Here We Go Again?
The latest "Player X to the Knicks" rumor seems to be pushing some fans over the edge. It's OK to get mad...as long as we're being honest.
I knew exactly what I was doing.
I was fairly certain that, amidst all the hoopla over Worldwide Wes coming to MSG, sticking a piece of Devin Booker gossip in the middle of column that was nothing about possible Knicks trade targets would mean that it would get lost in the shuffle.
And that’s how I wanted it.
Why? Simple: I’m sick of people accusing me of the exact same thing that I used to routinely accuse the Knicks beat writers of doing: gassing us up for a future that was as likely to happen as me getting hired to become James Dolan’s next PR director.
(Jim, if you’re reading, references available upon request)
I get it.
Every organization that has ever won anything in the history of the NBA has done so in significant part through drafting and developing at least competently, if not expertly. The Knicks could hire every head of every agency in the league and this would still be true.
This is why, for many fans, every new trade rumor reads like “Kick Me” sign that they’re fully aware is taped to their backs. We know you can’t skip steps and win, and yet these rumors seem to be implying that we’re too stupid to realize as much.
Plus, we have the added bonus of regularly being connected to more stars than anyone, only to consistently be left out in the cold. Infuriating doesn’t begin to describe what I can only imagine is our Sisyphean punishment for winning the Ewing lottery 36 years ago. It’s getting old.
I get all of that. And I’ll be the first to say that if they don’t make RJ Barrett look at least like a borderline future All-Star, and/or they don’t nail this lottery pick in a big way, and/or they don’t find a diamond in the rough somewhere else - the free agency scrap heap, Knox, the 27th pick, etc. - then Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, and anyone else whose name has been or will be tossed around in conjunction with the Knicks in the near future could tweet out “New York or Nowhere” with a Knicks emoji and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
And that’s because right now, as many intelligent people have pointed out, the Knicks aren’t in position to make any such trade. You don’t buy a 4D flat screen when you haven’t even finished sheetrocking the walls.
But at the same time, as many intelligent people have also pointed out, you don’t put together this front office with the intention of always trying to win on the margins and never swinging for the fences. Rose, Wes, Perrin, Kline - relationship-builders, all of them. Hell, Was might be the greatest relationship builder in the history of modern sports.
Putting together this front office was a Bat Signal to the rest of the league as to what New York’s intentions ultimately are. If that wasn’t the case, and if they instead wanted to execute a more traditional rebuild with incremental steps along some sort of 5-year plan, here’s a list of people they could have hired instead:
Literally anyone else
Ask yourself: what conversations do you think Rose and Wes were having with guys like Booker and Mitchell right up until they were officially hired? If you don’t think they all sat down together to plot eventual exit strategies, I have a bag of Brooklyn Nets Instant Culture seeds to sell you at a very reasonable price
(Just add Pinson!)
They know what’s possible, when it’ll be possible, and what’s going to need to happen to make it a reality. Again: this might piss you off, but stick your head in the sand at your own peril. This is why these guys were hired.
Which brings us to Booker. I can’t very well ignore what I’ve heard, and as we now know from Mr. Berman, apparently I’m not the only one. The volume only got louder over the weekend with some interesting social media posts from former Sun Josh Jackson:
…if you think Book about to waste his career there, you as dumb as you look…
The irony, of course, is that Jackson himself is Exhibit A of why Devin Booker shouldn’t want to spend his career in Phoenix. After all, they bypassed the likes of De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac and Lauri Markkanen for Jackson in 2017.
That was one year after they drafted Dragan Bender instead of Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray and traded the rights to Bogdan Bogdanović and two other firsts to take Marquese Chriss? It was also one year before they picked Deandre Ayton over Luka Doncic. Last year’s Culver for Cam Johnson and Dario Saric trade ain’t looking so hot either.
So yes, between the Suns’ mismanagement and New York’s recent efforts to put its own longstanding mismanagement issues behind them, it stands to reason that Booker might want a change of scenery, and that the team now run both by Booker’s former agent and the man who may have had a little to do with him heading to Kentucky stands to benefit.
Yes, Booker is about to enter the second year of a five year extension he signed in 2018. But we’ve seen several stars over the course of this decade start to push their trade requests/demands further and further up. Two years is no longer out of bounds. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets bolder and asks out with three years left on their contract.
That would bring us to next summer, which is, in my estimation, the soonest realistic point a trade for Booker or any other player of his caliber might happen. That gives New York roughly a year to beef up its asset base and be able to put together a competitive package that would at least make Phoenix pick up the phone.
And for those of you on the other side of the fence who think a trade for a player of Booker’s magnitude is possible before next season starts: No NBA team is going to be dumb enough to trade an under-25 All Star with clear All-NBA potential without getting back a player in the deal that has a similarly cognizable if less immediate All-Star ceilin-
Yes, this is he.
We did? Just last year? You don’t say. But surely we-
Uh-huh. Well, umm…thank you for the call.
(throws phone at wall)
Allow me to amend that previous statement: Absent a team being fed (and believing) incredibly misguided intel and, as a result, prioritizing something entirely different than getting as close to equivalent talent in the deal, no one is going to be that dumb.
Even with that as the backdrop, the KP/Dallas deal is instructive to thinking about any potential Booker/NY trade proposals, if for no other reason than it helps to set the bar.
I’ve seen several people on Twitter suggest something like both Dallas picks and RJ Barrett as being enough to swing a trade. To those folks, let’s consider:
Booker has no injury concerns, whereas Porzingis seems to be comprised of tissue paper and scotch tape,
He is under contract for the next four seasons, as opposed to entering restricted free agency with the option (one KP didn’t take, as it turned out) to make his new team’s life difficult in negotiations, and…
Booker is just a flat out better player.
Comparing possible trade returns, one might note that Barrett is better than DSJ. While that’s true, it should be noted that after his rookie season, Smith Jr. received the sixth most votes for the 2017-18 All-Rookie Teams. Barrett will be lucky to get into the top 10.
There’s also the matter of all that salary that New York dumped in the deal. In short, unless the Knicks wanted to do something truly insane (such as offering its 2021 pick completely unprotected, in addition to other juicy stuff), the framework of a deal just doesn’t exist right now.
What would such a trade look like? It’s honestly too early to say, but assuming one of Barrett or New York’s lottery pick this season pops in a big way, one or the other would be a big part of the transaction. Throw in New York’s own ‘21 pick (which is complicated, because it would have to be good enough to entice but not too good so as to be giving up the chance at a future cornerstone-level player), another future pick, and matching salary, and you can begin to see the outline of a trade.
That’s why next season is so important, and why the draft & develop folks are spot on: New York has to beef up its asset cupboard before we can even begin having these conversations. The good news is that they’ll have several avenues to get this done, which is where Brock Aller and the revamped scouting staff comes in. Margin moves like Pinson and Harper absolutely play a part in this, hopefully en route to bigger and better transactions along the way. One step at a time, as it were.
But let’s all be honest about what those steps are leading up to.
And please, from someone who used to be in your very shoes: don’t kill the messenger.
Here are the pieces and pods from me over the last week, just in case you missed anything…
SI Knicks: New York may opt out of the Chicago bubble
SI Knicks: Myles Powell is on New York’s radar
And of course, today’s pod with Jeremy Cohen:
Tweet of the Weekend
That’s it for today! #BlackLivesMatter