Kristaps Porzingis Trade Grades: In Defense of the Knicks…

Wow, that escalated quickly. We’ve become so used to the drawn out superstar trade drama in the NBA that it’s almost refreshing to see something happen without much build-up or fanfare. Now that we’ve had some time to catch our breath and collect our thoughts, let’s try to parse through what this trade means for both teams. First, the deal itself:

Knicks Receive: Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, and two future first round picks

Mavericks Receive: Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, and Trey Burke

The common narrative seems to be that the Knicks gave up their franchise player and best asset for salary relief, which makes this move seem worse for New York than it really is. Now, that isn’t to say this is a particularly good move for the Knicks. Unless there was a lot of secret Porzingis trade discussions, the Knicks seemingly broke the #1 rule of NBA team management: when you’re trading your most valuable asset, you should actually negotiate with teams and not just accept the first offer that you deem satisfactory. There are also some rumors that the Knicks leaked the story that Porzingis was unsatisfied with the team so they had an excuse to make this trade, which is just generally poor form. But let’s try to ignore how this came to be, and focus on the players (and picks) that are actually trading teams.

The headliner of the deal is obviously Porzingis. If he returns to full health, the Mavericks have a potentially dominant young duo in Porzingis and Luka Doncic. But when you’re 7′ 3″ and already have an injury history, full health is far from guaranteed. The uncertainty surrounding Porzingis’ health is especially concerning for the Mavs as they will potentially have to offer him a max or near-max deal in restricted free agency this summer before seeing him actually play post-injury. Now, the usual approach in this type of situation would be to offer a less lucrative contract to offset the injury risk, but with Porzingis already threatening to take the qualifying offer (which would make him an unrestricted free agent in 2020), the Mavericks can’t be too firm in their negotiations. Again, the potential upside here is huge, but we can’t ignore that this trade is also a risk for the Mavs.

How much of a risk is it for Dallas? Considering what they gave up, it’s significant but not substantial. Dennis Smith Jr. still has some promise, but his relationship with the team had already soured to the point that both sides were looking for a fresh start. The two first rounders, particularly the unprotected pick that will likely be in 2021, could come back to haunt the Mavs, especially if Porzingis isn’t with the team (or healthy enough to contribute) for long. However, with Luka on the team, it’s tough to imagine either pick being near the top of the draft. Then there’s the salary they took on, effectively eliminating them from this summer’s free agent chase – but based on recent history, Dallas was never going to attract a superstar. And as bad as his contract is, Tim Hardaway Jr. will actually be a useful contributor in Dallas.

Given the risk that this backfires, it’s tough to call this a total home run for Dallas, but the risk/reward here definitely tilts hard in their favor. Best case, this trade looks brilliant, and worst case it’s just a bold move that backfired – but that doesn’t mean it was a bad move.

Mavericks’ Grade: B+

As we touched on, it’s easy to ridicule the Knicks here. But it’s also tough to know how the Knicks view Porzingis, or what else they know. Maybe they thought he’s destined to always be injured for the rest of his career. Maybe they believed that he’s actually going to sign his qualifying offer this summer, and he would be gone by the 2020-2021 season anyway. Maybe Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have both sworn a blood oath saying that they’ll join the team this offseason.

What we do know is that the pressure is now on New York to deliver this summer. If they don’t sign at least one superstar, this trade will be an utter embarrassment (and no, Tobias Harris does not count as a superstar). On the flip side, if they sign KD, Kyrie, and win the Zion lottery, this trade will look brilliant – or at least it will become much more defensible.

Beyond dumping salary, the Knicks did get two future first round picks and a player who is just a year removed from being a top 10 pick. We can’t help but feel that that sounds a lot better than it really is. Dennis Smith Jr. might be just good enough the rest of this season to ruin their chances at Zion, but he’ll likely never be a player that you can build a contender around (and he’ll become very redundant if they do get Kyrie). The picks might become useful trade chips, especially if free agency goes according to plan and they enter win-now mode. But it’s quite possible that both picks end up being in the late-teens or early-twenties, which is the type of pick you’d expect to get for a useful rotation guy, not your franchise player.

So just like with Dallas, this trade offers both risk and reward for the Knicks. The potential upside is massive – KD, Kyrie, and Zion reenergizing the Garden (although it’s worth noting that they could have potentially had KD and Zion even without this trade). The downside is equally massive, and also more probable – the Knicks strike out in free agency, panic and overpay for a mediocre player (i.e. Tim Hardaway Jr. circa 2017), and then watch as Porzingis becomes a perennial All-Star in Dallas. On the bright side, it would be tough for this trade to crack the top of this list.

Knicks’ Grade:  C

1 comment on “Kristaps Porzingis Trade Grades: In Defense of the Knicks…

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