The New York Knicks failed to capitalize on NBA trade deadline day

New York Knicks v Phoenix Suns

The 2018 NBA trade deadline day got off to a slow start, but as the clock ticked in the final hours, a number of intriguing deals were processed and announced to the eagerly-awaiting basketball community.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were the most active team of the day by a long shot, shipping off Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and their 2018 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Cleveland also sent Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder and Iman Shumpert packing as part of a three-team deal with the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings that ended up netting them Rodney Hood and George Hill. The Cavs also sent Dwyane Wade back to the Miami Heat in exchange for a future second-round pick.

But, the Cavs weren’t the only Eastern Conference club to make a move.

Right before the deadline, the Orlando Magic traded Elfrid Payton to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a 2018 second-round pick. The Detroit Pistons added some forward depth by acquiring James Ennis from the Memphis Grizzlies for Brice Johnson and a 2022 second-round pick. Detroit also acquired Jameer Nelson from the Chicago Bulls for Willie Reed. The Bulls landed Noah Vonleh from the Portland Trail Blazers while the Brooklyn Nets traded for New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham. In addition to Wade, the Heat added Luke Babbitt from the Atlanta Hawks and the Hawks added guard Sheldon Mac from the Washington Wizards.

After All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis went down with a torn ACL, the New York Knicks were fully expected to become sellers. However, they made one small move that most likely won’t amount to much when it’s all said and done.

New York Knicks v Phoenix Suns

In doing so, they missed a gigantic opportunity that could have huge ramifications in the coming years as the team scrambles to return to relevancy in a top-heavy league.

The debatable acquisition

In their only trade of the day, the Knicks acquired 21-year-old Emmanuel Mudiay from the Denver Nuggets as part of a three-team deal. They shipped off Doug McDermott to the Dallas Mavericks to make it happen. The Mavs received a second-round pick from the Nuggets (via the Portland Trail Blazers) and Denver acquired Devin Harris and a second-round pick from the Knicks (via the Los Angeles Clippers).

Mudiay averaged 8.5 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 17.9 minutes over 42 appearances for the Nuggets this season. Now in his third NBA season, the former top prospect and seventh overall pick in the 2015 Draft shot just 40.1 percent from the field and fell out of Mike Malone’s rotation for the contending Nuggets, thus making him expendable.

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets

According to ESPN Stats & Information, only Stanley Johnson and Marcus Smart have played as many minutes while shooting worse than Mudiay, who holds a career percentage of just 37.5. He has also been terrible on the defensive end of the floor, ranking last in the league among all point guards in defensive real plus-minus.

But, he’s only 21 years old and apparently the Knicks want to give him a second chance.

According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, the Knicks could have landed Elfrid Payton, who the Magic traded to the Suns for a second-round pick. But, the asking price was too high.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets

“To get Payton, the price tag would have been rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina and the Knicks refused to budge, a source close to the negotiations told The Daily News. Once that potential deal stalled, the Knicks pursued Mudiay and soon after the Magic sent Payton to Phoenix for only a second round pick,” he wrote.

Isola continued, “Perry still went out and traded for Mudiay just a few weeks after the front office promoted another lottery bust, Trey Burke, to the roster. The Knicks certainly conduct business as if the point guard position is a major area of concern, no? … Clearly, the Knicks are not sold on Ntilikina, whose head must be spinning in a million different directions since last June when Phil Jackson was fired just days after the NBA Draft.”

As Isola pointed out, the Knicks’ handling of Ntilikina has been odd. Although they didn’t want to trade him away for Payton, they acquired a young player at his position, thus potentially moving him out of the rotation completely behind veteran Jarrett Jack and former G-Leaguer Trey Burke.

Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks

The rookie has simply not had any chance to prove himself and the team seems married to the idea of making him wait for a chance at extended minutes, which is devoid of any logic considering their placement in the standings.

Opening up the checkbook

Heading into next season, the Knicks will have some expensive contracts on their books. It a isn’t pretty picture, either.

As it stands right now, Enes Kanter will make over $18.6 million if he picks up his player option, Joakim Noah is owed $18.5 million (and $19.3 in 2019-2020), Tim Hardaway Jr. will earn $17.3 million (before making $18.1 million in 2019-2020 and $18.9 million in 2020-2021), Courtney Lee will bring in $12.3 million (and $12.8 million in 2019-2020), Lance Thomas will make $7.1 million (and $7.6 million in 2019-2020), Porzingis will make $5.7 million (and $7.5 million the year after), Ntikilina will deposit $4.1 million (and $4.9 million in 2019-2020, $6.2 million the year after and $8.3 million in 2021-2022 if the team accepts his option), Ron Baker will make $4.5 million if he accepts his player option, Kyle O’Quinn will make $4.3 million if he accepts his player option, while Damyean Dotson will make $1.6 million. That’s a potential of over $93.8 million if Kanter, Baker and O’Quinn accept their player options. That doesn’t leave much room for any notable free agent signings.

New York Knicks v Golden State Warriors

In addition to giving younger players more playing time moving forward, trading away some of the team’s veterans for players with expiring contracts would have opened up an immense amount of cap room for the team to improve through free agency in the summer. Instead, a group that is struggling to succeed alongside each other will be one year older and the Knicks will have to rely on their scouting department to deliver in the 2018 Draft.

With the exception of Porzingis, that hasn’t exactly been an area of expertise for New York in recent years.

A preference for veterans

The Knicks began the year as the 11th-oldest team in the NBA. But, they’ve given veterans some prominent roles on the club while sitting down their younger players. 

New York Knicks v Denver Nuggets

After playing 32 games for the Brooklyn Nets in 2015-2016 and just two contests for the New Orleans Pelicans last season, Jack immediately assumed the starting point guard role under Jeff Hornacek this season. He’s averaging 7.7 points and 6.1 assists in 26.4 minutes per game for the 23-33 Knicks. Meanwhile, Ntilikina, the eighth pick in the 2017 Draft, has been relegated to a reserve role and even was placed behind Burke on the depth chart. It's worth noting that Burke started the season un-signed and then spent time in the G-League before the Knicks called him up.

Both Kanter and O’Quinn played ahead of 23-year-old Willy Hernangomez, who spent most of last season producing in limited minutes in a starting role for the club. They then traded him away to the Charlotte Hornets. Before trading McDermott, they were inclined to give veteran Lance Thomas heavy minutes on the wing.

For a non-contending team that should be fully committed to a rebuild, there has been a lot of odd decision-making in regards to playing time in New York.

New York Knicks Unveil Jersey Partnership

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

Although hindsight is 20-20, it appears as though the Knicks missed a gigantic opportunity to rid themselves of some of their moveable contracts. Although Kanter will create a big cap hit next season if he accepts his player option, he’s a viable NBA starting center with the potential to put up a double-double on any given night. Therefore, at least a few teams might have been interested in him.

Since Kanter will become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019, the Knicks will have the opportunity to re-sign him to a large multi-year extension. Since they held onto him, they might view him as a piece of their future.

O’Quinn, Jack and even Lee most likely could have been moved for some kind of return (in the form of an expiring contract or low-level draft picks).

New York Knicks v Phoenix Suns

Perhaps general manager Scott Perry knows he has a small chance of attracting high-level free agents at this point, but not making any notable move sends a very harsh message to New York’s faithful fanbase. 

Overall, the Knicks missed a giant opportunity to sell, get younger and put their future ahead of their present-day struggles.

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