Enes Kanter

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Schmeelk: Knicks' Hands Were Tied At Trade Deadline

Protecting Cap Space Limited Team's Options

John Schmeelk
February 08, 2019 - 10:38 am

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone with the Knicks doing nothing after their blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade a week ago. It is easy to say the Knicks missed an opportunity to add more future draft assets by trading expiring contracts, but circumstances were always going to make pulling off a trade like that difficult.

Enes Kanter and Wesley Matthews, the two players most likely to be traded, both make $18.6 million this season. With the Knicks' goal of keeping all $71 million of their salary cap space open this summer, they would only be willing to take back expiring contracts of equal value along with second-round picks.

There simply weren’t many teams with those types of assets to trade that would want the players the Knicks had to offer. The 76ers had one such piece in Wilson Chandler, but they used him in a package to acquire Tobias Harris, a much better player than anything the Knicks had to offer. The Kings had expiring contracts for Iman Shumpert and Zach Randolph, but used them in a package to obtain Harrison Barnes, a potential long-term part of their franchise. The Knicks, again, could not provide a piece like that.

The other factor hurting the Knicks was the unspoken intention to buy out both Kanter and Matthews once the trade deadline passed. Teams knew they would be available as free agents and were willing to take the chance of winning the competition for their services instead of giving up even a second-round pick. Both players were let go by the Knicks within hours of the 3 p.m. trade deadline, with Matthews quickly agreeing to sign with the Pacers. Kanter is still a free agent, with rumors the Celtics are interested in him.  

MORE: Schmeelk: Patience Still Paramount For Knicks' Front Office

It appears the Knicks wanted to hold onto DeAndre Jordan to mentor Mitchell Robinson, which makes sense given their similar skillset. Jordan is also, apparently, a friend of Kevin Durant's. The Knicks' other expiring contracts, which include those belonging to Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja and Lance Thomas (small guarantee next year) likely did not hold enough value around the league to warrant any sort of real return.

The other player the Knicks could have tried to move was Noah Vonleh, who is on a much smaller expiring contract ($1.5 million). He is a valuable player who the Knicks would probably like to have back next season if the cap allows it. They could have tried to trade him and then re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent this summer. But a trade can often alienate a player, and the Knicks could have thought that a second-round pick coming back to them in a deal wasn’t worth that risk.

Buying out Matthews and Kanter does assure Knicks youngsters a lot of playing time the rest of the season. Robinson will play 20 minutes a night as the backup center if he stays out of foul trouble. Damyean Dotson should start the rest of the season on the wing next to Kevin Knox. Frank Ntilikina and Allonzo Trier should be getting all of the backup guard minutes, with Ntilikina possibly playing some small forward from time to time.

It is unclear what Mudiay’s role will be, but with the addition of Dennis Smith Jr., his position and skillset are a bit redundant. With his aforementioned expiring contract and a $12 million cap hold, the chances of him being on the team next year are slim to none. He doesn’t need to be stapled to the bench, but priority should be given to Ntilikina and Trier at every opportunity.

The next important date for the Knicks this season will be May 14, when the draft lottery occurs. There will be a lot of losing between now and then, but also a chance to see a lot of young players get a lot of playing time. The lottery will determine how much ammunition the Knicks have to trade for Anthony Davis or give them another young player to continue their rebuild. Sadly for the Knicks, that’s all they have left this season.

SCHMEELK'S SNIPPETS

The trade deadline basically turned into an arms race in the Eastern Conference, as four teams try to position themselves to get to the NBA Finals. With Victor Oladipo’s injury, the Pacers will find it very difficult to keep pace with the Celtics, Sixers, Bucks and Raptors. Boston failed to add anyone as it hoards its assets for an anticipated run at Davis this summer. The Bucks added Nikola Mirotic for second-round picks, giving them another shooter to play around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Raptors added Marc Gasol, who will give them some interesting lineup decisions with Serge Ibaka still on the roster. Philadelphia made the biggest splash by adding Harris. After struggling to integrate Jimmy Butler early in the season, now they have to try to do so with a fourth star. No one has four better players than they do. Any of those teams can go to the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference semifinals are going to be fantastic.

#Knickstank Update: The Knicks still have the worst winning percentage in the league and the fewest wins at 10-43. They do have three fewer games played than the Suns, who sit at 11-45 and are in the middle of a 12-game losing streak. The Cavs have 11 wins and the Bulls have 12, with each team playing 54 games. The Knicks have five games before the All-Star break, with games at Detroit, home against Toronto, at Cleveland, home against Philadelphia and at Atlanta.

You can follow John on Twitter at twitter.com/Schmeelk for everything, Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also check out his new podcast, 'The Bank Shot.' The latest episode is with Ian Begley