It’s Dec. 19, so that means the NBA trade deadline is less than two months away. At this point in the league calendar, front-office members around the NBA are having conversations about which players might be available and which teams could use some help.
“Ninety percent of these talks are just casual -- people checking in with one another,” a Western Conference executive says. “It’s rare that anything happens at this point in the season.”
Still, most teams know their strengths and weaknesses 25 games into the season, the executive says. So, at this point, teams are looking to address those weaknesses via the trade market, if possible.
Areas of concern in New York
The Knicks, 12-14 entering Friday’s game against Philadelphia, are off to a better start than most expected. Still, several troubling trends have emerged in the first quarter of their season.
Fast-break points (30th): The Knicks haven’t been able to create opportunities in transition or push the ball after an opponent’s missed shot. The result is a lack of easy opportunities at the rim. They entered play Friday ranked last in the NBA in points off of turnovers and points in the paint, per NBA.com.
Points off of drives (30th): The Knicks also don’t have many players who can penetrate a defense. Jose Calderon is a strong shooter and has been a solid influence on the younger Knicks, but he doesn’t get to the rim often. Part of that is a product of the Knicks’ triangle offense, which relies on passing through the post – rather than dribble penetration -- to create seams in the defense. Still, it’s troubling that the Knicks ranked last in the NBA in points off of drives entering play Friday, per NBA.com.
Knicks looking for help?
In talking to people around the league with knowledge of the Knicks’ thinking, it doesn’t appear that the club is on the verge of making a significant move to address these weaknesses at this point.
But some members of the front office recently expressed interest in obtaining a young scoring guard or a shooter to improve the backcourt, sources said. Though, one source cautioned, the Knicks don’t plan, at this point, to make a move that would have an impact on their future cap flexibility.
The club is projected to have close to $20 million to spend in free agency this summer. So the Knicks likely wouldn’t want to trade for a player who is making a significant salary next season, thereby eating into their cap space.
With that in mind, who's out there for the Knicks?
According to reports, Jamal Crawford, Kevin Martin and Brandon Jennings, among others, might be available via trade. Jennings is a 2016 free agent, so he wouldn’t impact the Knicks’ cap situation this summer if they choose to acquire him as a rental. But he’s coming off of ruptured Achillies tendon injury, so trading for him would come with a significant amount of risk. The New York Post reported that Jennings is on the market.
Martin, whom the Associated Press reported is available, is scheduled to make $7 million in 2016-17. So a trade for the Wolves guard would have an impact on the Knicks’ flexibility this summer.
Crawford, whom Sheridan Hoops reported is available, is a free agent this summer and could provide a scoring punch to the Knicks’ second unit, but the Knicks didn’t have much interest in dealing for him over the summer.
Also, it’s worth noting here that the Knicks don’t appear to have many strong assets to offer on the trade market. Carmelo Anthony is their best trade chip, but there is no indication at this point that the Knicks have thought about dealing the 31-year-old forward.
All of the Knicks’ 2015 free-agent signees and rookies are eligible to be traded, but outside of Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant, Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, the value of those players isn’t believed to be very high.
The Knicks, of course, could also make improvements by changing their substitution patterns. Kyle O’Quinn has given them a lift off the bench in recent games after sitting for long stretches of the season. Grant has been out of the rotation recently, but he showed an ability to get to the rim and into the paint earlier in the season.
New York also has an open roster spot that could be used to add a player, such as Westchester Knicks guard Jimmer Fredette. Knicks president Phil Jackson is said to be a fan of Fredette’s, for what it’s worth, and the guard has put up strong scoring numbers in the D-League. The Knicks could also go the D-League route with another young guard. Players such as 6-7 guard Toure' Murry, who is averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists and two steals per game for the Texas Legends, have impressed NBA scouts.
With the Knicks unlikely to make any trades that have a future impact, those small-scale moves seem more likely than a major trade at this point. And that’s not the worst thing in the world. If the Knicks can remain competitive this season while Porzingis develops and Anthony builds on-court chemistry with the rookie, that’s a strong step in the right direction for the franchise.
If the team is truly committed to rebuilding over several seasons, as GM Steve Mills hinted in comments to ESPN.com senior writer Zach Lowe, it’s a departure from past approaches that valued the “quick fix” --often at the behest of owner James Dolan.
The Knicks tried to make a long-term rebuild in the past, when team president Donnie Walsh put a strong team around Amar’e Stoudemire only to blow it up in a trade for Anthony that was driven by Dolan.
It seems as if Jackson is committed to avoiding those kind of mistakes. So it will be interesting to see how things play out in the next two months.