Transactions: The Porzingis Trade

Knicks trade Kristaps Porzingis, Trey Burke, Courtney Lee, and Tim Hardaway Jr. to Mavericks for Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, and a first-round pick [update: two first-round picks, 2021 and 2023].

Well this came out of nowhere.  To date, the Knicks’ plan was to stink and get a good pick in the 2019 draft and then use that pick plus Porzingis to help woo a big free agent.  The Knicks have exceeded the stink part beyond our wildest expectations.   The question is whether the Knicks are better off now than they were before the trade on the free agent wooing front.  On the surface, it seems that they are not.  Let’s take a look….

The Knicks are almost certain to buyout Jordan and Matthews, two older vets who do nothing to push the Knicks tank job forward.  They both are free agents at the end of the year and are both probably desperate enough to play for a contender and establish their value to give the Knicks a decent discount.

That leaves the Knicks with Smith, a first-rounder (it is not clear how high the pick will be but we will assume it is middle of the pack) [update: two picks one, with potential upside], and loads of cap room by getting rid of Hardaway’s somewhat big contract.

Smith is young (21), cost controlled for a couple of years, and an electric athlete.  Alas, the advanced stats really don’t like him yet.  Smith is a ball-dominant guard and bad shooter.  The perception is that Smith has regressed a bit this season because Luka Doncic has (rightly) been the center of the Mavs’ offense.  This leaves Smith with the following current advanced stats: 11.6 PER, 0.4 WS, -2.0 BPM, 0.0 VORP.  But the perception isn’t totally correct.  Really, Smith wasn’t much better by advanced stats last year (and was actually worse in VORP and BPM).  On top of that, Smith’s mini-melt down where the team had to sit him down because he was upset about his reduced role does not inspire confidence either.  So, there is a potential that Smith might breakout but, on a whole, he is not a great value at this point.

The Knicks also get the ability to offer a second player a max slot.  If the Knicks wanted, they could sign Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis this summer.  That would certainly be worth trading Porzingis for but it does not seem likely that two superstars would want to come to a Knick team with little talent (save their current lottery pick) and with a management that has been shaky.

It is true that Porzingis is coming off of a bad injury and hasn’t been happy, but he there is no reason to think he won’t be the same player or that they could not re-sign him as a restricted free agent.  Unless the Knicks are sure that Porzingis’ recovery is more complicated than it seems or they are sure they can bag a second star free agent without Porzingis (and there is no evidence of that now), then the Knicks have slid back a bit.  Even if the Knicks were sure that Porzingis needed to go, it does not seem that getting Smith and a pick is anywhere near a commensurate return in value.

As for the Mavs, even if Porzingis isn’t quite the same player he was, Dallas comes out way ahead.  The Mavs must be pretty thrilled to get another high ceiling playing for the cost of a first-rounder, a guard they didn’t want anymore, and assuming Hardaway’s contract (two more years at about $18.5 million per).  The Mavs can now offer a future line up of Doncic, Hardaway, Harrison Barnes, Porzingis, and Dwight Powell/Maxi Kleber.   With minor tweaks, that could be a pretty good team.


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