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D’Angelo Russell to the Knicks, Dejounte Murray to the Lakers? Hawks hold the key

Three-team, cross-country trade brewing!?

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NBA: JAN 17 Mavericks at Lakers Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tom Thibodeau spoke to media members after Monday’s practice. He touched on Quentin Grimes’ current situation, offering the third-year guard some advice amid the flurry of rumors involving him and the reported interest of New York in moving him before the Feb. 8 deadline.

“This time of the year, I always say for every 100 trades that get talked about, one gets done,” Thibodeau said. “That’s why I think you stick to your routine. You block out all the outside stuff. Know what’s in front of you and keep your focus there like basketball is your focus.”

Coach Thibs is right, but even if this column discusses just one of those 99 trades that will never happen, it makes sense to go over it because it’s a rather interesting scenario... that could actually turn into that highly improbable 1-out-of-100 trade that ends up happening.

Just yesterday, Monday, Jan. 22, Marc Stein dropped another entry in his newsletter and discussed the interest of the Los Angeles Lakers in Atlanta’s two-guard Dejounte Murray.

“It is believed that the Los Angeles Lakers, to date, have engaged in the most substantive trade discussions with Atlanta on Murray.”

“The Lakers, to be clear, have made Austin Reaves off-limits in those talks, but league sources say they are willing to package their lone available future first-round pick in 2029 with D’Angelo Russell’s trade-friendly contract to get a deal done.”

Trading D’Lo for Murray works on a straight, one-for-one basis as the former is earning $17.3 million this season to the latter’s $18.2 million for the 2024 campaign. That’s great, as it facilitates a trade between both franchises just by adding draft compensation, such as that 2029 first-round pick mentioned by Stein.

Then, Shams Charania added a little nugget to that report by saying the Lakers are seemingly willing to throw “a pick swap” into the deal on top of the above.

There is a problem with those scenarios. As reported by Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, “Any framework for a Murray trade to the Lakers would likely involve guard D’Angelo Russell. However, that would be contingent on Russell being flipped to a third team from Atlanta in the process. Russell’s $18.7 million player option for next season and his playing style next to Trae Young isn’t viewed as a fit for the Hawks.”

Uh, oh, deal-breaking roadblock!

Now, re-read that scoop again. Just in case: “...contingent on Russell being flipped to a third team from Atlanta...” May I have your attention, please?

What if New York has in fact ruled out any and every mega-superstar deal before the summer—as it’s been widely reported—and the franchise is instead focusing on just bolstering the rotation and bringing someone that can improve the bench production? What if, for some reason, the Knicks have luckily stumbled upon an extraordinary opportunity for landing a veteran playmaker from Los Angeles of all places? What if, what if!?

The framework of a three-team (LAL-ATL-NYK) deal works as-is considering exclusively the three main (read: big-salary) players involved in it as they make for perfect contract fits in their new franchises with Evan Fournier going to Atlanta from New York to make it all work.

You can explore more detailed trades (including other players, draft picks, and even teams) that would work over Fanspo, but that’s something for the FOs of ATL, LAL, and NYK to work around.

Of course, there is no way Atlanta would accept this trade as they would simply be completing a salary dump-type deal by flipping Murray in exchange for Fournier’s expiring deal, opening a $20 million hole in their cup come July, but being left in the cold for the second half of the season and looking at a free-agent market that is, well, not truly appetizing.

They would, in principle and according to Stein’s information, receive the Lakers’ 2029 first-round pick. They could also add swap rights to another pick, per Charania. The Knicks could add players without breaking the trade machine, as well as some draft picks if that’s what Atlanta demands.

Per Stein, the Hawks are “seeking at least two future first-round picks for Murray,” and one of those they’d be getting from LAL in this trade as well as the possibility of swapping picks if LAL goes the distance. The other can be added by New York depending on what the Hawks ask for—it’s not the same to flip a heavily protected one than an unprotected pick, one belonging to NYK or another team, etc...

The Lakers shouldn’t be expected to oppose any business done between New York and Atlanta in this three-teamer as long as they only have to surrender D’Lo and the 2029 pick. New York could add Quentin Grimes without breaking the trade salary-wise, although it might be too rich for the Knicks to send the trio of Fournier, QG, and a first-round pick in a trade for a bench player.

You can’t compare Immanuel Quickley to D’Lo, but the reasoning behind trading IQ (along with RJ Barrett) was basically not paying a second-string point guard the money of a starting-caliber (read: Jalen Brunson) one.

That said, Russell’s deal could be a nice asset for New York to have in their war chest entering the summer as he’s under contract (player option, mind you) for the 2025 season earning $18.7 million—for context, that’s Fournier’s money and you already know how valuable the Frenchman’s presence is if only as trade asset.

According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, the Lakers could entertain the idea of sending rookie Jalen Hood-Schifino to Atlanta as part of their package. The Hawks would then receive a couple of first-round picks (LAL ‘29 and one of NYK), an expiring deal in Fournier’s, and a freshman in exchange for getting rid of Murray, and even the rights to swap picks with the Lakers if they add that option to their package; way more than they initially asked for, per Stein’s information.

As things stand, Atlanta holds the key to this deal as they also hold the most talented player among those moving places. It’s also unknown to which extent the Knicks would like to land Russell to name the former second-overall pick as their backup point guard and the leader of the second unit.

Just a couple of days ago, after the Lakers' 134-110 win over the Blazers, D’Lo looked and sounded way off even after scoring 34 points, adding wood to the rumors fire and generating a lot of buzz among Lakers fans.

Russell is also playing his best basketball of the season. Since New Year, D’Lo is averaging 22.4 PPG shooting 52.7% from the floor and 47.6% from three-point range hoisting 7.9 3PA. He’s also averaging 6.1 APG to go with 1.6 RPG and 1.7 stocks a pop.

For comparison, here’s what Bruce Brown, Malcolm Brogdon, and Alec Burks (the three players who could take on ball-handling/playmaking duties that have been linked to the Knicks for the past few days and weeks) are averaging in January:

  • Brown: 13-5-3 shooting 47 FG%, 47 3P%
  • Brogdon: 13-4-3 shooting 43 FG%, 42 3P%
  • Burks: 20-2-3 shooting 46 FG%, 48 3P%
  • (Russell: 22-6-1 shooting 53 FG%, 47 3P%)

Call me crazy, but the Knicks might have found a solution to their roster and depth problems without even looking for it.

Should New York strike when the iron is hot? How many assets should the Knicks put on the table to get D’Lo from the Lakers, even if it means handing them Murray by extension on a silver platter? Would you be happy if this three-team trade happens? Let us know, P&Ters!