Knicks were right not to make a splash at 2021 NBA trade deadline

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Rafael Canton
·4 min read
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Tom Thibodeau Knicks timeout
Tom Thibodeau Knicks timeout

Though they had $15 million in salary cap space and a few future draft picks, the New York Knicks were mostly quiet at the trade deadline. The franchise made a minor move, sending Austin Rivers to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Ignas Brazdeikis to the Philadelphia 76ers, while acquiring wing Terrance Ferguson, center Vincent Poirier (later reportedly waived) and two future second round draft picks (one heavily protected) from Philadelphia in a three-team deal.

In fifth place with a 23-22 record, the Knicks are only percentage points behind the Charlotte Hornets for fourth in the East. Though the Knicks were continuously connected to names like Victor Oladipo, Lonzo Ball, Andre Drummond and Evan Fournier, they kept their roster intact, opting to move two players that were out of the team’s rotation.

Though Rivers had endeared himself to Knicks fans early on with a few scoring outbursts and an often sunny outlook on the team’s prospects in interviews and social media posts, he fell out of the rotation after the Knicks acquired Derrick Rose in early February. A second round pick of the Knicks in 2019, Brazdeikis has been an effective scorer in the G-League over two seasons, but has played less than 100 minutes in the NBA since being drafted.

The trade deadline follows a common theme that the Knicks front office has followed since Leon Rose took over as president of basketball operations. New York has only made minor deals on the margins to improve the team. Asset management has become a priority under this Knicks regime. Even in this deadline deal, the Knicks found a way to replace the second round pick that they gave up for Rose.

Making a splash just to make a splash can be risky. The Knicks are looking to acquire top shelf talent, but not willing to part ways with assets unless they can find that superstar to build a contender around. Waiting it out and finding the right talent makes more sense rather than dealing assets for a player that you also have to re-sign in the offseason.

Fournier and Oladipo were both traded on Thursday for less than desirable packages. The price for Fournier was two future second round picks and veteran afterthought Jeff Teague. The Houston Rockets took in Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and the right to swap first round picks in 2022. Based on the lukewarm returns for both players, the Knicks likely didn’t offer anything of significance in a potential deal for either player. A big factor in both players’ paltry returns is that they both will be unrestricted free agents and could end up as in-season rentals.

Though he had several suitors, Ball was not moved. Having a career year, the 23-year old point guard is set to become a restricted free agent this offseason and there is mutual interest between both parties. Drummond is headed for a buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Knicks likely will be one of the multiple teams interested.

The Knicks could potentially have as much as $60 million in cap space this upcoming offseason. There will be opportunities to make moves and figure out what players fit best with the team’s young core. Part of identifying the proper fits and needs on this team will be explored in this stretch run of the regular season. A potential playoff appearance would also help crystallize what the Knicks need as weaknesses are exploited and strengths are game-planned for.

The Knicks have survived the early part of a tough second half schedule. Though they’ve lost to all of the top three East teams — Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Philadelphia twice — in the past couple of weeks, the Knicks have taken care of business against sub-.500 squads including the Washington Wizards twice, Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. 15 of the Knicks’ final 27 games are against teams above .500. They will have to beat some solid teams to secure a playoff spot.

Led by All-Star Julius Randle and sophomore RJ Barrett, the Knicks have set themselves up for a solid run the rest of this season with a young core that offers hope for the future. There has always been talk of the Knicks taking their time in a rebuild, and it would be nice to actually see that happen. Though their gobs of cap space won’t always be forever available — Randle will be a free agent in 2022 and Mitchell Robinson could become a restricted free agent this offseason — taking the measured approach could help this team finally fulfill a successful and prosperous rebuild.