Kristaps Porzingis
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Despite what may transpire during free agency and beyond, the New York Knicks’ trading of Kristaps Porzingis will be justified.

Collin Loring

Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving. Kemba Walker. Kawhi Leonard—all names who’ve been linked to the New York Knicks ahead of the NBA‘s looming free agency period.

But just days away, what once seemed certain has become less likely as an outcome.

This has led almost the entirety of sports media, and social media, to clown the New York Knicks as a franchise for the trade of Kristaps Porzingis at last year’s trade deadline.

Yet much to their dismay, it seems New York (uncharacteristically) made the smart move given the circumstance. Trading Porzingis may have truly set up the Knicks for the future, whether that’s Durant or RJ Barrett leading the charge.

Cap Space, and Lots of It

New York traded away their franchise cornerstone, in exchange for a former top-10 pick in Dennis Smith Jr., two future first-round picks, and cap space on top of cap space.

By way of renouncing their own (restricted) free agents, the Knicks achieved an opening of two max slots. Suddenly, a legitimate superteam (as opposed to the infamous Derrick Rose-led Knicks in 2016) seemed like a real possibility.

They’re in position to potentially own up to $74.6 million in cap space, enough to max out two superstar talents.

Could New York be back in conversation not only for the postseason but title contention as well? The deal with Dallas made too much sense to pass up, considering Porzingis’ unwillingness to play for the Knicks last season.

The league’s top talent, specifically those headed for free agency in June, seemed hellbent on teaming up to form a multi-star squad worthy of competing with the (then) back-to-back champions in Golden State.

New York broadcasting to the NBA that they’d be able to sign two stars in free agency months before it even began put executives across the league on notice. This regime is much different from those of Knicks’ past.

Now, it seems as if New York may be spending the majority of their money on players like DeMarcus Cousins and Terry Rozier. Not exactly “leaders in the locker room.” And, not to mention, neither are capable of leading the New York youth to the playoffs, let alone Finals.

But still, too much cap space is almost never a bad problem to have. Whether they use it to take on large salaries paired with future assets or sign top-tier talent, the Porzingis trade made it possible.

Putting the Future First

In trading Porzingis, general manager Scott Perry prioritized the future of the franchise over present tense potential. He traded away a high maintenance star who was drafted by Phil Jackson.

Why then, is it criticized when it’s clear that Perry truly led the Knicks to a clean slate?

New York shed the egregious salary of Tim Hardaway Jr., another product of the Phil Jackson era. He was signed to a four-year, $71-million deal in the summer of 2017. However, he never developed into a star two-guard.

Sure, the Knicks traded the one cornerstone they’ve had in recent years to do so, but Porzingis’ injury history is concerning. Without having seen him on the court post-injury, the media is aggressively criticizing New York for trading a generational talent.

Not to mention the two first-rounders they acquired from Dallas. Although both picks are highly protected, they are excellent assets to have for the future.

This move put the past in the rearview, and the future in the spotlight. New York is actively planning for a promising future, without limiting it to the summer of 2019.

Point Guard of the Future?

While he may not be a “unicorn,” most are forgetting the focal point to the Knicks’ trade with Dallas: Dennis Smith Jr.

At only 21 years old, the point guard’s ceiling is still nowhere in sight. He’s got the athleticism of Russell Westbrook, with (sigh) the shooting accuracy to match.

One could argue his future in the league is just as much in question as Porzingis’.

As soon as he began with the Knicks, Smith put on a clinic. He was driving, dunking, and dishing left and right. He outplayed the point guard (albeit sub-par) rotation in New York by a mile.

In just his second game, Smith put up 31 points and eight assists against a Detroit Pistons team with loads more talent.

In his 21 games with the Knicks, Smith posted 14.7 points, 5.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. His play, paired with the ever-improving Mitchell Robinson, kept New York fans tuned in.

The point guard position has long plagued the Knicks as a franchise. If Smith can develop a reliable jump shot, they will have found not only the space to sign future key players, but the point guard they’ve longed for over the last decade.

Culture Fix

One of the largest focuses for the Knicks over the last two seasons has been culture. New York has been a franchise for not only the fans, but players all the same.

They’ve become a certain island of misfit talent per se, with their willingness to take on young talent who had lost their way: Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh, and even Smith.

There’s a clear understanding across the NBA that the Knicks are operating differently. Culture has been one of the larger plagues for the franchise in recent years, but one that has improved dramatically over the last 18 months.

Porzingis wasn’t ready to buy into that cultural shift, and embrace the franchise’s state of rebuild. It’s hard to blame the 23-year old All-Star forward—who was leading the league in blocks while shooting 40% from three when he tore his ACL.

The former No. 4 overall pick was ready to contend in just his fourth season in the NBA. New York’s timeline for contention was further away than Porzingis’ was likely comfortable. This made the divorce all the more viable, and fair to each side.

No matter how New York spends its offseason and immediate future, trading Porzingis was always the move to make.

And they likely will always be justified in their efforts to join the 2019 free agency arms race.

So whether it’s Durant or Terrence Ross, the Knicks trade with Dallas shouldn’t be criticized.

New York’s front office acquired assets for the future, took a step in shifting the culture, and put themselves in play for the most anticipated free agency of the decade.

Writer, reader, entertainer. New York Knicks and the Carolina Panthers. Hoodie Melo is my spirit animal.