The ball went up on the NBA’s trade season earlier this week when the news broke that Anthony Davis finally asked to be dealt. While everybody was eying the rim and waiting to see where it would bounce next, the New York Knicks flew out of nowhere with a put-back dunk that smashed the backboard by trading Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday afternoon — one week ahead of the NBA trade deadline.
As the glass settles, let’s make some sense of the Porzingis deal and the fallout from it:
Tough loss for New York
In Porzingis, the Knicks had an up-and-coming player with as much potential as any in the NBA. And they’ve managed to screw it up.
Before he hurt his knee last season, an injury (more on that in a bit) that has kept him sidelined since roughly this time last year, a 22 year-old Porzingis was averaging 23 points (while shooting nearly 40 per cent from deep) and two and a half blocks per game and doing things like this on a regular basis:
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) November 4, 2017
Things have been festering for some time in New York, and every few months you’d come across a story that Porzingis wasn’t happy with the Knicks’ direction or management for one reason or another.
It’s not shocking that the Knicks would pursue a deal to avoid potentially losing him in free agency in two years. Nor is it shocking that they wouldn’t be able to get equal value in return. The recent Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard trades are proof of how teams are handcuffed in that situation.
So New York loses Porzingis and sheds the contracts of Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. — an intriguing player who can still make an impact — to acquire Dennis Smith Jr. and the expiring contracts of DeAndre Jordan and Wes Matthews. Underwhelming, to say the least.
Still, if the Knicks brass saw the writing on the wall for a Porzingis trade, you’d have to think they could have shopped around for a better deal. If not, it seems like this was a reactionary move done to sever ties as quickly as possible to cover their losses after learning Porzingis wanted out.
For a franchise with a now 20-plus year streak of making head-scratching moves, it’s worth noting that the Knicks just recently passed on Smith at the draft when he fell to them in the 2017 lottery. Needing a point guard then, they opted instead for Frank Ntilikina, who has been benched for long stretches of this season.
Smith has been auditioning for a trade for the last few weeks and, wouldn’t you know it, is fresh off a triple-double performance last night in Dallas’ win at Madison Square Garden over the Knicks.
He’s an exciting young guard, and we should all be excited to see what he has in store when he takes part in his second straight dunk contest at all-star weekend next month. But as the centrepiece of the deal and the only player the Knicks are likely to retain and build with, you can’t help but be underwhelmed.
For New York, this season is all about the draft lottery and landing a league-altering talent like Zion Williamson — and they’re doing a great job on that front, currently a league-worst 10-40.
So maybe Knicks fans can take some strange solace in the fact that Smith has a negative career win-share through his career so far, and after 50 games as a Maverick Jordan’s metric is the lowest it’s been in seven years.
Knicks rolling the dice
Of course, this trade wasn’t about the players New York acquired. It’s about the Knicks rolling the dice despite terrible odds and positioning themselves for free agency.
The team is now positioned to have enough cap space to offer up to two max-level deals this summer, and they’ll be front-and-centre going after a marquee free agent like Kevin Durant, a long-time target.
Ironically, with Porzingis out of the picture they’ve lost their best on-court recruitment tool — a potentially all-NBA calibre teammate just scratching the surface of his abilities. Without a player like Porznigis on the roster, more than ever the Knicks will have to lean on their market and city as chief promotional tools.
The only thing that will change that now is the aforementioned draft lottery and getting lucky enough to land a player like Williamson, who you would think players would line up to play with. At best, though, the Knicks would have 14 per cent odds at landing the first overall pick.
Mavericks big winners
Porzingis hasn’t played a game this season and isn’t really expected to after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL.
His injury risk is legitimate, and he’s missed 10 or more games in each of his three seasons. But Porzingis is a special talent and for the Mavericks, who are suddenly building a playoff contender around teen sensation Luka Doncic, it’s a risk you take every time.
Like the Raptors in acquiring Kawhi Leonard last summer, the Mavs pounced on an opportunity to benefit from the misfortune of others. Now they’ll get to walk into next season with a roster built around Doncic and a healthy Porzingis. For the mere chance that he sticks around beyond that, the asking price could prove to be a bargain.
Doncic, the favourite to be named rookie of the year, is already the face of the franchise in Dallas and at 19-years-old is playing like a future MVP candidate. He’s a potent scorer and is developing into an elite playmaker whose best trait is that he makes the players around him better. Now throw in Porzingis, whose mobility, imposing size and a versatile arsenal should pair nicely.
Porzingis’s absence has probably made it easy to forget his stature among the NBA’a best. Before he got hurt he was discussed in the same breath as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, and other under-25 superstars.
He is expected to accept a qualifying offer this summer that will keep him in Dallas for next season, after which he can become an unrestricted free agent in the same class that currently also includes Anthony Davis.
As basketball fans, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Instead, let’s hope that Porzingis returns healthy, regains his form, re-signs with Dallas, and helps to establish one of the game’s most exciting duos and a true future contender in the west.
Ah, who are we kidding — he’ll probably just wind up joining the Lakers.