Salary-Dump Trade Targets for New York Knicks

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2020

Washington Wizards' John Wall celebrates during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Under new president and former agent Leon Rose, the New York Knicks may have finally converted to the religion of the full-scale rebuild.

According to SNY's Ian Begley, New York may be willing to employ an asset-accumulating tactic other sub-.500 teams have used in recent years.

"A note on the offseason: several teams said the Knicks are open to using their cap space to take on undesirable contracts via trade," Begley wrote. "The Knicks, who told teams recently they'd be open to taking on a bad contract, have not made decisions on any players with options yet."

Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson and Wayne Ellington have team options for 2020-21. Declining all three would open up $34.2 million in cap space.

According to Yahoo Sports' Keith Smith, they can get to a max of nearly $50 million in space, assuming a projection for a $109 million salary cap holds. And that would make them one of just three teams with enough room for a max contract this offseason.

In a year almost devoid of free-agent star power—Anthony Davis figures to re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, and it's tough to imagine the New Orleans Pelicans not matching whatever offer Brandon Ingram signs in restricted free agency—the Knicks have a unique opportunity to use that cap space creatively.

Assuming it can't land a big-name difference-maker somehow, if a team is willing to attach a draft pick or a prospect to a bad contract, New York should seriously consider pulling the trigger.

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Here are a few such possibilities.

                   

John Wall

Al Drago/Associated Press

Through no fault of his own, five-time All-Star John Wall is on one of the most onerous contracts in the NBA. The 30-year-old point guard has largely depended on his speed throughout his career. And on top of a ruptured Achilles in early 2019, Wall has undergone various surgeries on his knees and feet.

Unless he pulls a Jason Kidd and develops a three-point shot for the second half of his career, the effects of all those injuries could seriously limit Wall's NBA twilight. That, in turn, could seriously hamper the Washington Wizards' flexibility.

Wall is under contract through the 2022-23 season, when he has a $46.9 million player option. Next season alone, his $40.8 million takes up 37.5 percent of the projected cap. And Davis Bertans is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Now, if you're thinking in terms of name value, prioritizing Bertans over Wall probably seems absurd. But the former is three years younger, will cost less and fits brilliantly with Bradley Beal.

When those two were on the floor in 2019-20, Washington scored 121.7 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile). Pairing a three-level scorer like Beal with one of the game's very best floor spacers gave a team without many other great offensive weapons great offensive output.

If the Wizards want to build a contender during Beal's prime, they might need to find a taker for Wall's contract and surround the younger guard with other complementary pieces.

Cue the Knicks.

Ideally, they'd want a salary-dumped deal that was a bit shorter, but perhaps Washington's No. 9 pick this November would ease that sting.

This doesn't figure to be a star-studded draft, so the Wizards could probably justify moving back if it meant increased flexibility going forward.

Mechanically, New York could decline the options on two of Portis, Gibson and Ellington, then trade the expiring contract of whomever is left to Washington with the No. 27 pick for Wall and No. 9.

                          

Russell Westbrook

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets went beyond all-in when they traded Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps for Russell Westbrook

It may be a little too early to declare the move a bust, but the first year didn't help defenders of the deal. CP3 was 14th in the league in box plus/minus this season. Westbrook was 61st.

And the latter struggled to fit alongside face-of-the-franchise James Harden. The Rockets were better when Harden played without Westbrook than they were when those two were together.

Of course, the team seemingly found a key to efficiency in Westbrook that no one had before: play him without a center. Clearing the middle of the floor opened up driving lanes that previously weren't there. Attacking those instead of hoisting pull-up jumpers worked wonders for Westbrook.

Is that a recipe for real success in the Western Conference, though?

Sure, it's great for Westbrook individually, but Houston's side of the playoff bracket is likely to include AD and Nikola Jokic for the foreseeable future. When Westbrook's contract expires in 2023, those two will be 30 and 28, respectively.

If the Rockets look to unload Russ just one year after this experiment started, it'd be tough to fault them. The thing is, they just unloaded the cupboard of future draft assets to bring him to Houston.

That means this particular scenario would deviate a bit from the description up top. But even without a first-rounder attached, moving Westbrook to the Knicks would scream salary dump.

Optics probably prevent this one, though, even if Begley reported New York has some interest in Russ.

Westbrook was the MVP just three years ago, and Houston moved heaven and earth to acquire. Even if a new direction might make sense for the team, it'd be hard to find it without Westbrook and any trade assets necessary to find someone to replace him.

                      

Al Horford

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The Philadelphia 76ers have one of the worst cap situations in the NBA. Sure, you can wrap your head around the individual contracts of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, even if you don't love the on-court fit for those two.

Tobias Harris and Al Horford, on the other hand, could seriously hamper Philly's ability to build around the star duo.

Harris is under contract through 2023-24, when he's set to make just under $41 million. He just finished 81st in 2019-20 box plus/minus. And 34-year-old Horford is on the books through 2022-23, though only $14.5 of his $26.5 million that season is fully guaranteed.

When those two shared the floor with Simmons and Embiid, Philly was a far-from-inspiring plus-0.6 points per 100 possessions. It was just too crowded. When Horford, a career barely-above-average three-point shooter, is your best floor spacer, your lineup has a problem.

The Sixers' superstars need to be surrounded by shooting, but it'll be almost impossible to sign any with cap space spoken for through 2023.

Unloading at least one of Harris or Horford would give the organization a bit more wiggle room. And that might be worth losing a late first-rounder in this particular draft.

Horford and No. 21 for Wayne Ellington makes sense. Not only does it offload the bad contract, there's an outside chance Ellington could get healthy and provide some spacing for Simmons and Embiid.

For the Knicks, it's about getting as many swings as possible for a first-round hit. 

                     

Salary information and other stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and Cleaning The Glass.