Knicks’ draft trade is confusing, but portends a big step into the future

Knicks’ draft trade is confusing, but portends a big step into the future

  • The Knicks made a messy trade on draft day that earned them more draft picks and cap space.
  • The Knicks will need both to pursue point guards like Jalen Brunson and Malcolm Brogdon this offseason.
  • The Knicks are ready to take big steps, but it’s unclear if they can pull it off.

The New York Knicks are up to something, but it’s unclear what exactly.

For the third straight year, the Knicks were active on draft day, but not in a way that produced new players.

The Knicks entered the draft with the 11th overall pick, and in the days leading up to it, rumors swirled that they wanted to trade for Purdue guard Jaden Ivey.

Instead, the Knicks drafted New Zealand forward Ousmane Diang, returning him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for future draft picks. They then traded those future draft picks for the Charlotte Hornets’ 13th overall pick, before trading this choose for more choices at the Detroit Pistons. Oh, and Kemba Walker was also involved.

Does this seem confusing to you? ESPN’s Tim Bontemps presented it as neatly as possible, although it might still make the average fan’s head spin.

Essentially, the Knicks acquired several future first-round picks while freeing up space for this offseason.

What the Knicks plan to do with those assets is unclear. The team itself is unlikely to say much; since being hired as team president in 2020, Leon Rose has only spoken to the media twice. Instead of holding a season-ending press conference like most team executives, Rose did a television interview with Mike Breen on team-owned MSG networks.

Rose released a statement through the team on Friday, saying the Knicks now have “increased financial flexibility and a capital project.”

Additional picks could help Knicks land their top free agent target

Jalen Brunson looks up during a game.

The Knicks reportedly intend to pursue Jalen Brunson in free agency.

Tony Gutierrez/AP Images

According to multiple reports, the Knicks plan to pursue point guard Jalen Brunson this offseason.

Brunson is expected to command around $20 million per season on his next contract — possibly more if the Knicks want to get him away from the Dallas Mavericks (who have said they plan to keep Brunson). Currently, the Knicks are projecting to have about $16 million in cap space, which means they’ll have to trade more contracts this summer to accommodate Brunson’s salary.

The extra picks acquired on Thursday night may help on that front. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, the Knicks have 11 future first-round picks over the next seven years (although some of them are protected).

The Knicks’ desire to open cap space this season, however, is the result of short-sighted thinking in 2021.

After finishing fourth in the East last season, the Knicks retained much of their core, while adding guard depth in Evan Fournier and Walker, committing a total of $191 million to Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Fournier and Walker. But the Knicks faltered last season and missed the playoffs altogether. Now they’re trying to get rid of those semi-expensive offers to open up cap space to pursue a new point guard.

Each of these individual contracts delivered last season should not be very heavy to move. Walker was traded on Thursday (although it cost the Knicks a few picks to do so). Fournier’s deal is the richest, with three years, $55 million remaining, but the final year of the deal is a team option, meaning he only has two guaranteed years left on his contract. Rose, Burks and Noel, meanwhile, all signed three-year deals with team options in the past year, meaning they are entering their final guaranteed years this season.

But it seems the Knicks’ pursuit of Brunson is so obvious (Rose previously represented Brunson, and the Knicks hired Brunson’s father on the coaching staff this summer) that opposing teams will likely demand assets in exchange for the unwanted contracts from the Knicks.

Amid rumors that Kyrie Irving could come to the open market due to a contract dispute with the Brooklyn Nets, the Knicks could also try to open up even more cap space for Irving.

A potential swap?

Malcolm Brogdon

Malcolm Brogdon.

Michael Conroy/AP Images

The Knicks could also use those extra picks to trade for a player they want torather than attaching them to unwanted pay.

The Knicks are reportedly interested in trading for Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon. It’s unclear what it would take to land the 28-year-old guard, but the extra assets help the Knicks’ case.

Likewise, it’s long been debated whether the Knicks would go all-in to acquire a superstar. Last offseason, it was rumored that the Knicks might be interested in Damian Lillard, but a trade obviously never materialized.

Over the past year, the NBA world has also debated whether Donovan Mitchell would ask for a trade to the Utah Jazz after another disappointing postseason. Although the Jazz gave no indication that they would trade their franchise star, should Mitchell ask, the Knicks have arguably one of the league’s greatest treasure troves of assets.

Of course, the Knicks have yet to use those assets. They owned cap space in the summer of 2019 but didn’t walk away with any of the many stars available.

So far, this Knicks front office has shown a tendency to kick the box when they haven’t been intrigued by current picks — they’ve traded the previous two drafts. They didn’t make any major moves at the trade deadline, and in last year’s free agency they mostly re-signed their own free agents while adding Fournier and Walker. Now they seem ready to move on from those choices.

The Knicks are set up to make some moves; the question now is whether they will or not.

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