Enes Kanter

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Schmeelk: Knicks Should Trade Enes Kanter

Dealing Center Could Eliminate Locker-Room Drama

John Schmeelk
January 10, 2019 - 12:04 pm
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With the Knicks living in the land of irrelevance, it is very rare for them to be part of an Adrian Wojnarowski “bomb” news report. That was the case Wednesday when the ESPN insider reported the Knicks and Kings have discussed an Enes Kanter-Zach Randolph trade. The New York Post's Marc Berman later reported the Knicks would want another asset back in such a trade, such as a second-round pick, which is stalling the discussions and might force the inclusion of a third team.

Kanter is in the final year of his lucrative contract, making $18.6 million this season. He has been unhappy with his role since being relegated to bench duty in favor of Luke Kornet. Matters are only going to get worse when Mitchell Robinson returns, which could depress Kanter's minutes even further.

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Despite Kanter’s impressive field goal percentage, points and rebound numbers, his odious defense has always held him back from being a player who helps his team win games. I went into it in detail here if you want the numbers to back up that analysis. It makes sense to move Kanter for another expiring contract to avoid any unnecessary drama that could create a sideshow or negatively affect the young players on the roster.

It is true that Kanter is a more useful player than Randolph at this point in their careers. Randolph hasn’t played a second of basketball for the Kings this season, and he would likely be a buyout candidate if the Knicks acquired him. The Knicks hoping to get an asset for Kanter is admirable, albeit unlikely. The entire league knows what a liability he is defensively, and with an $18.6 million salary number, finding a match that wouldn’t bring an onerous contract back to the Knicks is unlikely. (The only reason Kanter’s $18.6 million salary for Randolph’s $11.7 million salary works is because the Kings are under the salary cap.)

The Kings have been known to make foolish deals before, so the Knicks are right to try to get something done where they can gain some benefit from a Kanter trade. Instead of trying to obtain a second-round pick, the Knicks would be better off trying to convince the Kings to take Courtney Lee in any deal and take another expiring contract like Kosta Koufos in return.

Clearing money off the books for Lee, a player who is no longer in the rotation, should be near the top of the Knicks' goals at the trade deadline. It would put them over the threshold to offer a Kevin Durant level max contract this summer. Lee has one year left on his deal, and playing him would take valuable minutes away from someone like Damyean Dotson.

MORE: Schmeelk: Knicks’ Player Development Stalling

Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Kings, like them, are hoarding cap space for this summer to try to sign a potential max free agent or two. They can realistically free up nearly enough space for two max players depending on how much the salary cap goes up and what players they are targeting. It seems very unlikely they would want to take on any money beyond this year, which is part of the deal if receiving Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr. in a trade.

The Kings are still alive in the Western Conference playoff race, just two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, but there are a lot of teams competing for that spot. If the Kings, who are desperate for any playoff action, start smelling a potential to play postseason basketball, they could find someone like Lee or Hardaway attractive. Both could help a young team navigate a potential playoff run.

My personal opinion is that scenario remains unlikely, but it can’t hurt the Knicks to hold out in hopes the Kings decide to go in that direction. If the Knicks, however, get to the trade deadline and the only offer on the table is Randolph straight up for Kanter, they should make the trade. Kanter’s mouth and attitude would be a far bigger detriment than even someone like Randolph, who would probably never play a game for the Knicks.

For the Knicks, the last 41 games of the season are not about winning basketball games. They are about setting the team up the best possible way for future seasons. It means continuing to give more minutes to the team’s youngest players and trying to free up more cap space for increased flexibility this summer.

Kanter is not part of that future. Neither is Lee. Both players will no doubt be on the trade block this season, and it remains to be seen which, if any, will still be wearing a Knicks uniform on Feb. 7 after 3 p.m., when the trade deadline has passed.

You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk and you can listen to my new Knicks podcast "The Bank Shot," which can be found on Radio.com, iTunes and other platforms.