One of the bragging points for the Knicks' current front office has been a turn from the franchise’s moves of the last few decades, piling up a surplus of draft picks and holding onto them tightly. But as Thursday’s NBA Draft approaches the Knicks are without a pick — not a first-rounder, not a second-rounder, not any of the protected picks they acquired.
But one of the other points of pride for the front office has been the ability to find talent outside of the top picks. They grabbed Quentin Grimes at No. 25 two years ago, Immanuel Quickley also at No. 25 a year earlier and even Deuce McBride and Jericho Sims in the second round two years ago.
So, not surprisingly, other teams believe the Knicks will be active in the coming days — and maybe right until the pick they covet — to make a trade to get into the draft. And the bait, if they want to get into the first round, could be the player who has been at the heart of more arguments and debates than any other: Obi Toppin.
The Knicks are not the only team thinking this way. During the NBA Finals, the Denver Nuggets made a deal to add draft picks and it wasn’t about having eyes on some prospect they desire. Instead it was a nod to the league's new collective bargaining agreement and the need to fill out the roster with low-cost, young players when the roster has stars making huge salaries that push the team payroll up against the luxury tax aprons.
While even high lottery picks may be made available — Portland is open to moving No. 3 and the next two picks belonging to Houston and Detroit also could be had — the most likely path for the Knicks would be to snare one of the picks from teams with multiple first-rounders. Indiana has Nos. 7, 26 and 29 and could be a fit. Portland has No. 3 and No. 23, which they got from the Knicks.
If the Knicks want to get into the first round, it is Toppin who could be the player on the move to make it happen. Taken No. 8 overall in the 2020 draft — the first player selected by the front office of Leon Rose and William Wesley — Toppin has never become the impact piece anticipated when the hometown kid was grabbed by the Knicks. Stuck behind Julius Randle, who plays every night and nearly every minute, Toppin's opportunities were limited and despite occasional flashes, he has no path forward in New York right now.
League sources indicated that Toppin was hoping for a trade at the deadline last season and now both sides are in alignment that it’s time for a change of scenery for Toppin.
Toppin is extension-eligible this summer. The Knicks would not have to hand him a new contract now but would face free agency and the possibility of losing him for nothing next summer. Still, it’s a hard reality to face dealing a player taken No. 8 overall — with ties to the front office not just by being picked, but as a CAA client — for a pick the Knicks could get somewhere in the 20-to-30 range.
The Knicks also could use some of their future picks to swap their way into this draft. While they dealt away this year’s first-round pick to Portland along with Cam Reddish to bring in Josh Hart, they have their own 2024 first along with protected picks from Washington, Detroit and Dallas. They potentially have two second-round picks in 2024, although they dealt their own away.