- The Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks on Thursday in a deal that could possibly clear space for Kevin Durant and another superstar during the 2019 NBA free agency period. But will their big gamble pay off? There are no guarantees.
In a vacuum, the Knicks trading Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks in what is essentially a salary dump should be grounds for Adam Silver to shoot James Dolan into the far reaches of space. I mean, what the hell is New York’s front office thinking? Dennis Smith Jr. hasn’t shown for a second he can come anywhere close to being a cornerstone franchise player; Porzingis was playing at an MVP level before tearing his ACL. And yet those are the two headlining players in a trade that’s an incredible gamble for a Knicks front office that hasn’t quite proven it can stick to its own plans.
Basically, New York is counting on signing a superstar or two this summer, otherwise this move makes absolutely zero sense. The Knicks are clearing cap room in such a way that it feels as if they already have a handshake deal with someone in place. Maybe the Kevin Durant dream will soon be a reality—and another star will want to be his running mate. But just offloading Porzingis for cap room is purely comical unless the Knicks have literally been tampering this entire season.
Perhaps it’s naive to assume Porzingis could return to MVP-caliber form. Yet even if he pounded the table for a trade, New York had reasons to keep him. With Porzingis set to hit restricted free agency this summer, the Knicks would have had all the leverage in determining his future. They could’ve still signed a star and then brought back KP—either calling his bluff on a one-year qualifying offer, or signing him to a shorter max deal by matching another team’s contract. Again, unless the Knicks are operating with some truly secret knowledge—like KD already buying a Soho penthouse or finding out Porzingis’s knee is made of glass—salary dumping the team’s best hope this century feels incredibly short sighted. There was a realistic path to New York having Porzingis, a free-agent superstar, and the No. 1 overall pick by Opening Night 2019. Now the Knicks are left with absolutely zero guarantees, and teams who were in a much more favorable position at the time can speak with hard-learned experience about the risks of free agency.
This all comes down to Durant. If for whatever reason he wants to tie his career to Dolan and the Knicks, New York is doing something sensible in clearing the decks for KD and a star partner of his choice. But if you’re New York, do you really want to put your eggs in that basket? That Durant won’t change his mind between now and July—when many other teams will also come with offers? If you’re Durant, why in the world do you want to join this organization when one of its top priorities season was seemingly to keep Porzingis happy? Again, maybe this all comes down to some backroom ploy and whoever the Knicks are signing this summer asked for this trade to happen, but then we’re entering a legitimate conspiracy realm that seems too absurd for even NBA fans to fully believe in.
It’s highly possible I’ll look like a giant idiot when the Knicks are winning the Finals with Durant and Kyrie Irving and I’m not allowed in Madison Square Garden. But for the Knicks to so quickly move on from their best talent, without acquiring any long-term hope in return, is extremely scary to me. If the front office recruits two megastars this summer, then hats off to them. But that means this trade was all about signing someone else five months from now. It’s one thing to clear salary, it’s another to cut bait on the franchise’s best draft pick this millennium with no guarantee of acquiring an equal talent in return, with the added caveat of that draft pick still being under team control. In a vacuum, dealing Porzingis in this manner was objectively the wrong move. For the Knicks, the real judgment will come in the first week of July.