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Knicks, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo

Knicks should pass on Bradley Beal trade, pursue Victor Oladipo in free agency

Recent reports state that New York Knicks executive vice president William Wesley is “kind of nudging” Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal and his camp about asking for a trade to New York. That sounds nice and all, but the Knicks are actually better off retaining their assets and pursuing Victor Oladipo in NBA free agency.

The Knicks should play out this season

New York has taken numerous steps forward this season in regards to becoming a player in the Eastern Conference. Currently 15-16, they’ve been a competitive force under new head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks are playing elite defense, ranking first in the NBA in opponent points per game (103.5), opponent field goal percentage (43.0 percent), and opponent 3-point percentage (32.4 percent).

Meanwhile, Julius Randle has emerged as their go-to scorer, RJ Barrett has taken the next step, rookie guard Immanuel Quickley has been instant offense off the bench, and Mitchell Robinson (when healthy) has been a reliable inside player. The Knicks have a defensive foundation and an offensive attack with potential, though there’s still plenty of room to grow on offense. They’re hoping the trade for Derrick Rose will help them do that this season.

The roster’s collective play has opened the door for a potentially bigger trade. With Barrett, Quickley, Robinson, Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, and five first-round draft selections over the next three years in their possession, the Knicks have the arsenal to swing a blockbuster trade for a player of Beal’s caliber, who’s an elite scorer and a top-20 player.

All that said, making a move of such magnitude in the middle of a season where the Knicks are making headway would be impulsive. They’re best off playing out the season, letting their young squad marinate, continuing to build chemistry, and assessing the roster in the offseason.

Trading for Beal would require Thibodeau’s rotation undergoing extreme midseason transformation, as the offense would have a new focal point and those around Beal would have to adjust to his game.

To be clear: Beal is a franchise player who would improve the Knicks’ brand both on and off the floor. The issue is timing. If Beal were a free agent or an offseason trade were on the table, it would be a different discussion. For a team playing with a visible rapport, is breaking up the band in the raw stages of its development the prudent play?

It is not.

Victor Oladipo would be great for Tom Thibodeau’s rotation

Yes, Bradley Beal is a better player than Victor Oladipo. At the same time, the only thing the Knicks would have to give up for Oladipo is cap space. In Beal’s case, they have to absorb and eventually give him another max contract while ripping up the bulk of their roots.

Victor Oladipo would have a profound impact on Thibodeau’s rotation. The combo guard is a well-oiled machine. He’s a stout on-ball defender, has a knack for scoring in isolation, is a respectable outside shooter, and has come through with plenty of clutch jump shots. Across split time with the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets this season, Oladipo has averaged 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. He’s a complete player who makes a difference on both ends of the floor when healthy, which has admittedly been an issue of late but is hopefully not a long-term issue.

Randle and Oladipo would be the Knicks’ leading scorers and a considerable one-two punch, especially given the way Randle is playing this season. The big man is putting up 23.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game, and he could be on track for his first All-Star appearance.

Meanwhile, Barrett would be a secondary scorer, Quickley would be another backcourt scorer, and Robinson, who could be extended in the offseason, would do the dirty work in the paint. The Knicks could also have two first-round draft choices joining them for the 2021-22 NBA season.

Based on Randle’s evolution, the Knicks’ growth, and what Oladipo brings to the table, this is a team that should be a 45-win team in a typical 82-game season. Their core can only improve, and the Knicks wouldn’t be asking Oladipo to play the role of hero.

Oladipo would add quickness to their roster, be a Thibs favorite given his gritty two-way play, and he wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. He also shouldn’t cost a max deal. A three- or four-year deal around $25 million a year seems feasible for both sides.

Refraining from a midseason trade and signing Victor Oladipo keeps options open down the road

The Knicks would still have the cap space to make another $20-plus million signing and would also have the assets to pull off a blockbuster trade if they signed Oladipo. Maybe they make an impact trade before next season’s NBA trade deadline if and when a star asks for a trade?

If the Knicks are playing up to expectations midway through the season (say, being the fourth or fifth seed in the East) and their roster has developed familiarity, president Leon Rose and friends could make a trade to push the team into title contention — whoever that player may be.

At some point, the Knicks have to make effective use of their treasure trove of assets. That time is not over the next month. They will still have a bevy of high-profile options on both the free-agent market and the trade market this summer, as well as the season that follows. Heck, maybe they trade up into the top five of this year’s NBA Draft if they fall in love with a prospect? That player could be another legitimate building block.

The Knicks shouldn’t take the low-hanging fruit and prematurely capitalize on a situation, and Bradley Beal supposedly isn’t even available right now anyway. Just play out the season and pursue Victor Oladipo in free agency, adding a player who will take them to the next level.