Despite rumors to the contrary, the main player coming to the Knicks in the deal that sent Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to Dallas is not named Cap Space.
Though it’s true that the biggest motivation for Thursday’s trade was the financial flexibility to sign two stars to max contracts in July, the Knicks do appear high on a player who could have a future in New York: Dennis Smith Jr., who had 13 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes in the Mavericks’ 114-90 victory over the Knicks on Wednesday night at the Garden.
Smith was part of a package that included DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews Jr., both of whom are on expiring contracts. The point guard won’t be a restricted free agent until 2021, and he immediately becomes one of the most athletic players on a depleted roster.
“He was regarded very highly” at the start of the 2017 draft, Knicks general manager Scott Perry said via conference call. “One of the most athletic guards, if not the most athletic guard in that draft . . . He’s very explosive. And we think the guy has a chance to be a really, really good basketball player . . . So we’re excited about handing him over to Coach Fizdale and his staff and letting him really work with him in the development and round out his game.”
The Knicks (and Phil Jackson) had a shot at Smith the first time around but passed in favor of Frank Ntilikina, whose name also has been floated as the trade deadline approaches. Team president Steve Mills, though, indicated that banking on Smith doesn’t mean the Ntilikina era is over.
“Now that we have both Frank and Dennis, the things that they can do to complement each other’s skill set,” he said, “[it’s] a fortunate place for us to be as we’re trying to develop young players.”
None of the three newest Knicks was available to the media Friday. They didn’t suit up in a 113-99 loss to the Celtics, but there will be plenty of playing time to go around in what should be a slow march to this year’s lottery.
That said, it’s not certain how long Jordan and Matthews will be on the Knicks, who easily could flip them before the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The Knicks also could buy out one or both of their expiring contracts, allowing them to escape for greener, playoff-bound pastures.
For now, David Fizdale appears to be working under the belief that he’ll have all three players at his disposal.
“I think the kid, Dennis Smith Jr., you saw the other night that there’s some serious talent there,” Fizdale said. “We’re bringing back two guys that are proven in this league at what they do . . . [plus] you get two first-rounders and $32 million in cap space. That’s a lot to be optimistic about.”
With Steve Popper