The New York Knicks were recently reported to have had discussions with the Clippers about a trade for Paul George. Discussions is a fairly loose term. George may or may not even be available. The Clippers remain in championship-chase mode until we hear something real to the contrary.
That's beside the point at the moment. For now, the Knicks are going to be at least loosely mentioned in every fake-trade scenario that Twitter can dream up.
And for good reason. Over the next seven years, New York controls 11 first-round draft picks (all seven of their own, plus four via trades), seven of which would be trade eligible in compliance with the Stepien rule, which mandates that a team cannot go consecutive years without a first-round pick.
Combine that with a bevy of quality young players (RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein), along with Evan Fournier's $18.8M salary for matching purposes (Julius Randle could, in a perfect world, be another salary matcher at $25.6M next year and $27.5M in 2024-25), and that's a lot of dry powder sitting in the Knicks' musket.
They haven't pulled the trigger yet. They passed on Donovan Mitchell when the price ran too high, and they'd be smart to continue resisting the get-rich-quick impulse. They have a good thing going. Same as the Timberwolves had a good thing going before they fired off a Rudy Gobert trade that has since put the bust in blockbuster.
New York's roster is relatively cost-controlled (nobody is making huge money, and dumping Derrick Rose gets them sufficiently under the tax), deep with quality, young players, and resides on the solid foundation of Jalen Brunson, the biggest bargain in the league. If Randle plays to his regular-season standard against the Heat, you can squint and see the Knicks in last year's conference finals.
But we know that's deceiving. That's the kind of matchup-based logic that led the Hawks to believe they were an actual conference finals team in 2021. The last two years have proven otherwise. The Knicks, at present, are a run-of-the-mill playoff team.
And that's great! This is an organization that has won exactly two playoff series this century. Last season was one of them. It's fine to revel in relevancy for a minute. A trade is coming. The only question is when.
In fact, there's a good chance that multiple trades are coming. Seven picks and all those young players can easily facilitate two or even three meaningful moves. My colleague Sam Quinn suggested this one to me in our Slack chat:
Whether you think George and LaVine, both of whom have been reported to be available, in the place of Barrett, Randle, Grimes and Hartenstein represents enough of an upgrade to vault the Knicks into legit contention, or whether this would even be enough of a package to get the Clippers or Chicago thinking seriously, is a matter of opinion. The point is to illustrate just how much ammo the Knicks possess.
In that fake trade, the Knicks would be giving up five first-round picks. That still would leave them with two trade-eligible first-rounders and six overall first-rounders over the next seven years. Swap out LaVine and maybe Karl-Anthony Towns could be had for three picks. Maybe Toronto offers up OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam. I could insert twenty names here. Hell, Zion Williamson might come across the wire. The Knicks want to be, and largely are, ready for all possibilities.
A note on the picks New York owns via trade: The picks from Dallas (top-10 protected in 2024 and 2025) and Milwaukee (top-four protected in 2025) are likely to convey, but to be fair the 2024 first-round picks that New York owns via Washington and Detroit are pretty protected and may well end up conveying as second rounders. Still, the Knicks are loaded.
In the meantime, the non-marquee moves will assume center stage. Call them opening acts. Let's start with Josh Hart, who cost the Knicks their 2023 first-round pick at the deadline and proved well worth it as a do-it-all force of energy who can even, depending on the night, sometimes shoot. For that situation, here's the breakdown from ESPN's Bobby Marks:
Hart has until June 29 to decline his $12.9 million player option. Because the contract becomes non-guaranteed if he opts-in, the likely scenario is that he enters free agency and seeks a long-term deal. A contract starting in the $16 million to $17 million range gives New York flexibility to remain under the $162 million tax threshold. There is also a scenario where Hart opts-in (New York would then guarantee the contract) and then extends on Aug. 10 for up to four years and $81.2 million. This would allow New York to use at least $7 million of its non-tax midlevel and remain below the tax.
It's the Hart-type players, another one of which could be acquired with the full MLE if Hart opts in for this season and waits until August to extend long-term (Donte DiVincenzo is reportedly on the radar), that keep the Knicks on track in the immediacy before providing the proper support for a contender down the line.
How the Hart deal is handled could signal whether the Knicks are prioritizing short-term cash or long-term flexibility. To that point, the "at least" $7M part of Marks' MLE explanation above is important. The Knicks wouldn't have to use the whole $12.4M MLE, and using as little of it as possible would keep them farther from the hard cap that using it in the first place would likely trigger.
Why would a hard cap matter? Well, if some disgruntled star becomes available, the Knicks don't want to run up against a salary ceiling that prevents them from making a deal. That bullet has to be ready to fire at all times given the Knicks' desire to do so and the unpredictability of when the right opportunity will arise.
These are cap mechanics way beyond my pay grade, but just know that it's the reason that Hart and the team agreed to extend the deadline decision on his option; it's the first big domino that will have trickle-down effects one way or another.
The Knicks are looking at the whole picture, potentially even years down the road. The big move is there to be made, but we've seen a lot of these big moves fail. Just look across town at the Nets, who managed to win all of one playoff series with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on the roster.
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We mentioned the Gobert bust in Minnesota. Dejounte Murray cost Atlanta four first-rounders and, in terms of wins, didn't add a damn thing. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who cost the Clippers vital organs, have never shared the court beyond the second round. The Cavaliers traded for Mitchell and got bounced in the first round. By the Knicks.
It's not to say a single move can't be the one that puts you over the top. The Lakers traded the farm for Anthony Davis and won a title. The Bucks paid big for Jrue Holiday and won a title. Important distinction: They had LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo in place. You have one of those guys, you could have an otherwise empty roster and still be one trade away.
The Knicks don't have that. Brunson is very good, but he needs more than one more piece. He either needs another All-Star (not Randle, sorry) plus a deep complement of support staff, or multiple All-Star level guys who could be acquired without completely depleting depth.
The Knicks have roads to both destinations, but they have to be navigated properly. Carefully. They've done well to operate beneath the speed limit so far. But at some point, they're going to punch the gas. It's not a matter of if. It's only a matter of when.