We’ve had some time to process things. Porzingis was traded to Dallas for Dennis Smith Jr.; you can find the details of the trade here. After the “WTF?!?!” and “Wait, what?”, let’s put things in context.
New York Knicks
For the first time in very long time, the Knicks are properly tanking. This is the first year of the reformed lottery odds in which the top three teams all share 14% chances of getting the top pick (meaning Zion Williamson), but being the worst guarantees your worst potential pick is no.5. As there are four teams in the all-out tank (Knicks, Bulls, Cavs, and Suns) losing every game counts. So when it comes to the draft, they are getting the job done. Then why trade Porzingis?
The Knicks top priority is getting Kevin Durant this summer. There have been a lot of rumors that KD is more likely to leave than stay and that his no.1 preferred option is the Knicks. The first step in making room for KD was stretching Joakim Noah’s salary and reducing his cap hit. Even then, the Knicks didn’t have enough room to sign a max player due to Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. contracts (the latter being especially egregious). Then add the fact that the 7’3″, 240 lbs Latvian has knee and lower back problems in his injury history and is recovering from a torn ACL. To top it all off, it has been reported Kristaps has been voicing his displeasure with the organization even after Phil Jackson left; the GM change didn’t completely restore his confidence in the organization.
Porzingis is a restricted free agent, meaning he will hit the market this summer but his team can match any offer he receives and he has to sign with them. For the team to have that right, they have to offer the player a qualifying offer – a one-year extension. If the player accepts the offer, he is an unrestricted free agent after that year. This is something Kristaps allegedly told the Knicks he would do. We say allegedly because it is hazardous for a big man coming back from a torn ACL to refuse a long term lucrative contract for a one year gamble to become an unrestricted free agent.
With the injury and contract uncertainty, the Knicks decided to cut bait and in the process get rid of the bad contracts on the books. Before the trade the Knicks didn’t have a single max contract slot – now they have two. Their salary for next season is at $34.5 million, and the cap is projected to be around $109 million – $74.5 million to sign new players.
Best case scenario
The dream for the Knicks is to sign KD and Kyrie, get the no.1. Draft pick and pick Zion. They would also have Smith Jr. and Ntilikina at the guard spots, Knox and Mitchell have potential and New York is back on the NBA map.
This is a high-risk move precisely because their best case scenario involves a lot of maybes. We have no idea what KD wants and Kyrie is as cryptic as they come. They only have 14% chance to land the no.1 and trading a Unicorn for a lot of maybes makes no sense…unless one of those players has a manager that is known to have his eye on running the Knicks one day and has made assurances his client is coming to NYC. But that would be against the rules, and we know the league would not allow tampering and back-channel deals, right?
Worst case scenario
KD doesn’t sign, they miss out on all the superstars and compromise overpay contracts to Boogie and a second tier guy. They land the 5th pick in the draft, and now they have to watch Dončić and Porzingis take the league by storm. Smith Jr. and Boogie destroy the locker room situation, and Dolan plays with his band every half time.
They still make a ton of money and are the highest valued franchise in the NBA.
The Mavs have been shopping DSJ for some time now, lately pretended they made up and everything was peachy in Dallas. Now they traded an unhappy lottery pick, aged out Matthews and DeAndre for The Unicorn and two bloated contracts. Their effective cost is the health of an ACL and an extra year of bloated contracts. They would have had Matthews and DeAndre off the books this summer; now they have Lee on the books for next year and Hardaway Jr. with a player option in ’20/’21. For a team that makes a lot of deals and doesn’t value the draft as much, adding two first round picks (with some protections) was a bargain.
Hardaway Jr. is not a horrible player but an overpaid one, same goes for Lee. Even if they were, not too steep of a price to get Porzingis, all they need to do is let Luka and Kristaps develop chemistry, and in a few years when all the money is off the books, they have an established duo to build around for a decade.
Best case scenario
Porzingis starts playing after the All-Star break, and we all see that the ACL is 100% healed, additions of other players work in the short term, and they make the playoffs. They extend Porzingis in the summer and have their long term building blocks.
Luka and Kristaps spend the summer on a yacht in Croatia and play Fortnite together. Later in life, they are each other’s best man and forge a friendship that lasts a lifetime.
After winning the championship in 2022, Mark Cuban runs for President.
Worst case scenario
KP’s knee isn’t fully healed, they extend him, and he gets injured again. Now they have to wait a few years to clear the books, Luka grows impatient and demands a trade.
After it all falls apart in 2022, Cuban sells the team and runs for President.
To sum it up
This is a high-risk high-reward move for the Knicks and medium-risk high-reward for the Mavs. At first glance, the deal is better for the Mavs.
However this ends, talk of tampering and players making moves behind closed doors will intensify after this, and we see the first significant challenge of Adam Silver’s career. This is a slippery slope to be on and his first major test.