When the 3 p.m. trade deadline passed Thursday, the Knicks put down their phones, unable to pull off another deal after last week’s franchise-shifting trade of Kristaps Porzingis. Then they got to work on their own roster, waiving high-priced veterans Enes Kanter and Wes Matthews.
Matthews, who was acquired along with Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and a pair of first-round picks in the deal that sent Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to Dallas, immediately hooked on with the Pacers.
Matthews was with the Knicks for only five days, playing in two games. Kanter was a fixture, the highest-paid player on the roster before Jordan arrived. He had become expendable, having worn out his usefulness on the court once the 10-43 Knicks decided to head in another direction. He also had tested their patience with his constant chatter about playing time and political issues and his clapping along with fans chanting for him to play. He was not with the team at practice Thursday; with his departure imminent, he was held out.
“It was definitely a tough spot for Enes,” coach David Fizdale said. “I’ve been saying that from the beginning. Any time you’ve got a guy who can do what Enes does on the court and you have to go in another direction for the betterment of the organization, that’s always a tough spot for a guy.”
With no takers for the remainder of his expiring contract that paid him $18.6 million this season, Kanter and his agent were informed by the Knicks that he was being waived.
“I don’t want to leave on bad terms, definitely, because this organization gave me so much,” Kanter said Tuesday after sitting out for the sixth time in the last eight games. “Definitely if I leave, I want to leave on good terms with everybody. It’s part of the business. It’s definitely part of the business. You’re never going to know where your next home is going to be.”
In a statement, general manager Scott Perry said, “From the moment he arrived in New York, Enes passionately embraced our franchise and our city. He is a courageous individual and we thank him for his many contributions both on the court and in the community. We wish him the absolute best moving forward, personally and professionally.”
The rest of the Knicks’ roster remained intact with three roster spots open. But surviving the trade deadline hardly means a long-term future for much of the roster. Four of the players — Emmanuel Mudiay, Noah Vonleh, Mario Hezonja and Jordan — are on expiring contracts and Lance Thomas has a low-cost team option.
The Knicks already have found themselves the subject of rumors about just what the $70-plus million in cap space will yield this summer with a free-agent class that features the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Kemba Walker.
Still, getting past the deadline will make the remaining 29 games easier for the Knicks to take — at least off the court. On it, they have lost 14 straight, 22 of 23 and 27 of 29 and have the worst record in the NBA.
“It’s good for every team,” Fizdale said. “ . . . Once that deadline is passed, everyone’s like, OK, we can get to work now and not have to stress about getting traded or something like that. We all feel for guys if their name comes up in rumors and stuff like that. I always preach empathy for our players because it could be any of them at any time, so everyone will take a deep breath after that.”
For the Knicks, this is a momentary pause before the real drama this summer.
“I think it’s based on where you start,” Fizdale said. “Everyone’s situation is different . . . It just so happens that our situation is calling for building through the draft and free agency.”