Winners All Around in Knicks-Mavs Trade for Kristaps Porzingis, and 1 Big Loser

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2019

Winners All Around in Knicks-Mavs Trade for Kristaps Porzingis, and 1 Big Loser

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski has broken the internet for the second time this week, reporting Thursday that the New York Knicks have traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks. 

    Per The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania, the Knicks will receive Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews while sending out Trey Burke, Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. as well.

    Charania also reported that Dallas will send New York two future first-round drafts picks as part of the deal.

    Although this trade season was supposed to be quiet considering a presumed imbalance of buyers to sellers, it's proved quite the opposite—up to this point—as next week's deadline inches closer. 

    With Thursday's news sending a jolt of pre-deadline excitement around the NBA world, Bleacher Report has called upon five NBA writers to break down the big winners and losers from this deal. 

Kristaps Porzingis: Winner

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Escaping the Knicks is a huge victory no matter how you look at it: Either Kristaps Porzingis requested a trade and was granted his wish, or he just received a get-out-of-dodge card without demanding or expecting it. Maybe the real answer falls somewhere in between the two.

    Porzingis has tried to apply pressure before. He skipped his exit interview with then-president Phil Jackson in 2017, which preempted trade talks ahead of the draft and, ultimately, the Zen Master's dismissal. Porzingis is not above making this power play.

    But let's think about how he arrived here. He only felt compelled to skip his exit interview because the Knicks were so devoid of direction. And then he had to endure trade rumors.

    After tearing his ACL and making his first All-Star Game last year, he wasn't given an extension. Waiting made sense for the Knicks, because it saved them more than $10 million in cap space for this summer. But they never had the goodwill built up with Porzingis for him to trust them at their word.

    And then, as this season continued to spiral out of control, Porzingis' name cropped up in the Anthony Davis rumor mill. That's part of this business, but again, New York and its best prospect since Patrick Ewing were never functionally close enough to navigate the typical ups and downs of a player-and-team relationship.

    Even the way their marriage ended reeks of malpractice. Reports that Porzingis preferred a trade leaked Thursday, and a deal with Dallas was reached soon after. We know now that the Knicks and Mavericks began their dialogue no later than Wednesday night.

    That timeline doesn't add up. It seems like the Knicks were shopping Porzingis for a while and used said Thursday meeting with Porzingis and his brother, who is also his agent, as a contrived smokescreen. Whatever, though. That's speculation. 

    Moral of the story: Porzingis should count himself lucky. It doesn't matter whether he wants to play in Dallas long-term. Nor does it matter if the Knicks go on to sign two stars and draft another. Porzingis is trading the hellscape that is Madison Square Garden for a franchise headlined by another generational talent in Luka Doncic. He wins.

    Dan Favale

Dennis Smith Jr.: Winner

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    Luka Doncic had quickly taken over the Dallas Mavericks offense, creating questions about Dennis Smith Jr.'s role and future in Dallas. He was second fiddle on a losing team. At least now he has a lead-guard job back in New York, assuming he wins it over Emmanuel Mudiay, a free agent this summer.

    Smith now looks like the Knicks' long-term starting point guard—or a piece of something special if the team is able to bring in stars with its newfound cap room. It's a win-win. A best-case scenario has the Knicks signing two max free agents, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant presumably the targets. Smith's usage would decrease, but he'd still have a key role for a winning team in New York.

    He's also started to show signs of maturation with less on-ball responsibility, which is encouraging regarding his potential to adapt and fit with the stars New York will chase. The game has slowed down for Smith, who's shooting a respectable 44.0 percent, coming off a 15-assist triple-double Wednesday night, coincidentally at Madison Square Garden.

    Even if the Knicks can't sign big names this summer, they'll still be in promising position to build with cap-room galore, their 2019 first-round draft pick, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, Mitchell Robinson and more first-round picks coming from Dallas in the trade, per The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania.

    Jonathan Wasserman

Former Knicks Guards: Winners

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    If only because the Dallas Mavericks almost have to play them—and because they escaped the perpetual machine of turmoil that the New York Knicks have become in recent years—Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. should be considered significant winners.

    The former should spend more time on the floor than he did during his final half-season with the Knicks (13.3 minutes per game in 12 appearances), so he's the bigger victor of the two. But while the latter will have to sacrifice some touches, unable to maintain as large a usage rate alongside Luka Doncic, he'll at least get to play for a competitive team that still needs secondary scorers.

    Trey Burke doesn't quite qualify as a "significant" winner, but that could change if his playing time stabilizes after fluctuating throughout the 2018-19 campaign. Learning another system isn't ideal, but at least he's another backcourt player going to a location that needs warm bodies.

    Ultimately, landing in a rotation that features Doncic, Jalen Brunson and Devin Harris as the primary incumbent guards means guaranteed playing time, so long as the shots are falling with some semblance of consistency. That the Mavericks will be financially strapped if Kristaps Porzingis signs a new deal (uncertain) while Harrison Barnes (basically a lock) and Dwight Powell (probably) pick up player options for 2019-20 only increases the length of that guarantee.

    Hardaway and Lee are both glorified role players, one a shot-creating gunner and the other a three-and-D veteran. Burke profiles as a backup point guard, even if he had a few standout games in the Big Apple to escape the category of unequivocal draft bust. When transitioning from a bottom-feeder to a squad with playoff aspirations in the near future, a probable two-year stay in the rotation has to be considered a win for the first two, while Burke was gearing up for a free-agency adventure anyway.

    Adam Fromal

Knicks' Cap Space: Winner (For Now)

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The New York Knicks have long been rumored to be chasing two maximum-salaried free agents this summer. The challenge they faced was having barely enough cap room for even a single max star. Until they agreed to the blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade with the Dallas Mavericks, that is.

    Depending on exactly where the Knicks' first-round pick falls in the NBA draft lottery in May, the team would have neared $32 million in spending power if it wanted to pair Kyrie Irving with Porzingis. 

    Why would Irving desert the Boston Celtics to play on an unproven Knicks roster with Porzingis working his way back from a significant knee injury? Now, New York can get to at least $73 million in cap space, enough to try to lure Kevin Durant from the Golden State Warriors at a maximum salary starting at $38.2 million with another $35 million to spare. That's enough to land Durant and Irving alongside Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox, with a shot at Duke's Zion Williamson in the draft.

    If Durant and/or Irving won't come, New York can chase other unrestricted free agents like Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and/or Jimmy Butler.

    Ultimately, New York's gambit will be judged by its free-agent bounty and how well Porzingis bounces back in Dallas post-injury.

    Eric Pincus

Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan: Winners

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    A lot is being made of DeAndre Jordan's friendship with Kevin Durant, whom the Knicks are known to be gearing up to pursue in free agency this summer. But the Knicks are also highly motivated to keep themselves in contention for the NBA's worst record this season for a chance to land Zion Williamson in the draft lottery.

    Wesley Matthews and Jordan, while not stars, are solid veterans. Keeping them might mean winning just enough games to put themselves at a disadvantage in the tank race. It makes more sense to buy them out, and they would immediately become two of the most impactful free agents to hit the market midseason.

    The Houston Rockets are still without starting center Clint Capela. While veteran big man Kenneth Faried, who accepted a buyout from Brooklyn earlier in January, has been a nice fill-in, Jordan becoming available for the minimum would be a game-changer for them. The same goes for the Golden State Warriors, who signed Jordan to an offer sheet in 2011 and have been connected to potential buyout candidate Robin Lopez as DeMarcus Cousins insurance.

    Matthews, too, could be a useful role player for a contender if the Knicks cut ties with him by March 1. A 38 percent three-point shooter and solid defender with a good reputation as a locker-room presence, he would be in high demand among playoff hopefuls.

    Jordan and Matthews don't fit into the Knicks' long-term plans, and if they reach the buyout stage, both could go from a likely non-playoff team in Dallas to having a chance to make postseason runs ahead of an opportunity to secure big-money deals in the summer.

    Sean Highkin

Luka Doncic: Winner

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    The Mavericks have one surefire star for the post-Dirk era. In his rookie season, Luka Doncic has been as good as advertised. The next step for Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson has been to find him a star running mate as they build around him for the future. Thursday's trade is a big bet that Kristaps Porzingis is that guy.

    The Mavs' history with big-name free agents is shaky at best, and buying low on Porzingis is as good an option as anyone else who may be available to them in free agency. If he makes a full recovery from the torn left ACL he suffered last February (there's still no word on when he'll be back on the court), he and Doncic could form a lethal tandem.

    Before the injury last season, Porzingis was shooting a career-high 39.5 percent from three-point range, and that was without a playmaker a fraction as gifted as Doncic to set him up with looks. Doncic already commands enough attention from opposing defenses to free up plenty of open shots for Porzingis, who is also a gifted enough defender to cover up Doncic's weaknesses on that end. We may not see Porzingis on the floor in a Mavericks uniform until next season, but if he's healthy, they may have found Doncic an ideal second star.

    —Highkin

Frank Ntilikina: Loser

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    With Dennis Smith Jr. coming in, Frank Ntilikina loses even more on-ball touches to develop. And at this point, 50 games into his second season, it's become time for the Knicks to find out who their 2017 lottery pick is and what he could become.

    On one hand, Ntilikina should be able to play off of Smith as a 6'6" combo guard. But given the Frenchman's struggles as a shot-creator, this new roster isn't suited for him, assuming the team moves or buys out DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews. Ntilikina needs talent to play off, and he could have less of it around him now than he had yesterday.

    And if the Knicks are able to load up this offseason by adding multiple free agents—plus their likely top-four draft pick—it could knock him out of the rotation. Ntilikina should be next in line requesting a trade and fresh start elsewhere.

    —Wasserman