While the NBA world read update after update about Anthony Davis and his trade demand, news quickly broke that Kristaps Porzingis informed the New York Knicks he wasn’t happy with the team’s direction. Then it escalated to Porzingis wanting a trade from New York. Then, seemingly as quickly as it all started, Porzingis was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
In the end, the deal was Porzingis, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee to Dallas for DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr. and two future first-round picks. The exact details around the picks are a bit uncertain because Dallas owes the Atlanta Hawks an outstanding first-round pick from the Luka Doncic–Trae Young trade on draft night. The expectation is that New York will receive an unprotected pick as early as 2021 and then a protected pick as early as 2023.
Mavs trade flexibility and picks for Porzingis
The Mavericks were poised to have around $51.3 million in cap space this summer. Instead, Dallas will operate as an over-the-cap team as a result of this trade. There is some belief that Porzingis is unlikely to play this season, meaning he’ll hit restricted free agency this summer without playing for Dallas.
There was initial reporting that Porzingis would simply sign the qualifying offer from Dallas, which would then make him an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020. But that was quickly refuted and for good reason. Because he might not play this season and won’t meet “starter criteria,” the qualifying offer for Porzingis would be approximately $4.5 million. The starting salary in a new long-term contract for Porzingis is currently projected to be just over $27 million. In addition, he’s eligible for a full five-year maximum contract of nearly $150 million. It’s highly unlikely that Porzingis, coming off missing the last year and a half due to a torn ACL, would sacrifice that much money.
When he is ready to play, Porzingis will team with Doncic to form one of the NBA’s most exciting young cores. Both are good shooters and passers and play the kind of aesthetically pleasing European-style basketball of which NBA fans have become fond. Not only does Dallas now possess one of the game’s best young building blocks in Doncic, but they add Porzingis to that mix.
Hardaway and Lee shouldn’t be treated as throw-ins, either. Hardaway will eventually take on one of the starting wing spots alongside Doncic. He thrived in the disciplined system that the Atlanta Hawks used and should have similar success under coach Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He’s a good scorer and shooter and will benefit from playing with Doncic and his superb passing ability.
Lee gives the Mavs a solid backup wing who simply has been out sight, out of mind in New York. He’s still a good player who will help give the Mavericks quality depth as they push for a playoff spot next season.
Jordan was a longtime target for the Mavericks but never quite fit in this season. He’s slipped both offensively and defensively, and Dallas was likely to go younger next season. Matthews should be capably replaced by the combination of Hardaway and Lee.
Giving up on Smith is the real question mark for the Mavs. Just a year ago, he was seen as the primary building block. After an up-and-down, injury-plagued second season, Smith fell out of favor. His fit with Doncic, who needs the ball to be at his best, was clunky. He’s not a great shooter, nor a great defender, two areas that would help a point guard playing with Doncic.
As for the picks, Dallas believes it can find talent among undrafted and overseas players. Giving up picks is always risky, but the Mavericks should be able to work around it.
Cap space and free-agent dreams for Knicks
New York was bad. Really, really bad. And the kicker was the Knicks had only a little flexibility. Now? The Knicks are even worse basketball-wise, but they have more flexibility than any team in the NBA. They project to have over $71 million in cap space, depending on where their own 2019 first-round picks lands. That’s enough money to sign two max free agents. Or to take on a max guy in trade and still sign a max free agent.
Let’s start with what’s left and what the Knicks got. Jordan and Matthews are easy. If they aren’t flipped in separate deals before the deadline, both will be prime buyout candidates. It would be a major surprise to see either finish the season in New York.
What’s left is all the young talent New York has picked up over the past year: Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier. And now they’ll add Smith. While none of those players is a surefire All-Star, it’s a good mix of young talent to add free agents to or to use in trades. Should New York add a point guard in free agency, it can then move Ntilikina or Smith to further flesh out its depth chart.
And point guards will be a high priority for the Knicks. They’re rumored to be interested in both Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, who, in addition to the being named All-Star starters, are both New York-area natives. The Knicks would love to bring either one home as part of a blockbuster summer.
At the top of the shopping list are two other players, who would need to be acquired by different means. The primary free-agent target will be Kevin Durant. He’s been linked to the New York for a year now. If he chooses to leave the Golden State Warriors, expect the Knicks to be heavily involved in signing him.
The second target is Anthony Davis, who New York could look to acquire via trade as soon as this season. The Knicks have the draft capital — with two extra picks from Dallas — young talent and expiring contracts to make a run at Davis. Doing so would leave New York with enough cap space to add a max free agent in the summer and some money left to help fill out the rest of the roster. If the Pelicans’ plan is to move Davis by the Thursday deadline, it’s fair to expect the Knicks to be in the mix.
When you’re bad, you want to have flexibility and hope. The Knicks had hope with Porzingis, but it was always a gamble that he would come back healthy and happy. Now New York transitions to a different kind of gamble. If the Knicks fulfill their plan, they could have a monster summer – one that sets them up to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
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