It’s now one full week since the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis, the man most of their fans thought would be a cornerstone of the franchise’s future. Only a relatively small number of people know the intimate and factual details as to how and why the drama unfolded that led to the Knicks moving Porzingis, along with Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke, to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Mathews and two future first round picks.
From the perspective of the sports public and even plugged-in members of the media, it all happend suddenly and dramatically. The trade was consummated only a few hours after the 23-year-old Porzingis and his brother Janis, who serves as his agent, met with Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry last Thursday morning.
“We wanted a confirmation from him whether he was completely in or out,” said Mills to reporters in explaining the reason for the abrupt deal, “and he made it clear to us when he came in to meet with us that he no longer wanted to be part of our group.” Mills and Perry both articulated that there was an obvious disconnect between Porzingis and the organization that had become evident as this transpired, so they prudently began to explore their options weeks prior to trading him.
The knee-jerk reactions on both the pro- and anti-Porzings sides were expected, but no one can definitively argue which team benefits more. That won’t be determined for perhaps several years. If it is accurate that Porzingis wanted out, the Knicks were wise to acquiesce when they did. The longer they waited to trade an unhappy Porzingis, who the franchise drafted No. 4 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft and who would have become an unrestricted free-agent this summer, the more leverage they would have relinquished.
The 7-foot-3 Porzingis, who was named an All-Star last season before tearing the ACL in his left knee last Feb. 6, may indeed fulfill his promise and paired with rookie sensation Luca Doncic may elevate the Mavericks into a championship contender. There is also the possibility his development stalls and he never becomes much more than he was before the injury, a good but far from dominant player.
The Knicks are in an even more dubious and uncertain state of affairs. After falling to the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden by 105-92 on Tuesday night, they had lost 14 straight games and a franchise record 15 consecutive games at MSG. While the Mavericks already have at least one bona fide transformational star in Doncic, the Knicks are desperately in pursuit of at least one and optimistically two.
However, the trade has given them nearly $75 million in available salary cap space, which affords the Knicks the opportunity to sign two free agents to max contracts this summer. They also have a talented 21-year-old point guard in Smith and seven first round picks over the next five seasons, including a high probability to land the top pick in this June’s draft, ample assets to significantly alter the trajectory of the franchise.
“I’m thankful to be here,” said Smith after his first game as a Knick last Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies. “This is actually a totally different situation here than what it was for me previously.” Smith was dispirited in Dallas after the Mavericks made Doncic the team’s primary ball-handler.
As of last Thursday, Mills and Perry were on the clock. Trading Porzingis was their first bold move. Acquiring franchise players is their mandate.