The New York Knicks Still Have Delusions of Grandeur
My all-time-favorite Kristaps Porzingis play is when he dunked over Dwight Howard a couple years back. It wasn't just because the dunk was good and Dwight Howard is in the top-five of players I want to see get dunked on. It was because Porzingis fell hard onto his back after the dunk, and teammate (and part-time Aquaman impersonator) Joakim Noah (instead of helping Porzingis up) screamed in his face for a solid two seconds. I can't imagine that Joakim Noah screaming in your face can be pleasant in any context, but it's probably even more annoying when you just got levelled by Dwight Howard. The lovable Noah, who was overpaid and fairly horrible for the last few years, has a habit of yelling after dunks: after he was dunked *on* by LeBron in the playoffs, he visibly yells "you still a bitch tho," which is a perfectly good counter to getting dunked on. After all, who cares about a cool dunk if you're still a bitch. Porzingis suffered through the yelling, eventually accepting Noah's help up, only to get slapped on the back of the head by Noah, which (again) cannot be enjoyable when you just hit your head on the ground. Yet Porzingis took it all in stride, walked around grimacing slightly, and then nailed his free throws. It was a beautiful, pure Porzingis play.
The New York Knicks hold an interesting place in the zeitgeist of the NBA. Their arena, Madison Square Garden, is considered the Mecca of basketball, not because too many important games have been played there (by that logic, it might as well be the Riyadh of basketball or the Medina of basketball), but rather because it's simply the oldest active arena in the league. It's home to many streetball legends that have grown up in Rucker Park, The Cage, and Montebello, which are among the most iconic non-professional basketball venues in the world. A number of NBA players grew up in the five boroughs, but very few of them were actually that good, and even fewer found their way to the Knicks. Every time a big-name player's contract expires, they are automatically linked to the Knicks because surely they would want to play in the greatest city in the world (lol). This is all in spite of the fact that the Knicks have a grand total of two championships (the most recent in 1973), six finals appearances (1999), and 35 winning records (2013) in 72 seasons of existence. They have the 16th-highest winning percentage of all 30 franchises, meaning that they have been historically average. This century, they have zero championships, four playoff appearances, and six winning records in 19 seasons of existence, meaning that they have been historically bad. They're the perfect example on failing up.
We don't have to talk about all the mistakes they've made in the past. But we might as well, because it's funny to laugh at their misery. Even if you don't follow basketball or know who any of these people are, it's still funny. They traded future Hall of Famer (and still not completely washed up) Carmelo Anthony for Enes Kanter (who's afraid of getting assassinated by the Turkish president???), Doug McDermott (doesn't play for them anymore), and a 2nd round pick (couldn't even get a 1st rounder?). In separate deals, they traded away Willy Hernangomez (who, well, isn't baaaad), Iman Shumpert and JR Smith (who would start for a championship team), and Tim Hardaway Jr (who they overpaid to come back just two years later!); and traded for Emmanuel Mudiay (who probably is bad), Kyle O'Quinn (who sounds like a made-up basketball player), Derrick Rose (who they gave up on two years early), and Andrea Bargnani (for a first round pick that would eventually become Jakob Poetl, who would be a trade piece the Raptors used to get Kawhi Leonard, who is very good at basketball). And that's just in the last five years!
Before that, they had infamously gutted their entire team by shipping out three draft picks and four players (who are all still in the league today, eight years later!) to trade for Anthony instead of waiting for four months when they could have signed him as a free agent. All of this doesn't include the generic dysfunction: multiple head coach firings, the ineptitude of Phil Jackson, Derrick Rose going MIA for days, Derek Fisher vs. Matt Barnes, the failed signing of LeBron James, the uninsured signing of Amar'e Stoudemire, and the idgaf nature of owner James Dolan. So you'd think that at some point, they'd stumble ass-backwards into a good move. Right? Right??
Wrong (obviously). As of 24 hours ago, Kristaps Porzingis is no longer a Knick. If you don't know who Kristaps is, he is the tallest player in the league at 7'3". He can also shoot threes, shoot free throws, and handle the ball, which are not usually things a regular seven-foot player can do. He is so interestingly unique that one of his nicknames (he has several despite already having an A-tier name) is 'The Unicorn', which is even cooler considering that a unicorn is hardly a symbol of masculinity (you'll never see a black player be open to being called a unicorn). He has improved in each of his three seasons playing professionally, is only 22 years old, and seems like a great player for the modern play style of basketball.
Quickly, here's the bad: he suffered an ACL tear a little over a year ago, and has not played since then although it's rumored that he's close to a return. While definitely not good, it's not the worst injury you can have (Achilles tear), and several players (Danilo Gallinari, Jabari Parker, Rajon Rondo, Lou Williams, Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio, David West, Al Jefferson) have all played well for several seasons since returning from the injury. It also doesn't help that taller players inherently put more strain on their lower limbs (Demarcus Cousins, Greg Oden, Yao Ming), and former team president Phil Jackson said that Porzingis might be "too tall" to have good core strength (but Phil Jackson is crazy, so who cares).
Porzingis is the Knicks' only non-Carmelo All-Star since 2013 (that year was Melo and Tyson Chandler, and before that was Amar'e, David Lee, and then all the way back to Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell in 2001!!). He was also their ONLY good player: the rest of their roster is made up of cast-offs from other teams (former lottery picks Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh, and Trey Burke), their own garbage draft picks (Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox), undrafted guys (Allonzo Trier and Luke Kornet), and overpaid guys (Hardaway Jr., and Noah's contract that's still on the books). Their team is trash. It's been trash for years. And it's not just bad luck trash, it's a dangerous dumpster fire of incompetence, ignorance, and shortsightedness all in one.
So, if they traded him away, it must have been for something good, right? Wrong again (see: dumpster fire). Here's the full trade: Dallas traded DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr., and 2 first round picks (hold that thought) for Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Porzingis. Jordan and Matthews will probably be waived soon. Smith Jr., by the way, was in trade rumors this entire season, is probably the fourth-best player on his own team, and will maybe get better? He adds to the glut of cast-off point guard lottery picks the Knicks have, and is in line to become their next inefficient high-volume scorer… so pretty much just Tim Hardaway Jr. Interestingly, Smith Jr. was drafted #9 overall in 2017. You know who had the #8 pick that year? The New York freaking Knicks! THE KNICKS COULD HAVE HAD HIM BUT THEY CHOSE NOT TO, AND GAVE UP THEIR BEST PLAYER TO GET HIM A YEAR LATER WHEN HE SUCKED MORE. He really is just like Tim Hardaway!
Regarding the picks – they're in 2021 (unprotected, meaning that the Knicks get it no matter what the pick number ends up being), and 2023 (protected 1-10, so the Knicks get it if it's 11th or worse). The protections on the latter pick are too strong for it to be close to a sure thing, and you'd imagine that the Mavericks will be good enough in 2021 that even the unprotected pick won't be that high. Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers had a first-round draft pick (via the Nets through the Celtics) for the first time in forever (because they kept trading away their pick for garbage veterans like Timofey Mozgov and Kyle Korver to satisfy LeBron). Throughout the entire season, everyone wondered 'will they trade their pick?', regarding it as their first piece to rebuild the franchise should LeBron leave. LeBron did leave, the pick ended up being 9th overall, and turned into Collin Sexton (who got drafted because of one crazy game). Promise always trumps reality: the promise of a lottery pick is enticing, but the reality of Collin Sexton is not.
Even most of the really high picks aren't a sure thing: in the last decade, Jabari Parker, Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Derrick Williams, Evan Turner, Hasheem Thabeet, and Michael Beasley were taken at the #2 slot; Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Jahlil Okafor were taken at #3; Dragan Bender, Cody Zeller, Tristan Thompson, and Wesley Johnson were taken at #4. Next year, one of these horrible teams (possibly the Knicks) is going to use one of those shiny lottery picks, only to end up with the likes of KZ Okpala, Nassir Little, Nickeil Alexander, or Bruno Fernando.
The subtext here is that shedding Hardaway and Lee's salaries opens up enough money that the Knicks could sign two max-level players this summer. The available max players include: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Klay Thompson. A tier down is Kemba Walker, DeMarcus Cousins, Tobias Harris, and Khris Middleton. The thing is, we went through this exact fucking exercise back in 2010! The Knicks destroyed their roster for two years in a row, refusing to sign anyone important so they would be wide open in the summer of 2010 hoping for LeBron and another guy, only to end up with Amar'e and nothing else.
Now, not only did the Knicks not sign anyone and throw away multiple seasons again, they also traded their BEST PLAYER. I was pissed off enough when the Lakers did this a couple years ago: they traded away D'Angelo Russell (a young player who is now an All-Star) to shed the contract of Timofey Mozgov, just so they could sign two max free agents a year later (they could have made that same deal a year later, and wouldn't have had to give up as much). They got one (LeBron) and… nothing else. So that trade was pointless. The Knicks did it with a player who's a lot better than Russell, and for even less in return. Salary dumps are normal in the league, but that's what they're supposed to be – dumps. And dumps need a sweeter. That's what Russell was. You don't take a dump and then pour the whole pot of honey in the toilet. That's what the Knicks did.
Quick Lakers Tangent: This week, top-five player Anthony Davis announced that he wants to be traded from the New Orleans Pelicans, and he's assumed to want to (eventually) go to the Lakers, either via trade once his contract expires in 2020. The Lakers are trying to win immediately since they have an aging LeBron James, and the Pelicans are incentivized to wait on a trade, because (due to some very complicated contract rules) more teams can get involved in the bidding this summer. With this pressure, the Lakers have been rumored to offer five of their young players (age 21 Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Ivica Zubac, plus age 23 Kyle Kuzma and age 25 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) for Davis. Never mind that Davis gets injured fairly often, or he is neither a lead ball-handler nor a wing player (the more important positions). It's one guy for five. FIVE! And he apparently wants to come to Los Angeles no matter where he gets traded. I know we just went through this with Paul George, who's from Palmdale (which, if you're not from California, you can just read as 'Los Angeles') and was also rumored to want to come to the Lakers once his contract expired, only to set roots in Oklahoma City and become their best player. I get it. Recency bias is a thing. Just because one dude said he wanted to come to the Lakers and didn't doesn't mean that you have to panic. I know that conventional wisdom says that the team that got the better player won the trade, and that in a vacuum you should technically do this deal 100% of the time. I know that I'm emotionally invested in these young guys and value them way more than anyone outside of Southern California. But that ignores the context that you could get Davis without giving up *anything* in a year's time. If you gut your team for Davis, you're not winning the championship this year anyway. So why do it? Why?? Also, in case you wanted to blame someone, this is LeBron's fault.
Looking back, it's probably the most lopsided trade since Pau Gasol was sent to the Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, a second-round pick, and 2 first round picks (who would become Donté Green and Greivis Vásquez). That trade actually an excellent trade in retrospect, since that second-round pick was Pau Gasol's younger brother Marc Gasol (who at the time was just Pau Gasol's fat brother) who went on to become Defensive Player of the Year, but that was sheer luck. If the Knicks wanted a shit deal, they could have waited until July when these supposed saviors were ready to sign, and then get it done.
Apparently mere hours before the trigger was pulled on the trade, Porzingis had informed the Knicks that he would only sign the one-year qualifying offer after this year, meaning that he would become a free agent in the summer of 2020. You call that bluff every single time. Not only does it seem unlikely that a 7-footer coming off a serious injury would balk at tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed money, but you don't panic trade him for pennies without even taking time to think through your options. The trade deadline is a week away! This trade is so truly horrible that even if Porzingis refuses to re-sign with Dallas and they're forced to deal him again, the trade is a draw – Dallas still got two rotation players and additional return on Porzingis for 1 unprotected pick.
Some of these additional hopes of glory lie on the Knicks' draft pick this year. If they end up as one of the three worst teams in the league, they will have a 14% chance at getting the number one overall pick, which they could use to draft phenom Zion Williamson. But again, it's a 14% chance! If there was a 14% chance of anything, you wouldn't do it. If I told you that the next time you ate a grape you'd have a 14% chance of choking on it, you probably wouldn't eat that grape, and you might even avoid wine just to be safe. There's an 86% chance that the pick ends up being something other than Zion Williamson. It just doesn't make sense.
New York isn't the Mecca. Porzingis was the Mecca. And now the Mecca has moved west.