The New York Knicks are playing better basketball of late. They’re 3-3 under interim head coach Mike Miller and they’ve won three of their last four games. They also recently added former EuroLeague and Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt as a basketball operations consultant. That, naturally, is an improvement on the usual state of affairs, albeit marginally.
But on the whole, the Knicks have been pretty awful this season. They’re 7-21, good for a .250 winning percentage and last season wasn’t much better. In 2018-19, New York won just 17 games and they haven’t fared much better in most of the previous 17 seasons either. Over that span, they’ve made the playoffs only five times, won a grand total of six playoff games and advanced beyond the first round once.
Clearly the organization must embrace wholesale changes before any real progress is made. Despite public support to clean house, the odds are much higher that any front office changes will wait until the offseason. There, the franchise would theoretically conduct a comprehensive search (and go through a complete courtship of Raptors’ Masai Ujiri).
So it looks like there will be at least one more trade deadline for which Knicks fans must make do with team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry. If not more, knowing the typical chain of command in Manhattan. Still, the pair could easily operate out of desperation, which should scare fans a little more than usual. But the pressure is fair: After all, they are responsible for many of the current players and they hired (and fired) David Fizdale.
On the bright side: The Knicks signed six veterans this past offseason, many of whom should garner some level of interest from contenders around the league. Simply put, New York should seriously explore moving all of them. As is, the current roster is unable to leverage their skill sets and are nowhere near competing for a playoff berth – let alone a championship. And with the trade deadline and February coming quickly down the road, the Knicks should be proactively reaching out to teams around the league.
But it’s not just Marcus Morris who should interest contenders. There’s also Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock — all of whom are essentially on expiring deals thanks to 2020-21 team options attached to all of their contracts. Bullock might be the most challenging to move of the bunch since he has yet to suit up in 2019-20 due to a back injury. However, even Bullock is nearly set to return and features a very team-friendly contract at $4 million guaranteed in 2019-20 and a team option for next year.
Julius Randle is an even tougher sell since his contract is also guaranteed for 2020-21, with a team option for the following year — but more on that later.
The Knicks mustn’t worry about hanging on to their veterans and winning a few extra games this year — and hopefully the front office operates with the team’s best interest in mind instead of their own. Assuming they do, what might they get in return? Let’s explore four plausible trades that would help the Knicks in the near future.
Marcus Morris to the Los Angeles Clippers for Maurice Harkless, Jerome Robinson and LAC 2020 1st rounder
This is an easy one since the framework of it was named as a jumping-off point by Zach Lowe earlier this week, essentially. Lowe suggested Morris in exchange for the Clippers’ 2020 first-round pick, Harkless and Patrick Patterson. Possibly, the Knicks could do even better.
Knicks fans are torn on the idea of parting with their leading scorer. Here’s why that’s flawed logic: While he’s publicly embraced the idea of playing in New York, who wouldn’t put on a happy face when auditioning for a longer-term deal? Remember, Morris is an unrestricted free agent following this season. He can play nice, build up his credibility around the league and sign with whichever contender has the biggest need and fits best in 2020.
Further, even if Morris were to re-resign, how much would it cost and for how long? Morris is already 30 years old and likely that the Knicks won’t be competitive until at least 2021-22 – when Morris will be 32.
But he fills a need now for the Clippers. Morris is a hard-nosed defender that is averaging 18.8 points per game and is shooting 47.7 percent on 5.9 three-point attempts per game.
However, Harkless – who is only 26 and expires after this season – and Robinson – 22 and the No, 13 overall pick in 2018 — combine for only 9.2 points over 36 minutes per game. They possess at least enough upside for the Knicks to make this deal, but Morris would help the Clippers far more than Robinson and Harkless currently do.
And to the Clippers supporters that would they’re giving up too much: Remember that Morris’ services will be highly sought after and Los Angeles’s 2020 first-round pick will be a late first-rounder.
Wayne Ellington to Philadelphia for Zhaire Smith and salary filler
Philadelphia 76ers fans probably won’t be thrilled with this idea, but it’s practical for both teams.
When open, Ellington is a guaranteed bucket. Yes, he’s shooting a career-low 30.4 percent on 3.8 attempts in 14.3 minutes per game — but much of that has to do with the fact that the Knicks rotations have been problematic and unpredictable. He’s shot better than 36.8 percent on at least six three-point attempts per game in each of the last five seasons — plus he’s a career 37 percent three-point shooter. Do you know what the 76ers need more of? You nailed it: Three-point shooting.
Giving up on the lottery-selected Zaire Smith so early in his career is definitely a gamble, but he hasn’t even appeared in an NBA game yet this season. He has appeared in eight of the Delaware Bluecoat’s 14 games (the 76ers’ G-League affiliate) in 2019-20, where he is averaging 12.4 points on an eFG% of 54.9. He’s also grabbing 4.1 rebounds and dishing 2.0 assists over 27.6 minutes per game — not bad stats, but not what you hope for from a lottery pick, and certainly not in the G League.
This one is made additionally complicated due to the fact that the 76ers are incredibly cash strapped but that works in the Knicks’ favor. Since Philadelphia will struggle with the idea of reworking their cap to offer a rookie extension to someone that hasn’t been able to crack the rotation, the Knicks can help. The 76ers are projected over the cap and the luxury tax line through at least 2022 and they must pick-up Smith’s $4.9 million team option by October 2020 for 2021-2022.
What’s more, rookie Matisse Thybulle has succeeded in the minutes that were previously thought to be Smith’s — so, everybody wins.
The 76ers’ championship window is currently open, and they should look to add players who will help them secure a championship. And unless they think they can re-add JJ Redick, Ellington fills a void for Philadelphia.
The Knicks would have to take on additional salary, but the framework of this trade is more important than a few extra bucks here or there.
Elfrid Payton and the Knicks’ 2023 second-round pick to Miami for Dion Waiters and the HEAT’s 2023 first-round pick
This one is mostly about the HEAT’s desire to get out from under Dion Waiters’ withering contract. Waiters has been suspended this season for ingesting marijuana-infused gummies and then calling out sick before posting a photo on Instagram depicting him on a boat — plus some detrimental conduct for good measure. Rumors have buzzed about Miami wanting him gone before he does any damage to a roster that has gelled more than anyone anticipated.
Yes, an unprotected first-rounder is a hefty price to pay – especially so far in the future, by which time anything could happen to the HEAT’s roster — but that’s the price they’ll probably have to pay. Teams know the HEAT are desperate. And waiving him would carry a big cost since he’s fully guaranteed this season ($12.1 million) and next season ($12.65 million). Instead, the HEAT and Knicks should swap Waiters for Miami’s 2020 first-rounder and Elfird Payton.
Somehow, Payton could actually help the HEAT. The Knicks backcourt is jam-packed with Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Payton, which has prohibited the latter from getting more minutes. But don’t be fooled, Payton still has some upside. He’s still only 25 and — despite suffering a hamstring injury earlier this season — has posted a 16.6 PER, 8.4 points, 5.2 assists and 1.5 steals over 22.3 minutes per game. Further, he’s secured 20 assists and zero turnovers in his last two games combined. He might not be a full-time starter, but he’s more than capable of contributing to a championship-caliber team.
And the Knicks can afford to waive Waiters – or maybe give him another chance at rehabilitating his image – because they aren’t going to contend before his contract expires anyway.
Julius Randle to Indiana for Myles Turner
While this could be a tough sell for Indiana, Turner has not blossomed the way many had hoped he would. He’s averaged 12.8 points per game for his career — but only 11.3 in 30 minutes per game this season. Turner, too, has also underwhelmed on the glass (5.8 rebounds per game) and in the mid-range (shooting only 46.2 percent from three to ten feet and only 14.3 from 16 feet to the three-point line) this year.
And while Randle has disappointed this season, he’s given fans hope of late. Last season, Randle set career highs in points (21.4) and three-point shooting (34.4 percent). Over the last four games, he’s recaptured his 2018-19 mojo, posting 21.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game on shooting 36.8 percent from three-point range.
Indiana benefits because they could finally unleash Domantas Sabonis at center while adding a versatile low-post scoring threat to help buoy the Pacers as Victor Oladipo continues rehabbing his quad. Ridding themselves of an extra two years of salary — Randle’s deal has a team option following 2020-21, whereas Turner’s doesn’t expire until 2023 — is a plus too.
And for the Knicks, they return a still-highly regarded prospect who could fit nicely alongside their current center, Mitchell Robinson.
The bottom line is this: The Knicks shouldn’t worry about fit yet. As of now, New York should focus on amassing as much talent as possible. If there are overlaps at certain positions, so be it. That was the attitude toward the point guard position last February when they brought in Smith Jr — and it forces the best player to earn his spot.
The Knicks could also decide to appease ticket holders and build a makeshift “winner.” Naturally, they could mortgage their future for some combination of Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday and Kevin Love. They might even make a run at a playoff push — and they might be fairly competitive next year. But it’s not sustainable and it doesn’t answer any long-term problems.
Ultimately, with no front office moves on the horizon, the Knicks must be prudent and deliberate in every decision they make — even then, they need to make moves now before teams begin looking elsewhere.
NBA Daily: What We Forgot
With the NBA season now a month old, Matt John looks into no what we have learned, but we had previously forgotten.
With every new NBA season, we tend to forget a few things here and there; players or teams that go through a down year are often, warranted or not, cast aside for the next best thing, only to resurface in the NBA’s collective conscience later on.
Like last season, for example, Dwight Howard was regarded as a nothing-addition for the Los Angeles Lakers, a gamble that they may have been better off not taking. However, Howard played an integral role in the Lakers’ run to the NBA title and reminded everyone that, when he plays without distractions, he’s one of the league’s fiercest around the basket.
But that’s just one example. So, who or what has been re-discovered this season? Let’s take a look.
Stephen Curry: Still Phenomenal
Nobody’s forgotten that entirely. It’s just been a while since people have seen Curry at the peak of his powers.
Sure, it was easy to be skeptical of what he was capable of coming into this season. But, with Kevin Durant gone, Curry had free reign to score and shoot as much as he desired. And, with that freedom, Curry’s put up his best numbers since 2016, his second MVP season. In 15 games, Curry’s averaged 28.2 points 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists and shot 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. He’s reminded everyone why he’s one of the games best and that he can accomplish anything or score on anyone on any given night.
Of course, the absence of Durant, as well as the loss of Klay Thompson and others, has led to another atypical season for the Warriors. Their 8-7 has them tied for seventh in the Western Conference and, while they have certainly improved on how they looked to start the season, they have a long way to go before they’re back in title contention.
The Warriors may never again reach the heights they once knew, either before or with Durant. But, until Father Time dictates otherwise, Curry should long remain a nightmare for the opposition.
Tom Thibodeau Can Get It Done
What can you say about the New York Knicks? Unironically, a lot.
Not only have they shown themselves to no longer be the butt of the NBA’s jokes, but, compared to the last decade-plus of Knicks’ basketball, the 2020-21 season might be their brightest yet.
Julius Randle’s transition into more of a point forward-type has generated a career-year and All-Star buzz. RJ Barrett has continued to improve rapidly, while rookie Immanuel Quickley has “quickley” become a fan favorite. Most impressive of all, however, is that New York has allowed the fewest points per game (102.7) and the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions (106.8) in the NBA.
In other words, they finally look like a competent basketball team. But what’s changed? Two words: Tom Thibodeau.
The players have bought in to Thibodeau’s scheme and, clearly, it’s had a positive effect. Of course, the disaster that was his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure made us forget just what a proven head coach Thibodeau could be, but he’s put it all together in the past and, in New York, he would seem to be doing so once again.
Of course, there is plenty left to do. The Knicks’ spacing is a joke — and a bad one at that. In fact, their entire offense could stand to see some of that energy they bring on defense; the Knicks are dead last in the NBA at 101.3 points per game.
Still, at 8-8, New York is no longer a doormat and, given the last few seasons, that’s probably the best they could’ve hoped for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Knicks won’t be either, but the franchise looks like they may have finally turned a corner toward relevance.
Maturity Issues Loom Large
Like the Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been another NBA-darling this season. And again, like New York, their players have bought in; head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has everyone playing with energy on defense and, while their offense hasn’t quite reached the same level, they’re competing to the best of their ability.
Of course, the progress of Kevin Porter Jr. could have been the cherry on top of it all. But that ship has sailed.
After an outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman, Cleveland has since moved on from the young forward. Of course, the Cavaliers knew Porter came with baggage when they selected him with the last pick of the first round in the 2019 NBA Draft, but his potential was salivating and Cleveland had hoped they could help him grow — not only as an NBA player, but as a person. There have been success stories in the past, troubled players that have come in and shut out the noise and become both respectable characters and NBA players. DeAndre Jordan, a former lottery talent, dropped in his own draft due to similar concerns, but overcame those issues and has since gone on to play a long career.
Unfortunately, it just hadn’t gone that way with Porter and the Cavaliers, as the noise became too much to bear for a team with a long road back to relevancy. It’s reminded everyone just how hard it can be, both as a player and as their team, to deal with those issues and, regardless of the talent or potential, the headache sometimes just isn’t worth the risk.
Luckily for Porter, it’s not too late; a fresh start with the Houston Rockets should do him wonders. And, hopefully, the Rockets can help him overcome that baggage, his maturity issues and whatever else he may be dealing with.
But even if they don’t or can’t, Porter must wake up and seize his opportunity while he still can; if he sees another falling out in Houston, there’s no telling if he’ll ever get another chance elsewhere.
NBA Daily: Three Trade Targets for the New York Knicks
Drew Maresca explores three restricted free agents-to-be who the Knicks should explore adding via trade before the March 25 trade deadline.
Often the NBA’s biggest flop, the New York Knicks have been significantly better-than-expected to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve won eight of their first 16 games and have surrendered the fewest points per game on the season, placing them squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
That said, they’re not out of the woods yet; with much of the season left to play, the Knicks are devoid of any meaningful offensive weapons. Additionally, the roster features a number of high-quality veterans whose deals are set to expire, the kind of players that contenders like to fill out their rotations with down the stretch, so the roster could look much different at the end of the year than it does now.
So, the Knicks are expected to be active on the trade front, again – no surprise there. But this year could be among the last in which the Knicks are sellers at the deadline. And, while moving some of those veterans for future assets is smart, the Knicks may also want to look at players they can add to bolster that future further.
Of course, New York shouldn’t go all-in for Bradley Beal — they’re not there yet — but there are a number of restricted free agents to-be that would fit both their roster and timeline nicely.
But why give away assets to acquire someone that the team could sign outright in just a few months? It may sound counterintuitive to add a player that’s about to hit free agency, restricted or otherwise, but procuring that player’s Bird rights, an exception in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players (not to mention offer them an extra contract year and bigger raises), can be key to securing a player’s services and building a long-term contender.
Further, the 2021 free agent market isn’t might not live up to expectation, with many presumed free agents already agreed to extensions. So, with that in mind, which players should the Knicks pursue via trade prior to the March 25 trade deadline?
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Collins’ production is down this season, but that has nothing to do with his ability. A 23-year-old stretch-four who’s shooting 35% on three-point attempts, Collins is big, athletic, can score the ball (16.7 points per game this season) and is a great rebounder (7.5 per game). He also connects on 80% of his free-throw attempts.
Despite those impressive stats, Collins was even more productive last season, averaging 21.6 points on better than 40% three-point shooting and collecting 10.1 rebounds per game.
But the Hawks rotation has become increasingly crowded this year. They added Danilo Gallinari and rookie big man Oneyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, to the frontcourt this offseason, while Collins was already vying for minutes with Clint Capella, who Atlanta added via trade last season. Cam Reddish, a second-year wing who is versatile enough to play some power forward, has also stolen some of Collins’ potential minutes.
So, as much as the Hawks seem to like Collins, he may be a luxury they can do without. He’ll obviously demand a relatively high-priced contract. The fact that Atlanta and Collins failed to reach an extension last summer would also seem to make a reunion less likely; would the Hawks invest so heavily in him now that they have three players at the position signed through at least the 2022-23 season? Further, could they invest even if they wanted to at this point? The Hawks are already committed to more than $100 million next season and, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter extensions on the horizon, they might be hard-pressed to scrounge for the cash Collins would want in a new deal.
He won’t come cheap, for sure. But, while Julius Randle fans may not love the idea of bringing in his replacement, Collins is simply a better long-term solution.
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
The point guard position has been a sore spot for the Knicks for some time. And while Ball might not be the franchise cornerstone that many hoped he’d become, adding a young player with his upside is clearly a positive move.
Granted, Ball is inherently flawed. His jump shot appeared to be much improved last season and he’s showcased a significantly improved shooting form from years past. But he’s struggled in the new season, shooting only 28% on three-point attempts (down from 37.5% last season). In fact, he’s struggled on the whole on the offensive side of the ball, posting just 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game (a career-low). He’s also missed some time with knee soreness and moved to more of an off-the-ball role as new head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in the hands of Brandon Ingram more and more.
But, with New York, Ball would step into a significant role immediately. For his career, Ball is a net-positive player and, despite his shooting woes, has posted a positive VORP every year he’s been in the league, save for this season. He’s an above-average defender and, while he does need to ball in his hands, he doesn’t necessarily need to take shots to be effective.
Ball may never become the All-World caliber guard many pegged him as before the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s better than any other option currently at the Knicks disposal. And, best of all, his trade value is arguably as low as it’s ever been. So, while the Pelicans won’t just give him away, New York should do what they can to acquire him for a reasonable price.
Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets
Last but not least, the surprise from the 2018-19 rookie class. Graham is possibly the hardest sell on this list, but it’s not for a lack of talent.
Graham burst onto the scene last season, posting an impressive sophomore campaign of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Unfortunately, those numbers have taken a drastic dip this season with the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the highly-touted rookie LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. Likewise, Graham’s struggles through the Hornets’ first 10 games limited his opportunities further.
That said, he would appear to be done slumping, as he’s connected on 43% of his attempts from deep in the team’s last two games.
But his efficiency wouldn’t be the main challenge when constructing a Graham trade. Instead, some in New York could be concerned with lack of size – Graham is only 6-foot-1 – and his inability to act as a facilitator at the guard spot.
But Graham is talented, plain and simple. In fact, he’s the exact kind of talent the Knicks should be looking to add right now. More specifically, Graham shot 37.3% on three-point attempts last season; the Knicks rank 21st in three-point percentage so far this season.
The Knicks could ultimately sit tight, swap a few veterans for future draft picks and rest assured that they’ve made enough progress by simply adding coach Tom Thibodeau. But they could and should be aggressive while they can. If New York can add one or more the players mentioned, they may not only build a brighter future, but improve on what the team could do this season. Either way, the Knicks look to be on a good trajectory, but every move they make from here on out can and will affect how quickly they make the leap from laughingstock to respectable contender.
NBA AM: The Utah Jazz Are Showing Continuity Is Key
Is Utah’s early success an indicator of things to come? Between Donavon Mitchell, a stingy defense and hot three-point shooting, they may just be the real deal.
The Utah Jazz are riding high on a seven-game winning streak, hotter, at this point, than all hell. 15 games into the season, the Jazz have been the third-best team in the Western Conference. The key for them has been continuity as they have 11 guys who were on last year’s team. The only addition they made to their rotation this offseason was Derrick Favors, who was with the team for nine seasons before a one-year departure.
Quinn Snyder is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he’s showing why this season. The Jazz are currently in 7th in both offensive and defensive rating. Beyond that, there are only three teams who can say they are top 10 in both: The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Often, teams that finish in this select category are historically serious contenders.
Moreover, the Jazz have been on a shooting tear. Using Gobert’s rolling ability to collapse opposing defenses and find open shooters, Utah’s offense is clicking right now. It’s worked tremendously too, considering the Jazz have attempted and made the most three-pointers of any team this season – and hitting on 40.3 percent as a team. Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Mike Conley are all shooting above 40 percent; while Bojan Bogdanovic is almost there at 37.8.
Basically, the Jazz are just shooting the ball at a ridiculously well rate right now and good ball movement has propelled them.
Mitchell seems to have taken another jump in his development, although it is subtle, and his growth as a playmaker has benefitted everyone. He’s made teams pay for overhelping, often initiating the ball movement that has led to open looks. He’s also taking fewer mid-range jumpers, converting those attempts into three-pointers. The budding star’s play has been more consistent overall, and he’s been effective out of the pick-and-roll.
Mike Conley’s improved play this season has been needed – now he’s settled and red-hot. Coming off a disappointing season last year, there were questions as to whether he was declining. While it’s safe to say he’s no longer the guy he was in Memphis, this version of Conley is still a good one. He looks a lot more comfortable in his role and the Jazz are reaping the benefits. In a contract year, Conley is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three.
Jordan Clarkson is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, fitting in perfectly as the Jazz need his scoring and creation off the bench – even leading the league in such scorers from there. But the Jazz’s bench is more than just Clarkson though, as they’ve gotten strong minutes from Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Derrick Favors too. They’re a solid group that plays both ends of the court, and all fit in nicely with the starters as well.
Sorely needed, however, Bojan Bogdanovic’s return has helped tremendously. He gives them another big wing who can shoot and is a scoring threat, and before he got hurt last season, he was averaging 20 PPG. While he isn’t at that level this season, he gives them another reliable scoring option that they badly need. Better, it also allows Ingles to remain on the bench, where his playmaking ability can really thrive.
The Jazz have been playing stylistically a little bit different this year and it has worked. They don’t run often but when they do, they have been potent. Playing at the same pace as last season, Utah is scoring almost five more points per game in transition. Additionally, they are taking six more threes a game too. This all amounts to a 6.1 net rating, which is good for fourth-best in the NBA.
Lastly, their defense has been impossible for teams to penetrate, inviting opponents to try and finish over Rudy Gobert in the paint. Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason – his presence alone almost assuredly guarantees his team will be a top 10 defense, which the Jazz are. Favors’ addition has helped stabilize the defense when Gobert sits, which was a major issue last season. Overall, they are just a very disciplined defense that makes teams earn their points, rarely committing cheap fouls.
As it stands today, the Utah Jazz are solidifying themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if the hot shooting is sustainable, but the way they are generating those open looks seems to be. The defense is legit, and if they can remain healthy there’s reason to believe that this team can continue to compete at this level. The Utah starting lineup has outscored opponents by 58 points, but they’ve also had one of the best benches in the league – needless to say, the Jazz’s continuity has been a big part of their early success.