The trade of Bradley Beal to the Phoenix Suns was the first domino to fall in the NBA off-season. It’s only a matter of time before the floodgates open and the NBA arms race truly begins. We have brought back Kento Kato and Lee Escobedo to go head-to-head and give their takes on various players who have been linked to the Knicks. After missing out on Donovan Mitchell and trying to trade for Zach LaVine at last season’s trade deadline, Leon Rose is signaling he wants to add a star to the Knicks roster. Let’s discuss which one is the right target and why.
Escobedo: LaVine is my number one realistic trade target. He is a player Leon Rose has already pursued, at last season’s trade deadline, and brings a skill set currently not on the Knicks (elite sniper + defense + elite athleticism on the wing). Once Lonzo Ball went down a while back this Bulls roster lost their swag, forcing LaVine and Demar DeRozan to rely on isolation plays, something LaVine is very elite at. The value of RJ Barrett has risen dramatically since the last time these two teams engaged in discussion around LaVine, as Barrett was the Knicks second best player in the postseason. If the package could be Barret, Obi Toppin, and two or three picks, that’s more than fair value for a 25 PPG player who would become the Knicks’ second option, moving Randle to the third option. It also wouldn’t handicap the Knicks from making further moves down the line, while providing one of the best trios in the NBA.
Kento: Late last year, I wrote about why Lavine’s contract and injury history were red flags and that the Knicks shouldn’t risk their future for a few more regular season wins. While I’m still against a LaVine trade overall, I will say I am a bit more inclined to accept a LaVine deal because a lot has changed since then. At the time of the aforementioned post, LaVine was averaging 21.8PPG on 43.4% from the field and 35.8% from 3, and the Knicks were in the midst of a very subpar start. From that point on, LaVine went on to average 26.1PPG on 50.5% from the field and 38.3% from three, and the Knicks, as we all know, made a surprising playoff run that saw them get within two games of the conference finals. I’m not in a hurry to get a LaVine deal done nor am I even hoping it happens. But, he is coming off of his second-best offensive season, did miss just five games last season, and he has the talent and the skillset that could put an ahead-of-schedule Knicks team significantly closer to being a serious contender. The injuries and contract issues are still somewhat there, but I would no longer be too mad about the Knicks acquiring LaVine.
Escobedo: Hell no. First, Randle is a better all-around player than Towns. Towns is also a headache on and off the court with an inflated ego and absurd soundbites. He’s also soft, passive, and plays worse in the playoffs. Minnesota would be looking to recoup the overwhelming assets they sent to Utah in the Rudy Gobert trade and would be looking to fleece New York. Why should we overpay for a lateral move at best? One thing I have to give Randle props for is he allowed Tom Thibodeau to make him a better player. In their time together in Minnesota, when Thibs was Towns’ coach, the two butted heads, and Towns couldn’t wait for Thibs to be gone. The Knicks need dogs, not a KAT.
Kento: I think Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the most skilled players in the league. He can post up, shoot, rebound, pass, drive, and defend when engaged. Towns literally has the ability to do it all. But something seems to be missing in the New Jersey native. He’s a way worse defender than he should be, and too many times, the Wolves’ big man has disappeared and disappointed. And while his playoff shortcomings have not been as atrocious as Randle’s, Towns, who averages just 18.6PPG and 13 field goal attempts in the playoffs, is another star notorious for letting fans down in the postseason. Maybe a change of scenery and having a coach like Thibodeau could change things, but I just don’t think he is worth the kind of assets it would take to pry him away from Minnesota. Pass.
Escobedo: This is a mega boom or bust trade and I’m absolutely here for the chaos. Any centerpiece for Zion would involve Randle. Randle had his break-out season with the Pelicans back in 2019 and would fit in nicely next to his former Lakers teammate Brandon Ingram. The key to this trade would be retaining Toppin, who the Knicks would need as an insurance policy for when Zion is surely out with injury. He has only played 114 games over his four seasons, a horrid stat when considering selling the house to get him. A package of Randle, and Immanuel Quickley, who would solve New Orleans point guard hole, plus a trove of picks should get it done. If the Pels wanted Quinten Grimes and/or Barrett, Leon would surely decline. I don’t think Zion is available unless it’s for the third pick from Portland, but the Knicks should do CIA-level diligence into Zion’s entire life before gambling on a player who has major question marks around health, weight, passion, women, and injury.
Kento: To me, this is the most intriguing one for multiple reasons. Williamson, who averages 25.8PPG, 7RPG, 3.6APG, and 1.1SPG on 60.5% shooting in his career, has been one of the most dominant players in the game when he plays. The obvious concern is that he doesn’t always play. In his four-season career, Williamson has played just 114 games, and that may be enough to scare off a lot of teams considering whatever team trades for him will likely have to give up a lot and pay an average of $38.8 million over the next five seasons. But, in Williamson, the Knicks could get a true franchise-altering superstar, one that could exceed the kind of production and hype that even a guy like Brunson brought. Obviously, the contract and health are very worrying, but maybe the Knicks can convince themselves that a change in scenery could help Williamson and that he is the type of generational talent that might warrant the big risks he poses. This is the definition of a high-risk high reward trade and while it’s hard to push for it because of that, I have a hard time saying no to everything he could be. But for now, consider me 50/50.
Escobedo: Outside of Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić, there is only one other center I would be quick-triggered to trade Mitchell Robinson for—that’s Turner. The second-round series against the Miami Heat proved the Knicks need to improve the spacing in their starting unit, especially in the frontcourt. Turner is one of the best floor-spacing bigs (.37% from three) and would provide on-the-block offense (18 PPG) while sustaining the rim protection and shot-blocking (2.3 BPG) Mitchell excels at. Turner and Randle are both Dallas dudes and work out together every summer back home with trainer Tyler Relph. They are friends and have chemistry, and would make for the best offensive frontcourt the Knicks have had in decades. Turner shouldn’t cost too much either. A fair swap would include Robinson and a first from the Knicks, maybe Deuce McBride, and additional salary like Derrick Rose to make the money work.
Kento: Turner has been linked to the Knicks for what seems like five years now. But then again, what team hasn’t been? The Pacers big man has perpetually been in trade rumors for a while now and with the Pacers as ready as ever to go into a youth movement, Turner finds himself swirling around the rumor mill once again. For pretty much the same reason as always, I think that in a vacuum, acquiring Turner would be a solid move. He isn’t the man-to-man defender or the rebounder that Robinson is but he does offer solid rim protection while offering the Knicks way more spacing and shooting. But Turner, who has missed 60 games over the last two seasons, isn’t worth the $20 million he’s due over the next two seasons especially when you see guys like Brook Lopez were only getting around $13 million. If the Knicks can find a way to deal Robinson to fill their needs while saving some money, I guess a two-year rental of Turner wouldn’t be the absolute worst thing. But at the center position, they could and they 100% should go for cheaper options.
Escobedo: If this was two years ago, before the Gobert trade when the market was stable and fair, I would be intrigued. But the Gobert trade inflated players like Anunoby to comical levels. Masai Ujiri has a devilish history working with the Knicks, having fleeced them twice in the Carmelo Anthony trade while in Denver, and the Andrea Bargnani trade in Toronto. Leon was the agent for both those players during their trades and knows first-rand of Ujiri’s ruthlessness and delusion. It was reported Toronto wanted more than three first-round picks for Anunoby, a worthless pursuit with Barrett coming into his own and Grimes manning the shooting guard spot. Pass.
Kento: I was a fan of Anunoby’s when he was coming up as a young Raptor making a name for himself with his elite defense and ability to stretch the floor. And while I still think that he’s a good player, I do believe that he has become somewhat overvalued by both the Raptors and teams around the league. This means that the Knicks, who will have their share of competitors for his services, will likely have to overpay a Raptors team that is already known for being very hard to deal with. Also, Anunoby, who is represented by the same agent as disgruntled former Knick, Cam Reddish, has a player option next summer and the Knicks should think hard if they want to give up multiple assets for an injury-riddled (49 missed games over his last two season) non-star player. We also must remember that Anunoby was reportedly unhappy with his role on offense this past season. If there are any truths to that, bringing him on to a team led by Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, two very ball-dominant players, is likely to cause some problems. Anunoby is a very solid player who has a skill set that every team is looking for but his impending free agency, price, and injury history should (hopefully) be enough to cool down the Knicks’ interest in him. Again, I wouldn’t hate it, but I’d much rather them take their chances on the upside of LaVine or Williamson.