NBA Daily: The Knicks Move on from the Porzingis Era

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This year’s trade deadline began heating up on Monday with an Adrian Wojnarowski tweet that set off what ultimately became a whirlwind of a week for NBA, and more specifically, New York Knicks’ fans. The Knicks were referenced, but were in no way the center of the Anthony Davis trade request Wojnarowski reported earlier this week.

And then things intensified. As of mid-day Thursday, Wojnarowski reported that the Knicks and Porzingis met recently and Porzingis “left the Knicks with the impression that he prefers to be traded.”

Fast forward a few hours and the Knicks agreed to send their star center, Kristaps Porzingis, to Dallas, along with Trey Burke, Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr., two first round picks and the expiring contracts of DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews.

Knicks fans grieved the afternoon away on Twitter, feeling blindsided and betrayed. But it’s not all bad, Knicks’ fans. This frees up significant cap space, which will make the Knicks significant players in free agency this upcoming summer. Additionally, the Knicks are still an attractive – albeit clearly unstable – destination.

But before we dive into the fallout, let’s review the sequence of events that led to this blockbuster deal.

Porzingis was drafted by Phil Jackson and the Knicks in June 2015. He surprised a number of league executives with his versatility and was quickly gifted the moniker of “unicorn” by Kevin Durant. Jackson’s tumultuous relationship with Porzingis’ teammate, Carmelo Anthony, quickly rubbed Porzingis the wrong way – the first in a series of happenings that led to the Porzingis-Knicks split.

There were also the rumors that the Knicks were unwilling to give Porzingis a five-year max extension – probably a wise, cautionary move given his injury history, which dates back beyond his February 2018 ACL injury. And considering the team protections included in the deal Joel Embiid signed recently, it seemed logical to expect some concessions from Porzingis.

While Porzingis recovered from the injury, they hired a new coach, David Fizdale, who butted heads with fellow-European star, Marc Gasol (and who knows what impact that may or may not have had). They also hired a new general manager, Scott Perry, whose preference to bottom out this season very possibly could have rubbed Porzingis the wrong way – which would come as somewhat of a surprise considering Porzingis would still be sidelined from his knee injury on even the most aggressive of timelines. And a Porzingis return in 2019-20 would seemingly synch up nicely with a new superstar teammate (potentailly), to be decided later.

But Porzingis has been vocal about his preference to win sooner than later, much of which has been communicated through his agent and brother, Janis Porzingis. The Knicks were resigned to nurse him along slowly from his knee injury.

Earlier this season, Coach Fizdale publicly claimed Porzingis wasn’t running. Shortly after, Porzingis took to Instagram to prove he’s already sprinting in workouts.

Then in the alleged meeting earlier today, Porzingis voiced concern regarding the Knicks’ direction and ability to build a winning culture.

Now for the fallout.

The Knicks have carved out the requisite space to offer two max contracts to free agents this summer (e.g., Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawai Leonard). That much is a formality at this point in time. If any of their preferred stars are willing to sign with the Knicks is another story entirely. But it’s still New York, right?

Further, the Knicks received a point guard they had eyes for in the 2017 NBA Draft – Dennis Smith Jr., who will now receive his desired leeway to revert back to a ball dominant guard. So, there is also the hope that he fulfills the promise that scouts saw in him coming out of NC State.

And then there’s the draft capital the Knicks received. Considering the details are still scarce, we’ll have to leave it as two unspecified future first round picks going to New York. One thing’s for sure regarding the picks, it won’t be Dallas’ 2019 first rounder – that’s headed to Atlanta as part of the Luka Doncic-Trey Young trade. And while two unprotected firsts would be a good return, there are bout to be at least some protections on one or both.

And further, the Knicks left open the possibility of swinging more deals in the near future by bringing back Matthews and Jordan. While neither has a place with the Knicks current roster, and both are buyout candidates if they aren’t moved again, they can be used as salary filler in another deal. Both are expiring and have no future salary implications, which can aid the Knicks in trying to pry another star from his team before next Thursday’s deadline.

From the Dallas end of this deal, it’s very simple: The Mavericks are betting on Porzingis’ health and their ability to sign him long-term. But they made this deal with no assurances that Porzingis is a Maverick beyond next season.  And according to Shams Charania of the Athletic, Porzingis informed the Mavericks that he will sign the qualifying offer next season, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2020. While this could also benefit the Mavericks and allow them to pursue other additions this offseason before inking a long-term contract the following one, that seems like a big gamble for a player coming off a relatively serious knee injury. And without what looks like their 2019 and 2021 first-round draft picks, the Mavericks are now all in on the Doncic-Porzingis core.

And as far as the Knicks are concerned, they are now free to chase two max-level free agents — a game that hasn’t ended particularly well for them in recent years. But if it does, the cupboard is also stocked with young assets and draft picks, who can be developed internally of flipped for a player who better compliments whoever is signed to free agent deals come July. Shockingly, this isn’t a bad deal for either team. But both teams need a bit of luck to maximize their haul, otherwise it could turn sour for both, and quickly.