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REPORT: Boston’s interest in Kelly Olynyk and obstacles to a Knicks’ Dejounte Murray trade [Updated]

The Knicks could use Olynyk as a backup center, and a superagent might block a Murray-to-NY transaction.

NBA: New York Knicks at Utah Jazz Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The time between now and the NBA trade deadline, February 8, 2024, is affectionally called “Slop Season,” and it’s heating up with all the usual amount of trade gossip.

In his recent The Stein Line, Marc Stein wrote ($) that the Boston Celtics are interested in Utah’s Kelly Olynyk as a possible trade. The 6’11” Olynyk was selected 13th by the Dallas Mavericks and traded to Boston on draft night in 2013. The Canadian played four seasons with the Celtics, then signed with the Miami Heat; from there, he made his way to the Detroit Pistons and now the Utah Jazz.

Olynyk […] is playing this season on an expiring $12.2 million deal, which has helped thrust him to the upper reaches of the list of Players Most Likely To Be Traded this season. He scored 27 points in 35 minutes for the Jazz as a starter in Utah’s recent win in Detroit without several regulars.

The 6-foot-11 Olynyk, who turns 33 in April, would seemingly make sense as a trade target for the Knicks as well given New York’s acute need for size in the wake of Mitchell Robinson’s ankle injury that is feared to be season-ending.

With the Knicks suddenly thin at center, Olynyk would be an adequate backup to Isaiah Hartenstein. His numbers are down due to a minutes reduction, but he has logged a career-best 63% eFG this season. He also wouldn’t bust the bank. As Ian Begley (SNY) reported:

[The Knicks] have enough draft capital, young talent and salary filler to trade for an impactful big man. New York has the rights to nine first-round picks over the next five drafts. The club also owns Detroit’s 2024 second-round pick, which will be in the low 30s. So the Knicks can make an offer for, say, Utah’s Kelly Olynyk or Sacramento’s Alex Len, without putting a dent in their trade assets.

Here’s where relationships make a difference. Given his history there, Jazz CEO Danny Ainge is chummier with Brad Stevens in Boston; if it came down to Beantown and the Big Apple making similar trade offers, one can assume Ainge will send Olynyk to the former.

Relationships are a factor in regards to the next player, too.

Stein went on to discuss the Dejounte Murray situation in Atlanta, where the Hawks may be exploring trade options for Murray. With their season off to a disappointing start (12-17), the club could be motivated to improve the cast around Trae Young.

We covered New York’s reported interest in Murray here. Yet, dealing Murray to the Knicks might be harder than it sounds:

For starters: Atlanta surrendered a significant amount of draft capital (three future first-round picks and one pick swap) to acquire the former All-Star from San Antonio in the 2022 offseason and naturally would be aiming to recoup something close to that ... ambitious as it sounds.

Dejounte has averaged 20.3 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.4 rebounds in 29 games this season. He is sinking 46% of his field goals and 38% of his triples. The 6’5” combo guard with a 6’10” wingspan would theoretically pair well with Jalen Brunson in the starting lineup, given his certified reputation for defense. However, the 27-year old Murray has posted a career-worst defensive rating this season (121–he had a career-average of 110 before this campaign) and seems capable of halfhearted play, at least in the few Atlanta games I’ve watched. Chime in if you’ve seen something different.

The fact is, Murray was the NBA steal champion and made the All-Defensive team while playing for Gregg Popovich. Pop is not one to tolerate lazy play and clearly brought the best out of Dejounte. An argument can be made that the D-obsessed Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to get Murray back on track. Considering that, one warms to the idea of bringing him to New York.

The obstacles to accomplishing such an acquisition might be insurmountable.

First, if the Hawks take a “significant amount of draft capital” and a young player or two (Quickley? Grimes?) in return for Murray, that would weaken New York’s negotiating ability next summer. Remember, the prize is supposed to be Joel Embiid or a star of that ilk.

Second, there’s the hurdle of Murray’s representation by Rich Paul and Klutch Sports Group. Paul has shown a historical reluctance to do business with the Knicks, as Stefan Bondy reported in 2022. Bondy wrote then that Zach LaVine “should probably be crossed off” New York’s list because:

LaVine’s representatives would be against a deal to the Knicks, the Daily News has learned. The Bulls are reportedly gauging interest in the All-Star guard, which prompted speculation that the Knicks — who are strapped with future draft assets — would get involved. But a source said the LaVine camp isn’t interested in dealing with the Knicks, who have a reputation around the league of favoring clients of CAA, the agency that employed Leon Rose before his move to the Knicks front office.

The icy relations between Rose and Paul date back to 2012, when the latter left CAA with Rose’s client LeBron James to start Klutch. Of course, if Murray really wants to join the Knicks, it is hard to imagine that Rich Paul would chain himself to the gate, but one doesn’t rise to Paul’s level without some degree of persuasion ability.

Third, the Hawks are a conference rival. Business is business, but I always find it hard to fathom that one rival would willingly help to improve another. To wit: if Murray is so great, why not send him out of the conference or to a team you are unlikely to face in the Playoffs? (Same logic applies to potential Joel Embiid trades.)

There’s still time to think—and write—about Murray. As Michael Scotto (Hoopshype) reported, “Murray can’t be traded until Jan. 9 after agreeing to a four-year, $120 million contract extension with the Hawks in July.” That’s still two weeks away, and with the rate of change in the NBA, Murray might not be the only All-Star available by then. Fortunately, Leon Rose & Co. have demonstrated prudence and patience so far, and it would be uncharacteristic of them to pounce on a bad deal. Besides, Devin Booker could demand a trade any day now!

Go Knicks.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Stefan Bondy reported today that Rich Paul is now open to meeting with Leon Rose and the Knicks top brass. Read the full article here.