Trade talk quiet at G League Winter Showcase, but Knicks could look to make eventual move

ORLANDO, Fla. — The G League Winter Showcase is supposed to buzz with chatter in advance of the NBA’s Feb. 8 trade deadline. While hundreds of front-office executives and pro scouts flocked to central Florida to evaluate minor-league players on the cusp of the NBA — and there will be roster changes stemming from these games regarding teams’ two-way contracts before those salaries are guaranteed Jan. 7 — there were plenty of agents and personnel wandering the carpeted floors of this convention center seeking intel for NBA trades.

One problem: There was little substance to be shared on the ground, much to the disappointment of many executives eager for activity. There are no Zach LaVine trade sweepstakes unfolding for the Chicago Bulls, or anything more than preliminary conversations between the Toronto Raptors and other teams regarding their veteran talent that have been confirmed.

The biggest development of the week may be the New York Knicks’ application for a disabled player exception in response to the ankle surgery for starting center Mitchell Robinson. After what was originally expected to be an eight-to-10-week recovery, applying for the exception means New York’s medical team has deemed Robinson’s injury severe enough to be season ending, a seismic blow to the Knicks’ defense and Robinson’s individual career that has already been mired by health issues.

Before this point, there wasn’t much noise surrounding the Knicks’ trade-deadline approach. The gap in negotiations for Immanuel Quickley’s rookie extension this fall at first led rival teams to consider the combo guard a possible trade candidate come February, especially after New York gauged his value with rival teams during this time last year. Quickley’s representation was seeking around $25 million in average annual value, according to league sources. And yet Quickley’s name has been virtually absent from the early rumblings around the NBA. Evan Fournier’s $18.8 million salary, before his team option for the 2024-25 campaign, does still stand as a valuable trade chip for the Knicks’ front office, as Robinson’s injury now points to the likelihood of New York searching for frontcourt reinforcements.

Isaiah Hartenstein has emerged as one of the premier backup bigs in the league, so New York doesn’t necessarily need to find a direct replacement for Robinson in the starting lineup. But this is a team with aspirations of playing deeper into the postseason than last spring’s second-round exit to Miami. And that would suggest the Knicks will have to take a look at some of the better centers available in this developing market.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 20: Jalen Green #4 of the Houston Rockets drives to the net ahead of Clint Capela #15 of the Atlanta Hawks during the first half at Toyota Center on December 20, 2023 in Houston, Texas. User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
The Hawks’ Clint Capela could end up being the best big man on the trade market. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The best big man for the taking before the deadline could very well be the Hawks’ Clint Capela. Atlanta dangled Capela this past offseason, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and held significant discussions with the Dallas Mavericks before talks fell apart. The Hawks have left rival teams with the impression they are still open to moving one of, if not both, Capela and De’Andre Hunter, whom Atlanta discussed with Indiana, Detroit and Toronto this offseason, sources said.

Wizards center Daniel Gafford may be the next-best option for the Knicks, or any other team, in search of available starting-level talent at the position. Houston could look to make an upgrade in its frontcourt behind Alperen Şengün, sources said, after free-agent signee Jock Landale hasn’t become a fixture in head coach Ime Udoka’s rotation. And if Oklahoma City has any clear gap in its lineup, it is the Thunder’s reserve bigs behind Rookie of the Year front-runner Chet Holmgren.

Gafford has played well this season in Washington, averaging career highs across the board in a career-best 25.6 minutes per game. But the Wizards are shaping into sellers with a 5-22 record in this first year under Michael Winger’s new front office, which turned the page for the franchise by trading Bradley Beal to Phoenix this summer. The four-year, $90 million deal they signed with Kyle Kuzma in free agency is considered quite valuable among rival personnel and could bring back some legitimate first-round draft capital for the rebuilding Wizards.

The same goes for starting point guard Tyus Jones, who’s in the final season of a two-year, $29 million contract. And opposing front offices will surely call to gauge Washington’s price point for young wings like Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert. Although there seems to be plenty of skepticism around the NBA that the Wizards would be able to find a worthwhile return for combo guard Jordan Poole, with this being his first season on a four-year, $120 million deal and his shooting efficiency continuing to drop ever since his breakout 2021-22 campaign.