It's late January, which means it's time for the annual tradition of discussing just how many parts the New York Knicks should be selling off.
They have lost 14 out of 18 games after a strong start to the season, dropping them to 21-28 and four-and-a-half games out of the Eastern Conference's eighth seed. They can't defend (22nd on that end). Their offense is fine but is too reliant on the exploits of the talented but overburdened Kristaps Porzingis. They can't win on the road, either (6-19).
Entering the year with playoff aspirations was smart. Tanking can be corrosive. But given their current standing, the Knicks should be adjusting their focus.
As one scout put it to Bleacher Report, "It doesn't make sense for them to stand pat."
That, of course, doesn't mean team president Steve Mills, recently elevated to his position, and general manager Scott Perry, hired over the summer, feel the same way. But that's what will make these next couple of weeks so interesting.
The trade deadline, moved up this season to Feb. 8, is right around the corner. How the Knicks approach it will give a glimpse into how Perry and Mills view team building and whether Knicks fans should feel optimistic about the future.
There are small moves the Knicks can make to ease their rebuild.
Take Kyle O'Quinn, who opposing teams have expressed interest in, according to league sources. The 27-year-old backup center is putting up per-36-minute averages of 14.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.2 assist and 2.2 blocks. He's likely to decline his $4.3 million player option this summer, making him a free agent—one the Knicks, thanks to the presence of Porzingis and Enes Kanter, won't want or be able to pay.
O'Quinn might not net much. "I'd guess a second-round pick or an equal player at a different position," a team executive said. But not taking advantage of the market for him, even if a trade only yields a late draft choice, would be a mistake.
There are other options for the Knicks, such as Lance Thomas. Think of him as three-and-D lite. He's a solid defender, who at 6'8" can guard multiple positions. He's also drilled 38.5 percent of his triples and 54 percent of his looks from the corners.
Would a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have trouble at times finding five two-way players to share the floor, be willing to surrender a second-round pick for Thomas? You'd think a team interested in usurping the Warriors could use an extra body to toss at Kevin Durant.
The most interesting case for Mills and Perry is Courtney Lee. How they handle it will be telling.
Lee is enjoying perhaps the best year of his career, averaging a career high in points (13.7) while shooting a near-career best from deep (a scorching 43.1 percent). His defense is a bit overrated—the Knicks surrender 3.5 points more per 100 possessions with him on the floor—but he still fits that coveted three-and-D mold.
He's also a low-usage player whose skill set on both ends fits better alongside better players. He's the type of player that teams, especially ones gunning for the Warriors, are on the prowl for.
The problem? "His contract makes him tricky," the scout told Bleacher Report.
Lee, 32, is due to earn $12.3 million next season and $12.8 million in 2019-20. "If you trade for him, you know you're going to be getting the best stuff now and be overpaying on the back end," the executive said.
That might be fine if there were more teams with the cap room to absorb that number. But the cap spike two years ago, which was met with a spending bonanza, was followed by an unexpected leveling off that has left many teams across the league strapped for cash.
That makes it difficult to find a partner, and it also lowers the potential return a Lee trade could yield. Most insiders doubt Lee could land a first-round pick. So, would Perry and Mills be willing to part with one of their best players—thus sending a clear signal that the future matters more than the present—even if it were just to get off some future salary?
The answer to that question should be a resounding yes. The road to contention for the Knicks is clear: Porzingis is your guy. Rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina has a bright future. Maybe a nice lottery choice this summer.
Get young and clear cap space. Collect some draft picks, even if they're second-rounders.
The rest of the roster is expendable. Smart observers recognize this. The next few weeks will tell us whether the Knicks' brain trust does as well.