Schmeelk: How The Knicks Can Boost Their Rebuild At The Trade Deadline

Steve Mills And Scott Perry Need To Keep A Long-Term Focus

John Schmeelk
January 10, 2020 - 3:30 pm

The NBA trade deadline is a month away, coming on February 6 at 3PM. The Knicks are back from their final west coast trip of the year. They have lost four straight, but an easier schedule now lies ahead of them. If the Knicks were being run properly, what happens over the next 27 days wouldn’t influence their plans. But with Steve Mills at the helm, all bets are off.

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After wasting an offseason with oodles of cap space, while also not using any of it to acquire future draft picks, the Knicks have an opportunity to remedy those mistakes at the trade deadline. At 10-28, New York is just two games off having the worst record in the league, and still seven games behind the Nets for the No. 8 seed (despite the Nets losing seven straight), the Knicks are not making a playoff run this year.

The Knicks schedule does ease heading into February. Between now and the trade deadline, the Knicks play seven playoff bound teams (Heat, Bucks, Sixers, Lakers, Raptors, Nets, Pacers) and six teams currently not in the playoffs (Pelicans, Suns, Cavs twice, Hornets, and Grizzlies). The 13-game stretch does feature eight home games to only five on the road. The Knicks will have some opportunities to win games if they can stay healthy, but that should not sway the front office. The focus needs to always remain on the future and the franchise’s ultimate goal.

Players on one-year contracts (Marcus Morris) or with minimal guarantees beyond this season (Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson) are of no use to the Knicks to enhance their long-term prospects. They can be of use if they are shipped off at the trade deadline for future draft picks or younger players on cheap and longer contracts. While late first round picks or second round picks are unlikely to yield top players in the draft, having extra opportunities to get lucky and find one, or having more assets to move in a future trade, is helpful.

Knicks forward Marcus Morris defended by Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler Dec 20, 2019; Miami, Florida
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In order to increase their return, the Knicks should also be willing to take back bad salary. Even horrid contracts like John Wall’s should be on the table if the Wizards are willing to trade enough assets to make it worthwhile for the Knicks. Blake Griffin’s huge contract is another one they should also consider taking if incentivized enough. Some more short-term pain is worth the potential long-term gain.

The Knicks have young players that can develop into useful NBA players, but they most of them are barely out of their teenage years and need time. They are not close to competing for anything significant. Carrying those bad contracts for a couple of seasons would be painful, but it is mitigated because the cap space wouldn’t be used on anything game-changing anyway. If the Knicks didn’t sign Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson and Wayne Ellington this summer, would anyone truly be upset?

While some of those veteran players on the roster (such as Elfrid Payton) should maybe stick around to help some of the youngsters left on the roster, they are also taking up valuable minutes that could go towards development. If Morris, Portis and/or Ellington are traded it means that Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, and even Ignas Brazdeikis will play more.

Aside from helping improve those players, it will give the Knicks front office a better idea of what they have moving forward. Kevin Knox can get more time playing power forward, which is probably his eventual position. The Knicks have to make a decision on whether to re-sign Dotson and Allonzo Trier this offseason. Brazdeikis is an unknown, with no meaningful minutes at the NBA level.

Steve Mills and Scott Perry’s eyes must remain on the future despite the rumors that their jobs could be on the line this summer. Success this season is out of reach and they need to understand that. If they think someone like Marcus Morris is a good long-term piece, they can communicate that to him and re-sign him for multiple years when he is a free agent this offseason.

Their failure to use cap space in the summer to acquire additional pieces does not inspire confidence. They have a chance to fix those mistakes in the next 27 days. We’ll see if they can.

You can follow John on Twitter: @Schmeelk