Schmeelk: How The Knicks Can Still Trade For Anthony Davis After Draft Lottery Disappointment

John Schmeelk
May 15, 2019 - 2:12 pm
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We now know the Knicks are selecting third in the NBA Draft. Without having the opportunity to draft Zion Williamson, the Knicks will have to look at other avenues to obtain a franchise game-changer. Free agency is one avenue, which will begin on June 30th. The other is a trade, and the elephant in the room is Anthony Davis.

Stadium’s Shams Charania reported on Tuesday that the Knicks will heavily pursue Davis this offseason. He is only 26 years old, at the beginning of his prime and already a top eight NBA player. Any potential trade for Anthony Davis is complicated, so here’s a primer with everything you need to know about it.

1.   Will The Pelicans Still Trade Him?

There is no way to know for sure, but all signs still point to yes. Even though the Pelicans landed the top overall pick and the right to draft Zion Williamson, Charania tweeted shortly after the lottery that Davis still wants to be traded. Davis and his agent made it very clear very quickly that he still wants out of New Orleans, Zion or no Zion.

There’s a chance new general manager David Griffin rolls the dice and plays out a season with Williamson, Davis and Jrue Holiday at the risk of losing Davis next summer and getting nothing in return, but it would be an extremely risky gambit. There’s also a possibility that ownership decides they don’t want the shadow of Davis hovering over the franchise any longer.

I still think it is more likely than not that Griffin opts to move Davis for a set of young players and assets to pair with Zion Williamson.

2.   Timing Is Everything

Trading for Anthony Davis before free agency begins doesn’t make any sense for a multitude of reasons. The first reason is the simplest one: adding him doesn’t help the long term prospects of the franchise if no other superstars are going to join in free agency. The Knicks will have to empty much of their cupboard of young players and assets to obtain Davis, which would leave a bare roster alongside him with little chance to compete. Davis would be back in a similar situation he was in New Orleans and might not even re-sign with the Knicks next offseason when he can be a free agent. The Knicks would hurt their future more than help it.

The salary cap is the other factor that will force the Knicks to wait to acquire Davis. If the Knicks trade for Davis before free agency begins, they will cut into their salary cap space and reduce their available space so much that they would no longer be able to afford Kevin Durant and another maximum-salaried player. (We are assuming two stars are coming because otherwise a Davis trade probably doesn’t make sense.)

The only reason the Knicks should trade for Davis before June 30th is if Durant makes it a requirement for him to sign with the team. If the Knicks do wait until after free agency to make a trade, there is a 30-day waiting period that starts after whomever they pick signs their rookie contract.

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3.   Working a Trade Under The Cap

If the Knicks wait until after they spend their more than 70 million dollars of cap space on Durant and another top free agent, they can obtain Davis afterward and make the salary cap math work. The catch here is the Knicks would have to send enough money back to the Pelicans that would be close enough to Davis’ 2019 salary, which will be $27.1 million. The Knicks would have to get to just under $21.7 million of salary heading back to New Orleans to make a deal work under salary cap rules.

Davis does have a 15% trade kicker that would complicate things, but he could waive it in order to help the team acquiring him match the required salaries going back to New Orleans. 125% of the Knicks salaries heading out would have to be equal to Davis’ cap number.  

Here are the players and their salaries the Knicks have under contract for next season that are eligible to be traded: (I am not counting Lance Thomas, who will be waived to clear cap space.)

-Frank Ntilikina: $4.85 million

-Dennis Smith Jr.: $4.46 million

-Kevin Knox: $4.38 million

-Allonzo Trier: $3.55 million (team option)

-Henry Ellenson: $1.65 million (non-guaranteed)

-Damyean Dotson: $1.62 million (team option)

-Mitchell Robinson: $1.56 million

-3rd Overall Pick: $6.5 million

I’ll save you some math. The 3rd overall pick, Ntilikina, Smith Jr. and Knox all would have to be included to make anything work. That equals up to about $20.2 million in salary. Henry Ellenson can theoretically put the Knicks over the top, but it would be razor thin. The Pelicans would likely prefer the addition of either Dotson, Trier or Robinson. Whether the Knicks believe a player package starting with the three players above would be too rich from an asset perspective, it’s what has to be done for the trade to work under cap rules.

Competing Offers

The Knicks are not bidding against themselves. The Lakers, now armed with the fourth overall pick in the draft, along with Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart will field a strong offer. Ingram’s blood clot could scare New Orleans away (though he is supposed to make a full recovery), and the Lakers' fourth pick has less value than the Knicks' pick at three given the nature of the draft.

The Celtics will field an offer, but if they lose Kyrie Irving it will probably not be as strong. They have three first-round picks this year, including the 14th from the Grizzlies, the Clippers’ first rounder and their own. They also have Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as potential pieces. There could also be a mystery team out there that will take a chance on Davis re-signing with them after the year, much like the Raptors with Kawhi Leonard and the Thunder with Paul George.

The Knicks offer will have to be strong, and in addition to the 3rd overall pick, Smith Jr., Ntilikina, and Knox, they can include multiple future first-round picks. They own all their own first round picks going forward along with the Mavericks unprotected pick in 2021 and a top-ten protected pick from 2023-2025.

The Knicks would likely prefer to hold onto Robinson, Dotson and Trier to play with their newly acquired veteran stars and instead trade away their multitude of future picks. It might not be enough. Mitchell Robinson could very well be the potential deal breaker for the Knicks and, aside from the 3rd overall pick, will be the most highly sought after piece by the Pelicans in any trade.

Is This A One Year Rental?

Davis is very unlikely to sacrifice tens of millions of dollars by immediately signing a contract extension with the Knicks as soon as the trade happens. He can maximize his cash earnings by waiting until the summer and re-upping with the Knicks then. Davis can pledge to the Knicks he will re-sign in 2020, but there are no guarantees without pen hitting paper.

Ian Begley from SNY reported that the Knicks are one destination that Davis would be willing to sign long term, which matches the reports before the trade deadline. It’s a risk for the Knicks, for sure, but given the pledge that the Knicks would require from Davis before executing the trade and the presence of two other stars they should feel confident he would stay in New York long term.

Conclusion

1. Only trade for Davis after free agency concludes and the Knicks sign two stars.

2. Send out an aggressive offer but do everything possible not to include Mitchell Robinson.

3. My proposed deal: 3rd overall pick, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Henry Ellenson, both Mavericks first-round picks and the Knicks first-round pick in 2020. In effect, the Knicks will be sending three future first-round picks, their top-ten picks from 2019, 2018, and two from 2017. It might not be good enough depending on how the Pelicans feel about other options, but it is a strong offer.

4. If the Pelicans insist on Mitchell Robinson, I would offer Trier instead. If they will not make the trade without Robinson involved, at least two, maybe all three future first-round picks get taken off the table, and I'm not even convinced I would include Robinson then. The Knicks could then use those draft assets to try to build as good of a roster as possible around Durant, Star #2 and Anthony Davis.

5. The Knicks become a win now team, but still retain all of their own picks after 2020 to sustain a healthy future.