Knicks Trade Kristaps Porzingis, Change NBA Forever

It's a gamble that will either explode in New York's face or alter the entire league's trajectory.

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Jan 31 2019, 10:49pm

Photo by Peter Foley—EPA/EFE

The most sensible reaction to today’s blockbuster trade between the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericksis an exploding head emoji, particularly if you’re fond of the Knicks and care for their well being. Kristaps Porzingis, Courtney Lee, Trey Burke, and Tim Hardaway Jr. have been sent to Dallas for DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, and two future first-round picks. This is seismic.

Porzingis—coming off his first All-Star season at the age of 22 and far and away the best and most important player in this deal—has not played a minute since he tore his ACL 53 weeks ago. He’s also a burgeoning star with tantalizing ability and unteachable physical gifts, and the Knicks essentially just decided to use him as a sweetener so they could shed two pricey contracts from their books.

Speaking as someone who really likes DSJ and believes giving up on him this early is borderline criminal, the second-year point guard plus two expiring contracts is not enough for Porzingis. And when judged in a vacuum (or hindsight, potentially), this deal is ludicrous. On its face, the Knicks have compounded past mistakes in an attempt to dig themselves out of a hole that was partially created by a previous administration. It may wind up being a colossal mismanagement.

But this trade can’t be judged in a vacuum; we won’t know if it will be remembered as Peak Knicks or an iconic move that turned everything around until July 1st. The clear reason New York opted to chainsaw through their lone franchise pillar is simple: cap flexibility. That doesn’t sound very sexy, but the Knicks now have enough room to fit two max free agents beside the young pieces that remain (Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Smith Jr., and their own first-round pick—the picks Dallas owe them can’t be conveyed until 2021, at the earliest).

New York’s decision to go all in as a major player in free agency may impact several teams, including the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia Sixers, and Golden State Warriors. The Knicks can now sell MSG, David Fizdale, and an open canvas to Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard. Technically, any two of them can team up to form a powerful dynamic duo, but Irving and Durant (both who’ve been linked to New York via the NBA’s never-ending rumor mill in the last 12 months) are the pair Scott Perry and Steve Mills likely have their attention on.

The range of outcomes here are vast, and the domino effect may be savage. The Knicks either create a super team or remain a clown show. It’s illegal for them to have any type of agreement with the players listed above, but this is the NBA and shadowy back-channel conversations are nothing new. It’s hard to rationalize New York’s mindset without assuming they’re abnormally confident in their ability to land two major stars. Boston and Golden State should be a little nervous. The other aforementioned teams should be annoyed. (Butler has another opening to use as leverage should Philly not offer him a five-year max.)

If the Knicks swing and miss on everything it will be extremely Knicks. All they did was forfeit Porzingis’s prime for a second-year player whose trade value was never high enough to land someone that good. It’s here where we can’t overstate how major this coup may be for Dallas. I wrote in this week’s Outlet Pass that the Mavs should be attracted to DeMarcus Cousins in free agency. That ship has sailed with Lee and THJ now on their books, but assuming Porzingis backs off the wild intention to play his first year back from a surgically-repaired knee on a qualifying offer, it also allows this sentence to read as something less than outrageous fan fiction: “Next year, and the ten after that, Porzingis and Luka Doncic will be All-Star teammates.” That reality would be sweet for everyone involved, and KP should take a deep breath and realize he just won the lottery. Doncic and Porzingis are a natural fit, and it's almost unfair to supply this year's Rookie of the Year with that much gravity at the five throughout his prime. (If Porzingis actually leaves then the Mavericks will regret not entering this summer with cap space, but they also employ a 19-year-old prodigy so whatever they’ll get over this soon enough.

If the Knicks don’t land two players who can immediately elevate them to a tier of sustainable championship contention, it’ll be interesting to see how their front office recovers. Will they use their lottery pick, act like nothing major happened, and then continue on with their rebuild to nowhere? It’s possible Porzingis threatened them with his qualifying offer, and given his uncertain health and looming contract situation, finding proper value at this time was never easy. But still. Come on, man.

(Side note: Matthews and Jordan are not bad and will also not end this season wearing Knicks jerseys. They can absolutely help a playoff team.)

Both teams took a risk, but one is run by James Dolan and is either blatantly tampering or more arrogant that it has any right to be, while the other just acquired Kristaps freaking Porzingis.