Schmeelk: What Should the Knicks' Trade Strategy Be?

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By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

Every NBA team has three ways to improve each offseason: the draft, free agency and trades. Last week, we looked at what the Knicks free agency strategy should be and potential free agent targets. Once the NBA has its Draft Lottery on Aug. 20, we’ll take a look at who the Knicks might be able to add on draft night on Oct. 16.

How about trades? Much like in free agency, the Knicks need to tread carefully.

We’ll delve into these rules a little bit deeper, but here are some basic rules the Knicks should follow when determining the kind of trades they should pursue and avoid in 2020. (If a true top-10 level player becomes available, which they rarely do, these rules would change.)

  1. Do not trade any draft picks with the potential of landing a superstar caliber player.
  2. The acquired Clippers and Mavericks picks would not qualify and could be moved in the right trade.
  3. Avoid acquiring onerous contracts taking up 2021 cap space without also acquiring additional compensation to make up for losing space that summer.
  4. Do not acquire anyone over 30 years old unless on a one-year contract or as a salary dump to acquire more future assets or young players.
  5. Continue to stockpile future assets in the form of young players and draft picks.

Despite drafting a player in the top 10 in four of the last five seasons and in three straight, the Knicks are at the early stages of their rebuild. They are not on the verge of becoming a perennial playoff team, let alone a championship contender. It’s nearly certain there’s no one on the roster that will ever be the best or second-best player on a good team.

Can RJ Barrett be a team’s third option? Can Mitchell Robinson develop into the third most important player on a good team? Maybe, but there’s a fair chance they never get to that level either. The Knicks are still laying the foundation of their roster and need to maximize the chances of obtaining the kind of superstar players that allow NBA teams to become championship contenders.

Great teams have at least two-such players that can be obtained via trade, free agency or the draft. The trouble with trades is they require two sets of assets to execute: player or draft assets and salary cap space. A trade for a true star will drain a team’s assets to the point where it is difficult to add a second. Cap space gets filled by the acquired player, future draft picks and young players are sent away and little is left to improve the team. The team often improves to the point where the draft picks the team does retain slip out of the lottery and the franchise gets stuck in mediocrity.

A trade like that should be done after a team already has one star in place. The Lakers made such a deal for Anthony Davis once they had LeBron James. The Clippers moved heaven and earth to acquire Paul George to join the team along with Kawhi Leonard, who was a free agent. It worked for those teams because of where the franchises were already situated. A big trade is far more beneficial when it can put an already good team over the top.

The Knicks tried a similar strategy by adding Carmelo Anthony to free agent Amar’e Stoudemire, but the two were a poor fit on the court. Once Stoudemire’s injuries overwhelmed his ability to contribute, the Knicks had no assets left to add to Carmelo Anthony and become a true championship contending team. If the Knicks go all-in on a trade too early for a star they could find themselves in a similar situation.

It doesn’t mean the Knicks shouldn’t pursue any trades at all this offseason. It just means it isn’t time to go all-in on a superstar. Trading for a player like Donovan Mitchell or Devin Booker would be far too costly, even in the extremely unlikely scenario that their teams would want to trade them at all. There are other kinds of moves that can be made to make the team better short-term and position themselves well for the future.

The uncertain future financials of the NBA could provide the Knicks with some interesting opportunities depending on how cash strapped teams decide to handle their dropping revenue. Assuming there are no fans in the stands for at least the early part of the 2020-2021 season, which is likely, teams will be dealing with massive shortfalls of cashflow.

Depending on whether or not the salary cap, and subsequently the luxury cap threshold, takes a major dip in upcoming seasons, it could also force teams to jettison higher priced players solely for financial reasons. The Knicks will be one of only a handful of teams with significant cap space this summer to absorb contracts onto their ledger.

Trades like those could help the Knicks acquire talent for a cheaper trade price than they would normally be available for or acquire additional future draft assets.

Here are some potential names to keep an eye on this summer.

Chris Paul – Paul, still a top point guard in the NBA, would immediately make the Knicks a respectable franchise and potential playoff team. The problem? He is 35 years old and has a $44 million dollar player option in the summer of 2021. As a salary dump where Oklahoma City pays the Knicks to take on his deal, there’s a decent argument to be made for a trade. The odds Sam Presti wouldn’t insist on receiving some valuable compensation for a player of Paul’s caliber is slim to none. The Knicks need to focus on trades that make them better beyond 2021, and it is hard to argue that this one would.

Zach LaVine – He is only 25 years old and has two years left on a contract that pays him a very reasonable $19.5 million dollars per season. He is a very talented offensive player that can create his own shot and run an offense through. His defense is poor, and his teams have never been able to win. The Bulls are using financials as a reason to hold onto head coach Jim Boylen, despite the fact they just hired a new GM. Is it impossible to believe they would move Levine to save money? If the Knicks could acquire him without sacrificing a top pick, a trade could make sense. Perhaps the Knicks would be able to net Lauri Markkanen in a trade like this if they would be willing to move better draft assets. Would the Knicks be willing to move this year’s pick if it lands between six and nine? It might get something done.

Victor Oladipo – Oladipo has not looked the same since his ruptured quadriceps tendon, averaging only 14.4 points per game this season. Since he started playing in the buddle down in Orlando, he is averaging just under 17 points per game in four games. Oladipo only has one year and $21 million dollars left on his contract. If the Pacers decide the cannot offer him a monster contract, they might decide to trade him and receive some value in return. Oladipo is 28 years old and is the type of two-way player that the Knicks need to add to their roster. The price to obtain Oladipo, however, could be too high.

Buddy Hield – His four-year, $88 million dollar contract kicks in next season, which is a lot for an excellent shooter that has limited playmaking and defensive abilities. He is no longer starting for the Kings. His contract is a big one to take on, which means the Knicks should tread very carefully in acquiring this 27 year old.

Aaron Gordon – The endless target of trade rumors, Gordon has two years and $35 million dollars left on his contract. He is a talented player but has not reached his potential. He could be valuable as a power forward if he can improve his three point shooting. If Julius Randle is still on the roster, this might not be the best fit for the Knicks.

Dennis Schroder – Just 26 years old, Schroder plays point guard but has never found a way to excel as a pass-first point guard. His defense production does not match his physical tools. His .379 three point shooting this year is his career-best mark on five attempts per game. He has one year and $15.5 million dollars left on his contract. Despite his flaws, he would be an improvement for the Knicks at point guard as a one year stop-gap. The Thunder might want to move his money off their cap and not require anything of significant value in return. With only one year left on his contract, he is not a good enough player to move valuable draft assets for.

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