New York Knicks president Leon Rose is all-in on Jalen Brunson. As of yesterday, the Knicks traded Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel‘s contracts to the Pistons. These deals are a continuation to their draft-night deal sending Kemba Walker to Detroit. According to sources it’s an open secret the Knicks are clearing cap space for Brunson.
After a perplexing evening on draft day, the Knicks held a valuable lottery pick, but ended the night without drafting anyone in the first round. They tried to trade up into the top 5 for coveted guard Jaden Ivey but were unable to close the deal. In consequence, they pivoted out of the draft. Clearly signaling they weren’t enamored by the remaining options sitting at 11. In essence, the Knicks traded their lottery pick in return for three heavily protected first round picks next year packaging Walker, Burks and Noel to clear cap space to make a run at Brunson. Let’s see if this pays off.
Knicks send the draft rights of the number 11 pick to Oklahoma for three protected heavily protected first-round picks in 2023.
Then traded back into the first round for Charlotte’s 13th pick Jalen Duren, for one of the picks they received from OKC along with four second-round picks.
New York then traded Duren and Kemba Walker and his $9 million salary to the Pistons for their conditional 2025 first-round pick originating from the Bucks.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN- the Knicks last night traded Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel including two future second-round picks, and a $6 million incentive. Thus clearing a further 19 million on top of the $9 million they shed from dealing Walker.
There is no secret that the Knicks are desperate to land Brunson in free agency. Point guard is a perennial problem position for the Knicks over the last decade, and it appears that the front office is trying to solve the problem this offseason. Brunson starred in the playoffs beside Luca Doncic for the Mavs. In the playoffs, Brunson averaged 21 points per game and showed his scoring and playmaking prowess with multiple 30+ point scoring efforts.
Knicks reps rankled Mavs officials by sitting courtside at one of their playoff games. They’ve now gone a step further by hiring his father Rick Brunson as an assistant coach this year.
According to multiple sources the Mavs are resigned to Brunson leaving for the Knicks when free agency opens. Despite being able to offer an extra year, it appears the opportunity to be the main playmaker, and his father as an assistant, put the Knicks over the top. New York’s offer is thought to be above $100 million over 4 years when free agency opens.
Without question, Brunson is their best option in free agency, and it would be a very solid signing if he came to New York. He’d be the best point guard the Knicks have had in well over a decade, stepping in as their primary playmaker.
Averaging 16 points and 4 assists over the regular season, he’s a nice player but he’s not a number one option on a contending team. However, he’d still be a considerable coup, shooting 50% from the field this year. He’d certainly be a step in the right direction, I just question why some of the cap space had to be at the expense of a lottery pick.
New York were in on Jaden Ivey negotiating until the 11th hour to attempt to trade up and land him. However the Knicks clearly didn’t have desirable assets to force the Pistons to part ways with Ivey.
This is the harsh reality for Leon Rose and the Knicks, they are light in desirable assets. You can count on one hand the number of players in their team that has desirable value in this league. This is why they had to attach draft assets to move three players they signed only a year ago, without any player return. New York are very much still at the talent acquisition stage. This is why it’s quite surprising the Knicks chose to walk away from the first round of the draft altogether.
Whilst arguably there wasn’t a ready-made prospect available after Ivey and Benedict Mathurin were off the board- there was still intriguing talent available. Local White Plains product AJ Griffin was an option. Arguably the best shooter in the entire draft at 16.
Ochai Agbaji, who went at 14 to the Cavs, starred for Kansas the best college team in the country. He was appealing with his ability to switch and guard multiple positions, and shooting over 40% from 3. Another underrated wing Malaki Branham went at 20 to the Spurs.
There were also two excellent Centers in Jalen Duren and Mark Williams. Both great rim protectors and would likely surpass Mitchell Robinson on the offensive end. Robinson is due to command a significant pay-rise as a free agent this year. Since the Knicks are conscious of their salary cap, this would have been an option to save money by drafting a center and letting Robinson walk.
President Leon Rose could have sold to the fans trading down, acquiring further assets and save dollars in the cap. However walking away altogether is a tough sell for a rebuilding team. Quality teams rebuild through the draft, not in free agency. Continuing their muddled approach to team building.
President Leon Rose’s tenure can best be described as muddled and inconsistent. From passing on Tyrese Haliburton, drafting exciting forward Obi Toppin, but blocking his progress by giving Julius Randle a max deal to play his position. Furthermore using the Knicks record cap space last year on Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel. Its fair to say this wasn’t the best use of resource. Fournier had a solid year, but is a better fit in a scoring role off the bench.
Leon Rose has now had to attach a first-round pick just to rid themselves of his Walker misjudgment, with no return from Burks and Noel apart from cap space.
It was not a great sign that they sat out on deadline day last year. With the Knicks stuck in no-mans land; not good enough for a play-in but not bad enough to be a high lottery team, they chose to not make a move. With the only deal being for Cam Reddish, who coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t want.
It’s vitally important for a front office to have one coherent vision and stick to it. Currently, the Knicks appear stuck trying to rebuild but also trying to compete at the same time.
In fairness to Rose, his plan worked two years ago on their way to the playoffs. Particularly drafting Immanuel Quickley, one of the steals of his draft class. Trading for Derrick Rose was key. He’s also put good basketball men around him, and the player development has been much better. Mitchell Robinson had a solid year and R.J Barrett has improved exponentially on the way to becoming the Knicks best player. Randle had an all-pro year two years ago, before thundering back down to earth.
Inconsistent is the best way to describe Rose’s tenure. Player Development is there, but his free agency misjudgments have been costly.
New York were in the sweepstakes for transcendent point guard Dejounte Murray of the Spurs via trade. However, he’s now been traded to the Hawks.
Malcolm Brogdon who the Pacers have made available for a trade may be a backup option. Brogdon is a very talented player, and his average of 19 points per game and 6 assists attests to his talents. However his injury history is significant- playing only 33 games last year for the Pacers. When healthy he is very much a lead guard, but his health remains a question. He is owed around $22million in salary.
New York are desperately looking for a superstar to elevate this team, and have numerous draft assets. However the heavy protection in their picks next year diminishes the value of these picks somewhat.
Their dream scenario is to trade for native New Yorker, and bona fide star Donovan Mitchell. It is rumored he’s unhappy in Utah. However outside R.J. Barrett and Quickley or Toppin (players the Knicks would prefer to keep) it’s hard to see what would interest Utah. Randle’s struggles on and off the court last year diminishes his value. It’s clear that Mitchell is the dream for the Knicks front office, they atleast have the draft assets to start a conversation however.
By dealing Noel and Burks, New York have opened up a ton of cap space to rebuild this team. After a disappointing year last year, it was intrinsic on the front office to make serious moves. We can talk about the huge mistake it was to re-sign Nerlens Noel last year for barely touching the court. However, the Knicks did well to find a team willing to absorb his deal. Burks had more value, as a 3-D combo guard/wing. He was played out of position at point guard last year by Tom Thibodeau, hurting his value significantly.
Brunson signed a four-year deal worth $104 million. Although the proposed contract is steep, it’s still worth it. New York are desperate for a point guard, and free agency will always lead teams to overpay. However, with the cap due to increase over the years, it will likely be seen as a reasonable deal for a point guard in his prime, as long as he continues to improve.
As mentioned, however, this cannot be the Knicks’ last move. Brunson alone won’t put this Knicks team back in playoff contention. Look for further trades to be made. New York will be watching Utah with interest to see if Donovan Mitchell makes himself available. I also expect the Knicks to gauge Julius Randle‘s market.
Knicks clearing cap space for Brunson is the first step, now they need to add the right pieces around him and R.J Barrett.