‘It is “Deadline Day”!’ So screamed ESPN radio host Jon ‘Stugotz’ Weiner of the ESPN’s Dan Lebatard Show with Stugotz. Weiner was speaking of the NBA Trade deadline being Thursday at 3 pm Eastern Time. While it’s safe to say all teams attempted to improve their standing one way or the other, some moves appeared more impactful than others. Some teams were more successful than others. This article seeks to look at the New Knicks and LA Lakers’ motives through their transactions and peer into future, sort of.
The Lakers positioned themselves well for the future
The LA Lakers led by President Earvin “Magic” Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka arguably had the best day at the deadline. Pelinka a longtime agent and former player himself proved his worth by trading Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavaliers for veteran forward Channing Frye point guard Isaiah Thomas and a top-three protected 2018 first-round draft pick. This draft pick is especially important because didn’t have one in the upcoming draft. While the chances of this pick becoming a lottery pick are as good as living to see a second passing of Halley’s Comet, Pelinka, and the Lakers proved they can unearth diamonds in the draft. Just last year, the Lakers selected Kyle Kuzma with the 27th overall pick (following the Brook Lopez, D’Angelo Russell trade) andJosh Hart with the 30th pick (trade with the Utah Jazz).
While acquiring the draft pick is incredibly significant, there are other forces at play here. Frye and Thomas are in the final year of their respective contracts, thus making them free-agents at season’s end. Lopez is also in the same situation. This is important because it allows the Lakers the chance at freeing up two (2) max salary slots in the off-season. That means, the Lakers can sign two free agent superstars this off-season.
Pelinka and Johnson addressed the media prior to the Laker’s shootaround Thursday. “This trade hit on all fronts,” Pelinka said. “If you look at the pathway to the great, great teams and success in the NBA, most of the time it’s through a road where a team has great flexibility and draft assets to seize opportunities to get the elite players in the game. I think we, probably, more than any organization in the NBA right now, have the healthiest salary structure, the healthiest flexibility.” Pelinka continued, “We now have in July of 2018 and July of 2019, 100 percent space to do two max players if that’s what we decide to do … the flexibility is really amazing.”
“First, we want to get back to the playoffs,” Johnson stated excitedly. “Then, we want to get back to being a championship team. This gives us the flexibility to achieve those things. This is what I came here to do, is to create flexibility for our organization, so that one day, we can have a superstar or two come to this organization with our incredible young talent that we have that we will continue to grow.”
The Knicks acquire a talented guard
KNICKS ACQUIRE EMMANUEL MUDIAY IN THREE-TEAM DEAL pic.twitter.com/5mqHKiiw4P
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) February 9, 2018
In an uncharacteristically brilliant move, the New York Knicks acquired point guard Emmanuel Mudiay from the Denver Nuggets. This was part of a three-team trade which included the Dallas Mavericks. The Knicks sent its 2018 second-round pick to the Nuggets and forward Doug McDermott to the Mavericks. That is a small price to pay for a considerable talent. The former lottery pick Mudiay never found favor in the eyes of Nuggets coach Michael Malone, and as a result, the Nuggets drafted Jamal Murray one year later.
Mudiay who has not spoken to the Denver media all season thus far, took to Twitter to express his excitement.
— Emmanuel Mudiay (@emmanuelmudiay) February 9, 2018
He (Mudiay) also thanked the Nuggets in a separate message.
In recent memory, the New York Knicks are thought of as an organization with ‘Delusions of Grandeur’. Truthfully that can be said of all New York sports teams. However, the recent long-term injury of All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks front office is forced to think ahead. Prior to last season, they traded for Derrick Rose and signed Joakim Noah to a memorably awful contract. Thus forming a “super team” according to Rose. Results went as expected, poorly.
Since the departure of Phil Jackson and the arrival of Scott Perry, the Knicks has shown considerable restraint. Either that or a lack of cap-space due to the aforementioned Noah contract. Recently, the Knicks traded Willy Hernangomez to the Charlotte Hornets for 2 future second-round picks and Johnny O’Bryant (who they plan to waive). One might argue that with the Porzingis injury, Hernangomez would’ve seen more playing time, but alas it’s the Knicks.
In one of his last moves as President, Jackson drafted point guard Frank Ntilikina out of France. Many would question, why acquire Mudiay then? The answer is simple. Ntilikina and Mudiay do different things well, thus potentially complementing each other. Quick example, Mudiay was an atrocious defender in Denver, last among NBA point guards in defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team success on that end of the floor. Ntilikina is considerably better, ranking second among Knicks guards in defensive box plus-minus and third in steals.
Most importantly the Knicks front office is excited about Mudiay fitting in. In the official release announcing the Mudiay acquisition, General Manager Scott Perry said, “We welcome Emmanuel to New York and are excited to add this talented player to our roster. He is a young, athletic guard who we feel will be a valuable addition to the Knicks moving forward.” Or will noted ESPN gas-bag and Knicks fanboy Stephen A Smith go on his radio show, or First Take, or Sportscenter, and be his usual petulant critical self? Remember him on the Porzingis pick? How about Ntilikina? One thing is certain, the Knicks as a franchise will be entertaining to watch.
The NBA is better when the fanbases of the Lakers and Knicks believe they have a chance. New York and LA are the two largest commercial markets in the United States and as a result much publicised. Imagine if the Boston renaissance or the Warriors revolution was taking place in either New York or LA. One wonders.
Also, it must be stated that nothing is guaranteed in professional sport. Look at the New Orleans Pelicans’ center DeMarcus Cousins (injured in his career and contract year). One wonders if he’d ever return to his pre-injury form. Better still take Isaiah Thomas. In less than one calendar year, Thomas is playing for his third team. This after being named to the All-NBA second team just last May. Thomas was twice traded now and his ambition of becoming a max salary player seems like an impossible notion. Remember those Brink’s Truck flip-flops?