In a perfect world, the Knicks might have stuck to the plan set in motion a year ago when Leon Rose took over as team president, setting a course for a methodical rebuild of the franchise with no steps skipped over.
If that was the path for the Knicks, they’d be still back near the bottom of the standings, ready to use their first-round pick to possibly jump into the top five in the draft where league officials see potential franchise-shifting talents. But the Knicks are in the midst of a battle for playoff positioning — 4 1/2 games ahead of the 11th-place Raptors, a team that is fielding offers to strip some of the immediate talent from their roster.
Tom Thibodeau has raised the value of some players that the Knicks might have considered trade bait not long ago, impressively enough that it’s hard to imagine any deal that would include Julius Randle or RJ Barrett. And with those two off the table, the Knicks best assets are a surplus of draft picks, salary cap space to absorb an unwanted contract and a handful of useful veterans and still young enough to be valued players who have yet to find their place. Austin Rivers, with no role right now and a cap-friendly contract, and Frank Ntilikina, with free agency looming and a pricey cap hold, are the most likely Knicks to move on.
So what does that mean for the Knicks as they approach the 3 p.m. trade deadline Thursday afternoon? It means that the Knicks are not likely to land a difference-maker at the deadline. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t help out there for a team that has proved it’s trying to win every night.
The High Profile
Lonzo Ball: The Pelicans have their reasons for considering moving him to his third team in four seasons — the most definitive being the contract that will turn costly in the offseason to keep him. But David Griffin isn’t handing the restricted free agent out for nothing. Just remember Leon Rose was Carmelo Anthony’s agent when they opted not to wait for free agency to join the Knicks, so he is well aware of the math. Ball would be the sort of two-way point guard who could lift Randle and Barrett to another level.
Myles Turner/Malcolm Brogdon: Hasn’t gotten as much hype, but a league source insisted that the Pacers are willing to move Turner and he would be an intriguing fit for the team, a shot-blocking center who can stretch the floor and pass, an offensive skill set that Mitchell Robinson doesn’t possess. If Turner and Brogdon really can be had the Knicks should be in on it because those two could fit their needs. Still, the price would be crazy high — think multiple first-rounders tacked onto some young players.
Victor Oladipo: Why? He’s a free agent who already has turned down pricey contract extensions. The move to get him would only make sense if you are believers that he can return to the brief star turn he had in Indiana — and why not just wait for the summer to make that chase if you think he can?
JJ Redick: A shooter who could help relieve some of the defenses collapsing on Randle and Barrett. His 36.4% from three this season is the worst of his career and he is 36 years old, but still a dangerous veteran. For a low cost the Knicks could bring him to New York, where he maintains a home.
Evan Fournier: The Magic seem set on a sell-off right now with Aaron Gordon asking out and the team floundering again. Fournier is a free agent at season’s end, so the Knicks could absorb the contract for the remainder of the season. If he provided anything close to the production he’s had against the Knicks, he could help boost the offense.
Andre Drummond: While rumblings remain about this one, most likely as a buyout pickup, he could help the Knicks this season. But his style would just seem to clog the lane for Randle and Barrett.