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A tight-lipped Knicks team made the most confusing trade of the NBA Draft, and it could portend a big move

Scott Davis   

A tight-lipped Knicks team made the most confusing trade of the NBA Draft, and it could portend a big move
  • The Knicks made a complicated draft-day trade that got them more draft picks and cap space.
  • The Knicks will need both to pursue point guards like Jalen Brunson and Malcolm Brogdon this off-season.

The New York Knicks are up to something, but what, exactly, is unclear.

For the third year in a row, 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, rumors swirled that they wanted to trade up to draft Purdue guard Jaden Ivey.

Instead, the Knicks drafted New Zealand forward Ousmane Diang, only to flip him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for future draft picks. They then exchanged those future draft picks for the 13th overall pick from the Charlotte Hornets, before then trading that pick for more picks to the Detroit Pistons. Oh, and Kemba Walker was involved too.

Sound confusing? ESPN's Tim Bontemps laid it out as cleanly as possible, though it may still make the average fan's head spin.

In essence, the Knicks acquired several future first-round picks while clearing some cap space for this off-season.

What the Knicks plan to do with these assets is a little unclear. It's unlikely the team itself will say much; since being hired as team president in 2020, Leon Rose has spoken to the media just twice. In lieu of holding a season-ending press conference like most team executives, Rose did a televised interview with Mike Breen on the team-owned MSG Networks.

Rose did release a statement through the team on Friday, saying the Knicks now have "increased financial flexibility and draft capital."

Extra picks could help the Knicks land their top free-agent target

According to numerous reports, the Knicks plan to pursue free agent point guard Jalen Brunson this off-season.

Brunson is expected to command around $20 million per season on his next contract — perhaps more if the Knicks want to lure him away from the Dallas Mavericks (who have said they plan to retain Brunson). Currently, the Knicks project to have about $16 million in cap space, meaning they will have to trade away more contracts this summer to fit Brunson's salary.

The extra picks acquired 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 (though some of them are protected).

The Knicks' desire to open up cap space this season, however, is a 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, by committing $191 million total to Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Fournier, and Walker. But the Knicks flopped last season and missed the playoffs entirely. Now they are trying to move off those semi-expensive deals to open up cap space to pursue a new point guard.

Each of those individual contracts handed out last season shouldn't be terribly burdensome to move. Walker was traded on Thursday (though it cost the Knicks a few drafts picks to do it). 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 has just two guaranteed years left on his contract. Rose, Burks, and Noel, meanwhile, all signed three-year deals with team options in the final year, which means they are entering the final guaranteed years this season.

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

Amid rumors that Kyrie Irving could hit the open market because of a contract dispute with the Brooklyn Nets, the Knicks could also attempt to open up even more cap space for Irving.

A potential trade?

The Knicks could also use these extra picks to trade for a player they want, rather than attaching them to unwanted salary.

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 off-season, it was rumored that the Knicks might be interested in Damian Lillard, but a trade obviously never came to fruition.

Over the past year, the NBA world has also wondered whether Donovan Mitchell will ask for a trade from the Utah Jazz after another disappointing postseason. While the Jazz have given no indications that they would trade their franchise star, should Mitchell ask out, the Knicks have arguably one of the deepest troves of assets in the league.

Of course, the Knicks still have to put these assets to use. They owned cap space in the summer of 2019 but did not come away with any of the numerous available stars.

So far, this Knicks front office has shown an inclination to kick the can down the road when they haven't been intrigued by the present choices — they've traded back and out of the previous two drafts. They haven't made moves of consequence at the trade deadline, and in last year's free agency, they mainly re-signed their own free agents while adding Fournier and Walker. Now they appear ready to move on from those choices.

The Knicks are set up to make some moves; now it's a question of whether or not they will.


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