New York Knicks executives in recent years have said they would rebuild cautiously and avoid trading their first-round picks. That approach paid off — sweet-shooting big man Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks’ first-round pick in 2015, quickly ascended into a star, giving the team hope that it could finally build something sustainable with just another solid move or two. All the organization needed to do was avoid somehow taking a step backward.
And then Thursday happened.
In response, FiveThirtyEight’s biggest NBA fans gathered to process the reported trade.
chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): I covered the Knicks for five years. Not their worst five, necessarily. But saw their worst season in franchise history. You’re naturally going to see them do things that make you scream, “Why?!” But this is a new level, even for me.
This Porzingis trade, if they don’t land a max-level star or two, is just befuddling.
tchow (Tony Chow, video producer/angry Knicks fan): I think I’m going to be a Brooklyn Nets fan now. Why the hell would you do this?
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Do we know what draft pick compensation they got, if any? Because that seems pretty important. (These details, which weren’t clear during the time of the chat, emerged shortly after we finished the conversation. New York will receive two future first-round picks in the trade.)
chris.herring: Not the exact terms, no. Though it seems really likely that the Mavs are going to give up something on that front.
natesilver: I guess I’d say this: The process by which the Knicks got to this point is crazy. The outcome, I think, might not be as bad as it seems at first glance. But it really depends on the pick(s).
chris.herring: More than anything, this was about allowing the Knicks to send over their bloated contracts so that they could clear salary cap space. Especially Tim Hardaway Jr., whose deal would’ve made it tough for them to add a second star next to Porzingis this summer.
neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Yeah, if there is a silver lining (Is there a silver lining?), they just freed up a massive amount of cap space.
tchow: Welcome to New York, Kevin Durant!!
chris.herring: Only spent seven or eight years there, but this is where my New York cynicism comes into play. The Knicks haven’t had a very good history when it comes to FAs.
natesilver: They also got a buy-low guy in Dennis Smith Jr., although it seems like they have about 14 other buy-low point guards on the roster right now.
tchow: But in losing Porzingis, doesn’t that make the Knicks a less attractive destination to come play? If you were a max player, why would you look at this team and say, “I want to go to there”?
natesilver: Well, yeah, that’s the catch.
tchow: I guess maybe two max players could buddy up and that nullifies what I just said.
natesilver: A team of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and … uuuhhhh, who’s the third-best player on that team? Smith Jr., I guess?
tchow: I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. This is INSANE!!! I’m still in shock.
chris.herring: If nothing else, I guess this all just surprises me because it speaks to one of two things. Either 1) You have that much confidence that a superstar is coming …
tchow: Well you’re forgetting Zion, Nate.
chris.herring: Or 2) Things had gotten so bad/toxic with Porzingis that you didn’t see how you could make it work with him anymore. They really had no obligation to give into this right now, even if he was unhappy.
neil: Right, he was only a restricted free agent after the season.
tchow: Well, Chris, if things have gotten that bad with Porzingis, you would think they were secretly shopping him around earlier. Is this really the best deal they could get? I find that hard to believe.
natesilver: It is worth keeping in mind that Porzingis has a serious injury that other guys have struggled to recover from, that he hadn’t reached superstar status yet, and that he was about to get expensive. The upside is so high, though, that you’d think a team, maybe a cap-constrained team, might have given up a little more.
chris.herring: Yep. I’m not blown away by the fact that they dealt him. It’s what they dealt him for.
natesilver: Getting technical, but his cap hold is only like $12 million this summer, so that was a big benefit too.
chris.herring: There are two or three different reasons to potentially deal him. I just don’t know that any of them were worth dealing him for that return.
natesilver: No those don’t contradict. Sign the qualifying offer for one year. Then become a full-fledged free agent in summer 2020.
tchow: Oh damn … you’re right. OK … back to crying.
chris.herring: During the time I spent on the Knicks beat, I got used to watching them attach useful players to ones whose contracts were albatrosses. They traded Tyson Chandler (useful) to unload Raymond Felton (albatross). And Iman Shumpert (useful) to unload JR Smith (albatross).
natesilver: Were Hardaway and Lee that untradeable? They aren’t terrible players, and their contracts aren’t that bad.
chris.herring: Neither is a bad player. Maybe overpaid (I’ve definitely argued that with Hardaway).
natesilver: In some sense, everyone in the deal is a distressed asset.
chris.herring: If anything, Hardaway is just pricey because of what you want to accomplish this summer.
tchow: Watch Dennis Smith Jr. come out of this as the best player in the trade.
natesilver: It’s not nothing.
chris.herring: But Porzingis should not be the sweetener in any deal like this! He’s the lone All-Star changing hands here.
neil: Smith Jr. certainly got a lot of hype as a rookie last year.
tchow: KP 👏 IS 👏 A 👏 UNICORN
chris.herring: I’ll put it this way: Smith and his folks floated that he potentially wanted out of Dallas a week or two ago. That came and went, likely because no one felt like he was worth all that much. He’s explosive. He’s young enough to gamble something on. But he’s not even a clear starter in everyone’s eyes.
natesilver: So what else could they have gotten? What do we think the market price for Porzingis would be? Would Toronto have given up Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, for instance, and taken on either Hardaway or Lee but not both?
chris.herring: It was only 20 minutes or so before the trade reports came that this tweet went out.
natesilver: I’m just saying that if you clear the decks for two max free agents but you have a guy like Siakam making just $2.5 million a year, that gives you a lot more to work with.
chris.herring: Notice how smart we perceive those particular franchises to be. I saw someone say, “The smart franchises are circling the dumb one.” Almost like the Knicks were the prey here.
tchow: Right?? I keep thinking there must be other, better trades.
chris.herring: For sure. At least with Siakam, you have a good, athletic two-way player to build around.
tchow: This is all just us talking, right? There were no reports that Toronto was even looking to offer Siakam. Right? Right?
chris.herring: I honestly don’t know whether Smith will be a starter two or three years from now. There’s some faith because of how young he is, but he hasn’t shown consistency yet. And the Knicks haven’t been great with developing two-way talent at the guard spot lately.
natesilver: I wanna know about the draft pick(s) too. Dallas still owns its own pick if it’s 1-5 this year — otherwise it goes to Atlanta — and they’re probably still going to end up in the lottery.
neil: I think we are being very NYC-centric here and focusing on the Knicks’ angle. But for the Mavs, their new Doncic-Porzingis combo seems like it could eventually be very scary.
natesilver: NYC IS BASKETBALL MECCA, NEIL! SUCH A MECCA THAT THE ONLY GOOD PLAYER ON THE KNICKS IN THE PAST 10 YEARS GETS TRADED FOR CAP SPACE
neil: No, it’s not (“The Decline Of New York City As An NBA Talent Generator”).
tchow: No, Neil’s right. Forget the Knicks. I already have. Porzingis and Luka together is going to be amazing!! No way Dirk retires now.
chris.herring: Dallas is gonna be fun.
natesilver: Yeah, how did they do that? Turn the No. 5 pick and — Dennis Smith Jr.? — into Luka and Porzingis?
chris.herring: The Knicks were spending all this time trying to find a running mate for KP, and now Porzingis has Doncic.
tchow: So right now, we have them projected to be way out of the playoffs. When is Porzingis supposed to return? I’m getting ahead of myself
chris.herring: They’re relevant now. Even if they unloaded a hefty part of their rotation here to get Porzingis. But this was a great move for them.
natesilver: It was a little bit ambiguous. Dallas is tanking, obviously, so maybe they just play him for like six games to show he still had something left (as an inducement to free agents, etc.) and then find some excuse to shut him down.
chris.herring: Yeah. Porzingis probably wasn’t going to play for NYK this year. Maybe he gets into a few games for Dallas, but I doubt it.
natesilver: Yeah, they might as well tank too. Maybe not an outright tank, but they do keep their own pick if it’s 1-5.
chris.herring: If you’re the Mavs, this makes sense. You’ve still got Harrison Barnes under contract making a lot of money. Hardaway is under contract a couple more years.
tchow: “Makes sense” is such an understatement here.
natesilver: Don’t the Mavs have space for a max free agent too?
chris.herring: I don’t think so? Not with all the money they just took on.
This trade was their free agency, in a way. Dallas very quietly just hit us with a Nash/Dirk redux. Except Luka can score better than Nash, and Porzingis can defend.
natesilver: It looks like they should have cap space in 2020-21, though, when the Barnes/Powell contracts all come off the books.
chris.herring: Two or three years from now, they’ll have cap money again, and you imagine players would want to team up with a duo like that.
tchow: (if Porzingis signs)
chris.herring: Porzingis will be 25 in two years. Luka will be 22. Also, can we talk about the fact that the Mavs were at the Garden last night? And Mark Cuban was there. I imagine this topic came up.
natesilver: Ahhh didn’t think about that. But, yeah, it seems pretty weird to think this deal was just conjured up out of thin air.
tchow: They knew. They fucking knew.
chris.herring: Dennis Smith Jr. logged a triple-double.
natesilver: Oh shit!!!!!
tchow: Look at that. That’s a “we’re going to be teammates” handshake.
natesilver: THE FIX WAS IN.
chris.herring: I soooo hope the Knicks — who could’ve drafted Smith but instead took Frank Ntilikina — weren’t enamored by his good game to where they said, “You know what? That sounds good to us.”
tchow: Chris, that is EXACTLY what happened.
chris.herring: What it all comes down to for the Knicks is free agency: If you land two guys who are truly worth it, it’s hard to look back at this and be angry.
tchow: And there is my silver lining.
chris.herring: But for the time being, it is just astounding.
natesilver: The Knicks also haven’t drafted very well. Kevin Knox is regarded as a future rotation piece, if not a star, and I sorta get why because he looks like a good player, but his numbers are unbelievably terrible.
chris.herring: Also: My favorite stat ever, from my Knick beat days: The Knicks haven’t re-signed one of their draft picks on a multiyear deal since Charlie Ward, who they took in 1994. Trading Porzingis keeps that alive.
natesilver: Wow. BASKETBALL MECCA.
tchow: That is insane.
chris.herring: So them wanting to build it through free agency is fitting.
natesilver: I think I have to go to their next home game just to see what a shitshow it is.
tchow: FiveThirtyEight field trip, Nate?
natesilver: I’m down, dude. At least tickets will be cheap.
tchow: Hey, at least we still have Allonzo Trier. And Enes Kanter is back. Things are looking up for the Knicks.
chris.herring: Not that it has any bearing on how this summer pans out. But I think their last four deals for $90 million or more were, in this order: Melo, Amar’e Stoudemire, Stephon Marbury and Allan Houston.
natesilver: I mean, just look at this shit:
tchow: My god that is … depressing.
natesilver: I guess their bigs have been OK? Noah Vonleh and Luke Kornet and Mitchell Robinson?
neil: Ooof, you were not kidding about Knox’s numbers, Nate.
natesilver: Yeah, Neil, and it’s not just some advanced stats thing. He’s shooting just 37 percent. Just 4.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. For a guy who’s pretty athletic, that’s kind of sad.
neil: Maybe he’s on the Enes Kanter diet.
natesilver: Knox has a nice-looking 3-point stroke, and I guess you can say he’d get the numbers up if they weren’t tanking. That’s what’s a little hard to figure out on a team like the Knicks where they basically don’t have any incentive to work in their shot selection or to play defense.
tchow: If this is just going to become a shitting on Knox chat, I think it’s time to end it.
natesilver: I’m happy to also shit on other Knicks.
tchow: Just for fun, to end this chat, should we all say who we think won this trade?
chris.herring: Assuming the Knicks don’t land two absolute studs in FA, the Mavs.
natesilver: It’s clearly a good trade for Dallas. Where it ends up on the spectrum from “terrible” to “OK” for the Knicks depends on the draft picks and, yeah, the free agent situation.
chris.herring: Agreed, Nate. You just paired two of the best 25-and-under players in the league together. It could turn out to be a home run for both sides. I just don’t have that level of faith that everything will go right for New York.
natesilver: There is a downside risk with Porzingis, too, which is that he’s never really healthy again. But you do have a year to evaluate him before making a commitment. So the fact that he’s not looking to sign a long-term extension right away is both a bug and a feature.
chris.herring: I guess.
neil: And given the lengths we’ve seen teams go to just to have a chance to get a franchise-altering star, it seems worth it.
chris.herring: I’d be OK with that gamble if it means giving up DSJ and a pick. Dallas has always been willing to roll the dice on acquiring a star.
tchow: You know who won? NBA Twitter won cause this is going to provide so much content for the next few days/until Anthony Davis gets traded.
chris.herring: They even traded Tyson Chandler the summer after he was the linchpin to their title because they thought it’d allow them a chance at a star. They wanted to clear space.
neil: The NBA needs to push its trade deadline further from the Super Bowl.
Wait your turn, NBA! You’ll have the limelight next week.
chris.herring: NOPE. In fact, I hope Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sign today, too.
micah (Micah Cohen, managing editor): My two cents: I lost because I’m waiting for Nate to file a piece about independent presidential campaigns and the Porzingis trade has, I’m sure, delayed it.
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