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Kristaps Porzingis Trade: A Five Year Retrospective


For many younger Knicks fans who, say, didn't experience the Isiah Thomas tenure, the absolute rock bottom of their fandom likely occurred around 2019. Sure, you could say 2015 lottery night and I wouldn't bat an eye, but they winded up benefitting from dropping to 4. There are three moments that stand out as moments of absolute despair in 2019: Lottery Night, Free Agency, and the trade. Lottery night was incredibly painful, but they could've fallen as far as five. At least they winded up with one of the (at the time) Big 3. Free agency hurt after a year of speculation, but it was dragged out. Once Kyrie was all-but-a-lock to go to Brooklyn in the week before, the hopes of KD quickly slipped.

To me, the Kristaps Porzingis debacle was the lowest point. Another candidate for a low-point was when he tore his ACL in February 2018, but at least you could be optimistic about when he returned.

The discontent with Kristaps Porzingis began under the terrible regime of Phil Jackson, who reportedly put him on the trade block in 2017. Even after he left, the relationship continued to sour when the Knicks didn't offer him a max contract extension in the offseason prior to the trade with concerns about his lanky frame coming back from a potentially career-altering ACL tear. They also wanted maximum cap space for the looming 2019 offseason to pair Porzingis with a star, something that Philadelphia is doing with Tyrese Maxey right now.

On January 31, 2019, it was reported at 1:17 PM that Porzingis met with management and made his discontent known. Within two hours, reports emerged that Porzingis wished to be traded. Steve Mills later said that in the trade request, Porzingis threatened management by telling them he would play in Europe if he wasn't traded. As such, the Knicks finalized a trade within three hours of the initial report of the discontent. The stinging thing about this trade? The Knicks played the Mavericks in MSG a day earlier. This trade exchanged six players that played in that game. The details were as follows:

Mavericks acquire: Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Trey Burke

Knicks acquire: Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith Jr., 2021 DAL 1st, 2023 DAL 1st (Top 10 Protected)

I personally didn't think it was enough. I was heartbroken. Frankly, the Knicks probably could've waited a few days to get a better offer. That said, Dallas enticed them by taking on serious long term commitments to Hardaway and Lee, who were due a combined $30 million in 2019-20. That, combined with no longer dealing with the RFA and cap hold of Porzingis, gave them $74 million.

$74 million. Two max slots. Dreams floated around the heads of Knicks fans, even as they plummeted to 65 losses and lost the lottery. Instead, no max offered to Kevin. No meeting with Kawhi. No chance with Kyrie. Nothing with Kemba either. The Knicks struck out on the four Ks at the top of the market, and instead used it on a multitude of players to fill out the roster of another rebuilding team.

Mavericks

The Mavericks quickly gave up on their 2017 lottery pick when Luka Doncic came out of Europe the way he did. After he was acquired for Trae Young and Cam Reddish (lol) on draft night in 2018, Doncic put up 21.2/7.8/6 and immediately made Dallas his team. Smith didn't fit anymore. Adding Porzingis, who wouldn't play that season, to replace Dirk Nowitzki and pair with an offensive maestro in Luka was a dream connection. With Smith gone, the Mavs experimented with having a young, rookie guard named Jalen Brunson start alongside Luka. I wonder what he winded up becoming.

For Dallas, they got little out of Courtney Lee and Trey Burke. Lee played just 46 games for Dallas in a minor bench role before leaving after 2020. Burke left in the offseason, signed with Philadelphia, and made his way back to Dallas midseason. He hung around for two more years before being dealt as part of the Christian Wood trade to Houston, was redirected to OKC in a nothingburger trade two months later, and hasn't played in the NBA in the last two seasons.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is the last remaining player from either team on this trade. Five years later, he's still a Maverick. Not only did he finish the last 1.5 years on his prior deal, he's in Year 3 of an even more lucrative 4 year, $75 million extension. Hardaway is going to be a finalist, at worst, for sixth man of the year. His 18.4 PPG entering Wednesday is a career high. The only time it was higher? Pre-trade 2018-19 when he was the first option in New York. Hardaway is thriving.

As for Porzingis? Mavericks fans dreamed of all star games and finals runs, but they got none of that. After Dallas played out the string with Luka leading the way in 2018-19, they got their dynamic duo for 2019-20. Porzingis would miss 18 games, but would show up in the playoffs, averaging 24 PPG on 53% shooting from deep. This was all-star Porzingis. The man they handed $158 million in the offseason without a thought. His 34/13 night in Game 3 wasn't enough as the Clippers took a 2-1 series lead. Porzingis was ruled out for Game 4, and the remainder of the 2020 season with a meniscus tear. He would return early in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season after nine missed games, but lingering leg issues held him to just 43 games. In a rematch with the Clippers, Porzingis was awful, averaging just 13 PPG on sub-30% 3pt shooting, being outshined by his former and current teammate in Hardaway and his co-star averaging 35 PPG trying to drag a lifeless team to the second round unsuccessfully. Porzingis was traded as he battled more injuries in 2021-22 for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. That's how much his value depressed with injuries and underperformance with 2.5 years left on a max deal. Fortunately, he's recovered to being an all-star caliber piece on a great Celtics team.

Dinwiddie would contribute a good amount of secondary scoring over parts of two seasons and Bertans was cap filler. He was such a negative asset that the woeful Mavs traded down a few spots just to get off his contract in 2023 (more on that later).

Aside from Hardaway, the Mavs still have one piece left from the trade, an ironic one. Kyrie Irving. Dinwiddie was flipped at the 2023 deadline with Dorian Finney-Smith, two seconds, and an unprotected first round pick for Kyrie Irving. Time will tell if this works, but Dallas has so far missed the play-in and is in the play-in halfway through the second season of the Luka-Kyrie pairing. Not great.

Knicks

On June 30, 2019, it was hell on earth in Knickland. That desperate maneuvering you made that sacrificed your first homegrown all-star since David Lee resulted in zero all-stars joining the squad. The Knicks spent their $74 million on several veterans from several different situations:

Julius Randle (3 years, $60m)

Bobby Portis (2 years, $30.8m)

Taj Gibson (2 years, $18.5m)

Wayne Ellington (2 years, $16m)

Elfrid Payton (2 years, $16m)

Marcus Morris Sr. (1 year, $15m)

Reggie Bullock (2 years, $8.2m)

The immediate returns for the Knicks didn't matter. Wesley Matthews played a total of 54 minutes as a Knick before being waived. DeAndre Jordan played admirably down the stretch as a mentor to *checks notes* Mitchell Robinson and Luke Kornet. For good measure, Enes Kanter was bought out in February as well. The only piece that would survive the season would be Dennis Smith Jr.

Of the Knicks' seven signings, only three would make it to their second season on their contract. Steve Mills, who also didn't survive the 19-20 season, smartly put in team options throughout the contracts to give the team flexibility in the future to go big star fishing again. After the 19-20 season, the Knicks declined the options of Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis. Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock stayed on. Marcus Morris was traded midway through the season to the Clippers for LAC's 2020 1st, Detroit's 2021 2nd, and a pick swap that had no chance of conveying.

In the 2020 draft, the Knicks proceeded as planned and drafted Dayton star Obi Toppin to be the franchise PF. The writing was on the wall that Randle, who had a team option for 21-22, was a deadline trade candidate. They did several draft day trades involving the pick acquired from the Morris trade, eventually turning it into Pick 25 and a 2023 2nd. The Knicks came out of the draft with Immanuel Quickley.

With the added money from the roster shuffling, the Knicks inked Nerlens Noel, Austin Rivers, and Alec Burks to short, prove-it deals. After re-signing Taj Gibson after a failed initial Villanova alum experiment with Omari Spellman, the Knicks had a surprising season which saw their timeline accelerate. Julius Randle became an All-NBA player. Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton were starters on a playoff team. Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel were massive steals.

At this point, the last player piece of the Knicks' side was dealt. Dennis Smith was sent with a 2021 CHA 2nd (acquired for Willy Hernangomez) for playoff hero Derrick Rose. After the season flamed out, the Knicks used their cap room from their flexible deals to ink extensions for Rose, Burks, and Noel, while signing Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. In the draft, the Knicks used their first pick from the Porzingis trade, trading back with the Clippers for Quentin Grimes and a 2024 DET 2nd. They also used the second rounder acquired from the Morris trade and turned it into Pick 34 and Pick 36, Miles McBride and Eurostash Rokas Jokubaitis. The 2021-22 season threatened to blow everything up. The players who signed using the cap space from the Porzingis trade were underperforming and the team seemed directionless. There was an increasing push to build around the quickly assembling young core of RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes.

Fortunately, things recovered in the offseason. Remember that rookie that played with Luka while Porzingis was sitting out late in 18-19? He was really good. So good, that the Knicks gave him $104 million. Oh yeah, he's gonna be named an all-star tomorrow. The Knicks needed cap space for him, though. So what did they do? They traded Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to Detroit with two seconds, one of them being the 2023 2nd that was acquired alongside Quickley in the 2020 Draft Day maneuvering after the Marcus Morris trade.

The second pick acquired from the trade should've been the 11th pick in the stacked 2023 draft, unfortunately Mark Cuban made a disgrace to the game by resting his stars with his team mathematically still in the playoff hunt. Shameful.

Shortly before the five year anniversary of the trade, the Knicks made a massive, franchise-changing move to ditch two pieces of their young core for OG Anunoby. The Knicks have responded by going 14-2 in the first 30 days with Anunoby.

Some details of that trade: Immanuel Quickley, who was only drafted by the Knicks because of 2020 Draft Day Moves that started because Leon Rose had the extra first round pick from the Clippers, acquired for Marcus Morris, who was signed with cap space in the 2019 Offseason. The only draft pick exchanged was the 2024 DET 2nd, which was acquired alongside Quentin Grimes... for the first round pick the Knicks got from the Porzingis trade. That's right, 2 of the 3 pieces (and arguably the two most valuable, sorry Rowan) were from the Porzingis trade.

The Trade Today

I can't make all of these links and say everyone on both teams is from this trade. But I can make educated connections

Mavericks got: Tim Hardaway Jr., 1/4th of the Kyrie Irving package

Knicks got: cap space to sign Julius Randle, 2/3rd of the OG Anunoby package, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, Rokas Jokubaitis, Derrick Rose's 2021 playoff run, cap space to sign Jalen Brunson, 2024 DAL 1st

Am I being unfair? Maybe. But what this shows is that all three pieces of the Knicks' Big 3, as well as a few role players, have their roots connected to one blockbuster made five years ago today.