The New York Knicks believe they are in a position to trade for a disgruntled star player, but should they give up assets to get one?
A report from SNY’s Ian Begley that some members of the New York Knicks front office believe they are “incredibly well-positioned to trade for a disgruntled star” led to an odd article from Bleacher Report featuring five hypothetical trades.
This article made the rounds on Twitter, and I wanted to respond. But I didn’t want to make my list of stars for the Knicks to chase because I’m not sure there isn’t one right now. I wanted to discuss whether the Knicks should chase a star via trade at all.
The idea of losing draft picks understandably gives Knicks fans slight PTSD from the Isiah Thomas years. You throw a young player like RJ Barrett or Mitchell Robinson in with those picks, and you get Martin Sheen in the opening scene of “Apocalypse Now.” I’m not quite ready to smash my hand through a mirror, but I hear The Doors playing.
Trading picks is a risky decision. Jonathan Macri of Knicks Film School documented New York’s long history of this move with consistent failure. That’s not a typo. The Knicks have traded that many picks.
NBA teams usually only give up first-round picks to go from playoff team to championship contender, and the Knicks haven’t been either one of those in a long time. Selling off assets isn’t how teams are built. New York’s history of doing just that would suggest it’s not the best strategy. Here’s an eye-opener for you.
Only two leading scorers on the last 20 NBA championship teams were acquired via trade: Kawhi Leonard (’18-’19) and Richard Hamilton (’03-’04). Those teams are in vastly different situations from the current Knicks. The Toronto Raptors upgraded from DeMar DeRozan to Leonard, and the Detroit Pistons swiped Hamilton for Brian Cardinal, Ratko Vardka, and Jerry Stackhouse.
Trading for a star is hit or miss. Leonard and the Raptors were a good fit, but that’s an outlier. More often than not, it backfires.
The Houston Rockets are a prime example. They made a franchise-altering trade because James Harden wanted to play with his friend. Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela were such a lousy fit the Rockets traded their starting center to empower Westbrook’s drives. The Rockets are out two first-round picks and two pick swaps and no closer to a championship.
Tom Thibodeau’s Minnesota Timberwolves are another example. Thibodeau, perhaps the next head coach in New York, tried a quick fix rebuild in Minnesota when he traded for Jimmy Butler. Thibs thought he had a superstar pairing with Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, but things ended horribly. Those are the risks you take.
Championship teams find their stars through free agency or the draft, especially at a time when the league is so player-friendly. The best players want to choose their path. As well as Leonard got along with his Raptors teammates, he still decided to return home to the LA Clippers in free agency.
With Leonard on the hook, the Clippers were comfortable mortgaging their entire future for a shot at the first title in franchise history with the duo of Leonard and Paul George. The Los Angeles Lakers felt the same way about Anthony Davis.
But it’s a lot easier to give up assets for a star when you already have a superstar. The New York Knicks don’t. That’s where president of basketball operations Leon Rose comes in. At one point, Rose was one of the most well-respected agents in the NBA, representing clients like Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul.
Rose was hired to go star chasing. But he was supposed to attract those big names in free agency. You know, so the Knicks wouldn’t have to give up any assets to get them.
The Knicks are a source of ridicule for their constant failed pursuit of big-name free agents, but Rose is supposed to change the perception around the franchise. Why else would they hire someone with connections but zero experience?
I don’t think the Knicks should be chasing a star player in a trade right now. Mostly because there isn’t a player available who’s worth selling the farm. But the Knicks have seven first-round picks in the next four drafts, and they’re not going to use all of them. Trading the Clippers pick or both of the Dallas picks couldn’t hurt. Of course, none of those picks will get you a star.
The smart route today appears to be building this squad through free agency and the draft. New York already has two valuable young prospects, Barrett and Robinson, for the next coach to develop. If the New York Knicks hit on one more pick (this year would be nice), they’ll be set up nicely for the next step.
Whether that’s free agency or trade we don’t know.