone else down with them. It’s an episode about what you want your legacy to be and how controlling your own destiny is how you live up to your name. The Knicks can either go with half-measure moves that won’t do much for the team this year and next. Or, they can try something new while still keeping a similar core intact. The Randle-for-Fox moves does that. While I am not as high on Fox as some of my friends are, he does have, to borrow a quote from Clyde, feline quickness. Last season, he had a solid Kings team playing hard until the end of the season when the fanbase is usually back to complaining about the 2002 Western Conference Finals because they have nothing better to do. He averaged 25 points a game. He can be a Top 10 guard in this league at his best and he’d be the Knicks best point guard since Marbury and hopefully he won’t go off the deep end like #3 did. (Marbury’s a legend though. Kind of miss that dude). Fox is explosive and loves the game. I wouldn’t mind the deal despite his often middling shooting numbers. Just saw Marc Stein report that the Knicks are interested in CJ McCollum.

What do you think of that?

Abe:

Was debating the Fox fit with Andrew Kuo from Cookies Hoops the other day and he called De’Aaron a shooting guard. Had such a violent response to it that I had to log off for a few hours and actually spend quality time with my kids.

I just saw the CJ thing, any idea what we’re rumored to be giving up in that deal?

Jay:

I have to imagine that Burks would be included in a deal like this. Burks, is on a tradeable contract and strikes me as a player that has created a logjam at a position for the Knicks. Leon Rose has to want Grimes to play more. The deal for Reddish would not have been made if Leon didn’t want to see what we had in him. So, it would definitely be Burks. Possibly Burks and Noel as well? I’d prefer not to send any picks to Portland for McCollum. While I think CJ is a good player — he is someone who has had success on that team — I’m not certain that he would have similar success on the Knicks. He’s undersized for the two guard spot, his lack of defense always hurts him late in the season, and he is on the old side of 30. But he is a good player and again, would be the best guard we have had in a while. I’d be interested if the two-man game he could have with Randle would open up Randle a little more. If we get McCollum, that could be Randle’s saving grace in a Knicks uniform.

This all seems moot to me though. We have a coach that keeps throwing Kemba out there because he wants his structure to mask the fact that there is actually nothing in his brain that he can use to help improve this roster. We have Randle, who has now gotten into the argument with the video coordinator. We signed Noel in the offseason, who looks downtrodden every time he goes down the court for offense. If we trade for McCollum, what is going to genuinely come from this? I’d rather play the kids.

Abe: In the slack Lee suggested it’s a deal that would center around Fournier, Kemba and Burks, which is more appealing than a straight Randle swap strictly for de-clogging purposes, but can’t be our last move. Randle has to go. Say what you will about his game, what he did last year, what he could be for the Knicks, I haven’t seen sabotage like this since the last days of Harden in Houston.

CJ would age us up, and you know Thibs would play him 35-40 minutes a game in a battery with Rose, but I guess he could be good for culture the next two years? Hurts IQ most likely.

I think this conversation speaks to the vibe issue we opened on. The problem is what I think the team needs is throat clearing, to be sellers at the deadline and lean into something like getting draft capital in return for what should be useful assets, like the Porzingis deal. The league has become this deeply divided market where the asset rich teams are in full rebuild and wouldn’t want a player like Randle, or they’re contenders that have already dumped their assets in an attempt to go all in and can’t afford him. What’s left are a bunch of middling teams with middling players replacing our problems with more problems. This is perhaps an uncharitable take, but CJ doesn’t really raise or lower the team ceiling, he doesn’t make room for the young core, he’s a 40 degree day.

Jay: I like how we have already brought up two golden age TV shows. Next passage, we have to work in something about The Sopranos, despite that show being the antithetical to sports. Like Mr. Stringer Bell said, we’ve gotten too much 40 degrees days. So much to the point where fans and players are getting checked out. The Knicks can either do two things: They can continue with another 40 degree day while wishing and running in quicksand for it to be a 50 or 60 degree day finally. Or, they can decide to shake the weather up and change the climate of the team. (Hey, I sounded like Succession’s Kendall Roy in that sentence).

I’d change the whole tone of the team. The baby Knicks would do great with the Garden faithful too. We just want a fun and hard working team to root for right now. I don’t think anyone thought they were getting a championship.

Abe: Hope for this team increasingly appears to be a Russian in New Jersey, miles off the Turnpike and suddenly, mysteriously, nowhere to be found. And maybe that’s what we’ve been getting at, why this exercise feels so frustrating and futile. The team we want is right in front of us, we just have a coach unwilling to utilize it. A change in leadership could fix Randle, could fix our miserable PG situation, could change how we feel about Fournier on those nights the shots aren’t falling. With him still on the bench, you could add any of the mediocre players available on the market and be dealing with the exact same agita that has made this season such a joyless slog. Maybe we’re looking in all the wrong places for answers? Randle and Thibs for Spoelstra and a few first round picks, who says no?

Jay: Is this a war story from when we traded Pat Riley to the Heat? One of the biggest lies of the silicon valley NBA era is that coaches can be more valuable as players, particularly when the roster is already good. Coaches don’t matter as much as players. If I am the Heat, I would actually do that and I am not just saying that. You’d essentially only be giving up a coach! Spo is a much better coach than Thibs is though. Maybe I’m just dreaming because Thibs is just that bad this season. He lost us that Lakers game with his rotations and his inability to make decisions that in a timely fashion. Mitchell Robinson went out in the third during a tie game and came back in down by eight. That stretch helped lose us the game. We should have beaten that Lakers team the other night.

Abe: Yeah I wasn’t being serious. Miami would never do that. I think what we’ve seen is a good coach can’t necessarily win without talent, but a bad coach can hold a team back, which has been the general theme of this fucking bummer of a conversation. And on that note, we’ll see you back here for a deadline special on Thursday folks. Try to keep hope alive, and stay warm: It fucking sucks outside.