The New York Knicks will all but likely be sellers as the Feb. 8 trade deadline nears, but they should only be so to a certain extent.The New York Knicks probably aren’t going to the playoffs this season. And as a result, president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry will most likely be sellers as the Feb. 8th trade deadline nears. At the same time, it’s crucial that they don’t sell the house.
The Knicks have a number of viable trade candidates who would garner a reasonable amount of interest from other teams. With wings Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas and Doug McDermott and centers Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn and Willy Hernangomez, they have a number of players who they can get value for. And trading all, or most of them, sounds like the right thing to do because it opens up cap space and allows management to stockpile draft picks.
Simultaneously, shipping off every trade candidate doesn’t help the Knicks’ long-term vision.
Yes, the Knicks are a rebuilding team and adding youth is crucial when a team is in such a state, but it’s also important to have veteran players who can play both ends — such as Lee and Thomas.
Lee and Thomas are each capable of playing out on the perimeter and are the Knicks’ two best on-ball defenders. They’re also under contract through the 2019-2020 season at roughly $12 and $7 million per year. Their on-court attributes and team-friendly contracts make them attractive to teams on the hunt for wings. At the same time, the same reasons why they’d be intriguing trade targets for other teams are the same reasons why the Knicks would want to retain the two, or at least one of them.
When it comes to Kanter, there are two different ways to view the situation. On one hand, he’s under contract for roughly $18 million a year through next season and is mediocre defensively. On the other hand, he’s a walking double-double who hits the boards, posts up and is the team’s vocal leader. Based on what the center brings to the table, it’s not out of the question to wonder whether the Knicks could snatch a first round pick for him.
Players who the Knicks should be shopping are Jarrett Jack, Kyle O’Quinn, and Doug McDermott. All three players are potential free agents at year’s end and if they aren’t keen on retaining them long-term, entertaining trades would make sense for the Knicks.
The Knicks are going to continue to build around Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Frank Ntilikina. And if Trey Burke can grow into a prominent scorer and Hernangomez can improve defensively, they’ll likely be apart of that core too.
This is a team that went into Training Camp as a 30-35-win unit. They had talent but were never viewed as an Eastern Conference threat, to say the least. Then, after starting the season 17-14, the Knicks got many wondering whether they were capable of doing the unthinkable that is making the playoffs. After a lengthy road stint and inconsistent play, they came back to reality.
Now 23-29, the Knicks are playing up to expectations and likely looking to sell. There’s nothing wrong with that but, at the same time, it doesn’t mean half of the roster needs to go.
If the Knicks decide they want to take advantage of Lee’s career year and trade him for a first-round pick and/or a rotation player, they wouldn’t be committing a sin. Averaging a career-high in points (13.5) and assists (2.8), while shooting 43.0 percent from beyond the arc going into Wednesday night, he’s been an efficient and productive product on both ends. Trading away both Lee and Thomas would strip the Knicks of their best perimeter defenders and force them to go out and find replacements in free agency — which is easier said than done.
At some point, it has to be about winning in a rebuild, granted the Knicks are in the early stages of theirs. Youth is key, but having established defenders and veteran leadership is just as vital. Porzingis may very well grow into a superstar next season and the duo of Ntilikina/Hardaway could grow into a productive backcourt down the road, but a rebuild needs its fair share of proven products.
The Knicks’ focus may very well be on signing a top-tier center such as DeAndre Jordan this summer and potentially going all-in on a Kyrie Irving pursuit in the summer of 2019, but inking a free agent is never a given. And while the Knicks would love to have another top ten pick in this year’s draft, they still need talent, not a roster with four-to-five young players and expiring contracts — which would be the end result of a fire sale.
The Knicks should be sellers at the deadline, but not to the point where half of their roster is shipped out of town; it would only further the rebuild.