The New York Knicks went into Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, tied alongside the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns, with the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick and instead ended up with the No. 3 pick. There was at least one, if not two gut reactions: 1) The sky is falling because they can’t draft Zion Williamson, and 2) They need to trade for Anthony Davis.
The Knicks can still draft a franchise player with the No. 3 pick. But more importantly, they must avoid trading for Davis.
Davis is the best big man in the NBA; he has no weakness. He finishes relentlessly inside, can operate in the post, play out on the perimeter, and is an elite all-around defender. From a statistical standpoint, he’s one of the most productive players in the sport. He has averaged 24-plus points per game in each of the last six seasons, as well as 10-plus rebounds and two-plus blocks per game in each of the last five.
Davis is, without a doubt, a superstar. This isn’t an argument to refute that truth, but the Knicks have the chance to sign a star, or two, of their own this offseason given the $73 million in cap space they have at their disposal. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been long-linked to the Knicks, and the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, and Kemba Walker will also be available. Those players will likely get max contracts, as will Davis in an extension with whatever team he’s potentially traded to. With that said, to get Davis in the fold, the Knicks would have to surrender far more than just money.
The Pelicans are going to want to strip a team, in this case the Knicks, of every one of its assets, which is understandable because Davis would be providing a team with a franchise talent. And the Knicks have the tools to pull off a trade.
They have the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, soon-to-be second-year players Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, 21-year-old point guard Dennis Smith Jr., and own a first-round pick in every draft down the road. Realistically, the Knicks will have to trade the No. 3 pick and at least three of the five aforementioned players to acquire Davis.
Reminder: The Knicks won 17 games last season, and it wasn’t on accident. Yes, Knox showcased athleticism and an ability to score at the NBA level; Robinson was a shot-blocking assassin and physical specimen; Trier was an offensive spark plug off head coach David Fizdale’s bench; Dotson is a savvy two-way player; Smith is an electric scorer. But, as a whole, this is a team that has a ways to go defensively and was the youngest team in the NBA last season.
With all that said, all five of them have the potential to be extremely impactful players and will inevitably improve in the near future. The Knicks have their young core, and adding two stars in free agency makes them a contender in the Eastern Conference from the get-go. They’d have two bonafide go-to scorers, another stud youngster added by means of the draft, and the bulk of their young core would be coming off the bench, making them more dangerous and creating a deep rotation.
If the Knicks traded the house for Davis — who is due $27 million in the 2019-20 season — it would deplete their young core and nearly fold their cap space in half, meaning they could only sign one max-level player and would have to get creative when filling out their roster. Of course, it’s easier to construct a bench than add a star player, but the Knicks have the chance to do both this offseason without trading for Davis.
The Knicks are in a unique position because they’ve been building a nucleus over the last two years, could add to it in the draft, and sign a franchise-changing player, or two. In essence, the Knicks are drafting someone who they see growing into a star and signing two established ones in free agency. If they trade for Davis, they get an accomplished star yes, but could only sign one other in free agency and would have no depth, or young core behind them.
Now, there’s a way that the Knicks could sign two max-level players and trade for Davis, it just couldn’t come to fruition until late in the summer given how it takes 30 days to trade a rookie after he signs his rookie contract. A big three of say Durant, Irving, and Davis would challenge the Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh from earlier this decade.
But R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish — who could very well be the players the Knicks mull taking at No. 3– could grow into stars, or premier player at their positions, as could Knox and Robinson. If you already signed two alpha-dogs, isn’t it safer and more intriguing to stay put with your roster, especially considering how your championship window would be freshly opened?
Trading for Davis defeats the purpose of the offseason for the Knicks, and one could argue it would be them falling for the same trap they have in recent memory, in regards to going forth with the quick fix — granted it would be an enormous one.
Also, if Davis wants to play for the Knicks, he could just stay with the Pelicans this season and head to the Big Apple next summer when he hits the open market. They’d have to do some crafty cap maneuvering, or look to make just one big free-agent signing this summer, but the Knicks could find a way to fit Davis under the cap in 2020.
Here’s another scenario. Let’s say the Knicks completely whiff this summer on bringing in stars, and, as a result, trade for Davis. The price tag will be the same, if not larger considering how they would be more desperate. So the Knicks deplete their roster to acquire Davis, and then what? They compete for an eight seed and get swept in the first round? Is it really worth blowing up everything you’ve worked for to get your butt kicked in the playoffs? Going from a laughing stock to a continued first-round exit isn’t much of an accomplishment.
Davis would arguably be the Knicks best player since Patrick Ewing — depending on your views on Carmelo Anthony’s tenure. But a trade for the All-Star big man should be avoided; they have better options.