As Kristaps Porzingis prepares for his first season with Dallas, figuring out if the New York Knicks “won” the trade is still complicated.

Danny Small

New York Knicks fans never turned on anyone as quickly as Kristaps Porzingis. The Latvian superstar went from hero to zero in the blink of an eye and now the narrative has changed.

When he was wearing the orange and blue, Porzingis was a future MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and hopefully, NBA Finals champion. But after a devastating knee injury and a trade to the Dallas Mavericks, now Porzingis is a bum, according to most Knicks fans.

He’s never going to stay healthy and he doesn’t have what it takes to win anymore. It’s as simple as that for most diehard Knicks fans and there’s no convincing any of them otherwise. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that.

The Extension Debate

If Porzingis stays healthy, Knicks fans know how dangerous he can be on both ends of the floor. However, that “if” is nothing to be brushed off. Knee surgeries are no joke and that is especially true for anyone over 7-foot. But the Mavericks extended the injury-prone forward the max-level extension without the slightest hesitation.

There are probably a few Knicks fans reading this who are yelling, “But Porzingis would have never signed that extension with the Knicks!”

We don’t know that for sure. It was first reported by Marc Berman of the New York Post that Porzingis told the front office he would not re-sign with the Knicks after the season.

That being said, no player has ever turned down that max-level extension, let alone a player coming off of a devastating knee injury. Porzingis could have stuck to his guns, signed the qualifying offer, and waited to test the waters of unrestricted free agency in 2020. But that would have been a monumental risk to take on his part.

This piece of history will likely never be black and white. Would a boatload of money and some fence-mending be enough to coax Porzingis back into the fold at 2 Penn Plaza? Maybe, but we’ll never know for sure.

The Return Value

The Knicks received a major haul for the 7-foot-3 unicorn, but the jury is still out on the value of the return. There were three components to the return: salary cap space, Dennis Smith Jr., and draft picks.

The Knicks already punted on the massive salary cap space they acquired by making the Mavericks take on Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee. The Nets swooped in and signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving while the Knicks were forced to pivot and sign the likes of Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, and Wayne Ellington, among a slew of other veterans.

Make no mistake, the Knicks are a better team with their new crop of free-agent signings, but the front office had hopes of a cannonball-sized splash in free agency. They maintained cap flexibility going forward, but the 2020 free-agent crop is devoid of any superstar talent. New York could have to wait until 2021 to utilize that cap space for a true star.

As for Smith, he’s an exciting young point guard who is on the cusp of a major breakthrough, according to every Ballislife video on Twitter this past summer. If he can develop into a star point guard and finally take hold of the position for the Knicks, it would make the Porzingis trade much more palatable for Knicks fans.

But his development isn’t so cut and dry. He’s a phenomenal athlete with tremendous upside. However, he’s struggled to stay consistent with his jumper. In his first two seasons in the league, Smith has a three-point percentage of 31.6%. The 21-year-old point guard is still a work-in-progress.

A 2021 unprotected first-round pick and a 2023 top-ten protected first-rounder are the final pieces of the puzzle. First rounders are always valuable, but exactly where those picks will fall is still an unknown.

Dallas Dominance

There is still plenty of ambiguity around the package Dallas sent to New York. Smith is too young and talented to count out, the Knicks are flexible in terms of the salary cap, and the draft picks still have that word “future” in front of them.

But if Kristaps Porzingis returns to his All-Star form—well, then it’s bad news for the Knicks. When he went down with that knee injury in February of 2018, the power forward was leading the league with 2.4 blocks per game. Not to mention, he was shooting just under 40% from three on 4.8 attempts per game.

The term “unicorn” has been co-opted to describe plenty of versatile forwards in the NBA, but Porzingis was the first. He’s as unique as he is long-limbed.

KP hasn’t been his old dominant self in the preseason. He’s averaging 15.3 points on 34.6% from the floor and 28% from deep. Additionally, he only has one block in 69 preseason minutes.

Despite the rough shooting numbers, the Latvian is showing flashes of brilliance with his new running mate—Luka Doncic.

Doncic is a special player who has the talent and skillset to bring out the best in Porzingis. Once upon a time, Knicks fans had dreams of this duo calling Madison Square Garden home.

If all goes according to plan in Dallas, Knicks fans could be forced to watch a perennial playoff team with Porzingis as one of its main stars. As long as Porzingis and Doncic stay healthy, it’s hard to see things going any other way in Dallas.

Rick Carlisle is a championship-winning head coach. Mark Cuban is an owner who isn’t afraid to push his chips all in. And Dallas should have some cap flexibility in 2020 and 2021 to fill in the roster around one of the best young duos in the NBA.

Knicks fans may have already burned their Porzingis jerseys and moved on from the Latvian sensation, but the two will be linked forever.

 

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