How much would you give for Anthony Davis?
The Knicks went through the usual script of competing hard for a win only to fall short mainly because one team had an all-star (this time it was Kemba Walker, who, despite a poor shooting night, took over down the stretch) and they didn’t. But that can change quickly, depending on just how far the Knicks are willing to go to land one of the game’s top-5 players.
Davis, who turns 26 in March, had his agent inform the New Orleans Pelicans that he had no intentions of signing an extension this summer to stay with his team and, therefore, he requested a trade. Rich Paul, his agent, told ESPN that Davis wished to be dealt “to a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.”
The Lakers — Paul not only also represents LeBron James, they’re longtime friends — are the obvious destination of choice, but multiple reports have indicated that the Knicks are another team Davis would consider a preferred team.
So let’s recap: Davis, one of the game’s best players, has the Knicks, with one of the worst records in the NBA, on his list. Kawhi Leonard, when he asked to be traded from San Antonio, also had the Knicks on his list. So did Kyrie Irving, when he asked to be traded from Cleveland.
It’s good to be wanted. Let’s see if this trend holds up in free agency.
As we know, the Knicks resisted giving up the farm for Leonard and Irving, who will be free agents this summer. But Davis is under contract until 2020 and was eligible to sign the supermax extension (5 years, $240 million) this summer. He can’t get that from any other team that New Orleans, but if his acquiring team can sign him to a max extension, you could potentially get a top 5 player in his prime signed up until 2025.
David Fizdale spoke before the game in Charlotte about the rumors and said, despite the desperation of what is now a 10-game losing streak, the team is “not gonna panic. This is our plan. It’s part of the deal.”
Fizdale added, “We’re still stuck to our plan, strategically, that, if it makes sense we’re going to make these moves. But if it doesn’t, we’re going to keep forging ahead, growing our guys and developing the right way.”
The Knicks (10-39) right now are sitting in the second slot in the lottery, behind the Cavaliers (10-41). The top-3 slots in the lottery each have an equal 14% chance of winning it and a 52.1% chance to land a top-4 pick. The Knicks also have intriguing young talent such as rookies Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier. They also have all-star Kristaps Porzingis, but he has been deemed untouchable before and you would expect the plan would be to pair Davis with him. He is also a pending restricted free agent this summer.
According to ESPN, the Pelicans probably won’t deal Davis before the Feb. 7 trade deadline unless there is an “overwhelming” offer. In a statement, the team said they will “do this on our terms and on our deadline.” So that means the Lakers will have to throw their entire roster of young talent — Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, etc. — into the bag or the Knicks will have to toss their lottery pick and all of their youth on the table, as well, just to compete.
If this gets to summer, the Boston Celtics loom with their treasure chest of draft picks and youth. Boston can’t engage right now only because of Kyrie and the Derrick Rose Rule. Irving signed the Designated Rookie Extension with Cleveland and Davis signed his with New Orleans. The NBA has a rule that does not permit two DRE’s in the same payroll. But once Kyrie becomes a free agent on July 1, the Celtics are free to make a trade for Davis and then re-sign Kyrie. That, of course, is their plan.
But while Danny Ainge has been stockpiling his assets for this exact moment, he’s got heavy competition from LeBron James, who has been orchestrating this since his move to LA. Davis signed with Paul’s agency, Klutch Sports, during the offseason. The NBA had an investigation into Klutch Sports to see if LeBron had a financial investment in the agency and its findings said he did not. But there’s no doubt he has a personal interest in it.
In December, LeBron openly talked about how it “would be amazing” to play with Davis, which had owners and general managers around the league angry about tampering. The Lakers are notorious for it. The franchise was fined $500,000 for Magic Johnson’s comments about Paul George last year. And that didn’t pay off because George stayed in Oklahoma City. The NBA, by the way, is already looking into Davis’ public trade request because it came from his agent, which is against the rules. Nate Robinson’s agent was once fined $25,000 by the league in 2009 when he asked to be traded from the Knicks.
Meanwhile, the Lakers and Celtics will battle this one out. The Knicks will likely remain a longshot contender, mainly because of the value of that lottery pick they hold for this year and history. Team president Steve Mills, who saw the team give up a 2016 first round pick for Andrea Bargnani — which turned into Jakob Poeltl, who was then used by the Raptors to acquire Kawhi — has vowed several times that the days of trading first-round picks were over.
But all terms are negotiable, especially when it involves a young superstar who has been a three-time All-NBA selection and is No. 2 in scoring, No. 4 in rebounding, No. 2 in blocks and owns the No. 1 PER in the league.
Here’s a more important statistic to consider: If the Knicks finish with a bottom-3 record, they’ll have a 14% chance to win it and land the biggest prize in the draft, Zion Williamson.
If they trade the pick, they have 100% chance to get Anthony Davis.
But it will take more than the pick and that’s where you can expect the Knicks to once again hit the brakes based on past experience. The Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011 gutted the franchise of many assets and the move to acquire Tyson Chandler took the rest, which eventually cost them the chance to make a play for the last star to request a trade out of New Orleans: Chris Paul. The Knicks had a Rolls Royce frontcourt of Melo, Amar’e Stoudemire and Chandler with a young point guard named Tony Douglas in charge of trying to organize them. That didn’t work out long term.
So while you’d potentially have two frontcourt studs in Davis and Porzingis, you’d still be missing the most important element — an experienced point guard to run the offense (oh, hey Damian Lillard) — and have almost no pieces or cap space left to get one.
The Knicks can let the Lakers and Celtics battle this one out, but what can’t be overlooked is yet another star has them on the list. This time, at least, the Knicks have the assets in place to make a move. Eventually, they need to be ready to pounce.
– Knox had a good bounce-back game with 19 points on 7 of 16 shooting after enduring a slump over the past five games that saw him average just 7.2 points on 25.5% shooting. Fizdale hinted to Knox hitting yet another conditioning wall after all of the traveling the team did in late December-early January. “We just had to keep pushing him through the fatigue and the struggles,” Fizdale said of the 19-year-old, who should be hearing this week about being added to the Rising Stars Challenge game at All-Star Weekend. The Knicks could have as many as four players represented in the game, with Trier, Robinson and Frank Ntilikina each expected to get strong consideration.
– Robinson had another impactful game with 10 points, including three highlight-worthy alley-oops, and three blocks. It’s clear the coaching staff has been experimenting with different looks with Robinson on defense, from simply roving around as a help defense shot-blocker to running out on the perimeter to trap pick-and-rolls. “Defensively, he gives us a lot of stuff,” Fizdale said. He does a lot of running around on defense, which helps cover for mistakes but it also has led to his own man getting easy baskets. It also results in Robinson not being available enough for rebounds. He only had two boards in 13 minutes.
– Kadeem Allen was called up from Westchester to fill in for the injured Ntilikina (sore groin) and he had a solid Knicks debut with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in 18 minutes. Allen, who was teammates with Trier at Arizona and was a second-round pick of the Celtics in 2017, signed to a two-way contract earlier this month. That was the two-way spot vacated by Trier and the Knicks would have lost it if it wasn’t used by Jan. 15. Smart managing there because Allen was needed with the injuries to Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay.
– Are the Knicks slowing things down to get their defense under control? Over the last three games, they’re allowing just 105.3 points per game and 42.6% Defensive FG%, which, for them, is a vast improvement from the previous 25 games, which saw them allow 117.4 points per game and 48.5% Defensive FG%. The difference could be in the pace, which over the last three games has been 96.9, compared to the 100.1 pace they were at over the previous 25.
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