The New York Knicks traded its franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis, away to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, but “the Unicorn” isn’t even the biggest part of the trade. The acquisitions, as well as the other players the team dealt out, are what makes this trade extremely beneficial for New York.
In addition to Porzingis—who was badly injured just 48 games into his breakout season last year—the Knicks also traded away Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, and Trey Burke. The Knicks signed Hardaway—after averaging 14.5 points per game off the bench with Atlanta Hawks—to a four-year, $71 million deal, sacrificing an enormous amount of its cap space for a player that wasn’t remotely close to that price.
Lee was acquired in the Phil Jackson-era in an attempt to build a solid roster around Carmelo Anthony and Porzingis. Lee was a decent starter at the beginning of his time with the Knicks, but his numbers have sharply decreased in recent years. Lee averaged a respectable 12 points per game in 76 games last season, but he’s become virtually irrelevant on New York’s roster this year, as he appeared in just 12 games this year putting up just under five points per game. Lee has two years left in his four-year, $48 million deal he signed in 2016, and what’s left on his contract is now the Mavs’ problem.
By trading away Hardaway and Lee, the Knicks now have cap space for two maximum contracts. Two. The franchise that began its rebuild a few years ago is in a substantially better position than it was in before the trade. In addition to the cap space the team was able to free up, the team also acquired Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, and Deandre Jordan.
Smith, who the Knicks passed on in the 2017 NBA draft for Frank Ntilikina, is a great pick up. He’s just 21 years old in his second season and averaged 15.2 points on 39.5% shooting along with 3.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists in his rookie campaign. His stats took a slight decrease this season due to the Mavericks offense revolving around rookie Luka Dončić, however, his three-point and overall field goal percentage increased.
Smith has lots of potential, and would be a great player to keep for the future. It’s going to be interesting to see how New York deals with the point-guard rotation that now involves Smith, Ntilikina, and Emmanuel Mudiay.
Matthews and Jordan each have expiring contracts. According to ESPN, they could also potentially be bought out by the team.
Porzingis was a fan-favorite in New York but had excelled during a time where the Knicks had no plans of winning or making playoff pushes. His ACL injury kept him out for the remainder of last season and likely all of this season. His future was unclear with the Knicks, and Porzingis actually told the team in meetings early on Thursday that he would like to be traded.
The Knicks now have young pieces in Smith, Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, and Mitchell Robinson, and have the cap space to sign a superstar (or two) in free agency. This rebuild—after many difficult years for the franchise—may be faster than expected. New York could be a legit playoff contender sooner than most think.