Could the Knicks cough up more than 2 first-round picks for Utah big man?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz, knicks
Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are actively searching the trade market for a big man, having recently shown interest in Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler and Charlotte Hornets big man Nick Richards.

Could the Knicks Make a Push for Walker Kessler?

Ian Begley of SNY recently reported that Utah wanted a first-round pick in exchange for Kessler but that the team had actually declined two first-round selections. This indicates that the Knicks may need to look elsewhere to find a reliable partner alongside Mitchell Robinson, who has a history of health issues.

Walker Kessler, Knicks
Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Knicks’ Draft Capital and Contract Leverage

The Knicks possess significant draft capital, holding two first-round picks in 2025 (both protected if the Pistons and Wizards finish in the top 10), and the majority of their talent is under contract for a few more years.

Kessler, only 22 and heading into his third season, showed promise last year with averages of 8.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and a .654 field goal percentage. With a defensive rating of 114.5 last season, Kessler’s potential could be further realized on a team like New York, which has recently bolstered its defense by adding Mikal Bridges and extending OG Anunoby.

Financial Considerations and Alternative Options

Kessler is set to earn just under $3 million next season on a club option, with another option for the 2025–26 season at $4.88 million, making him an affordable asset.

While the Knicks could consider more costly alternatives like Brook Lopez, who commands a $23 million salary, the Milwaukee Bucks’ demand for a first-round pick may deter New York. Another potential target could be Jalen Duren of the Detroit Pistons, though Detroit seems intent on building around him and Cade Cunningham.

Dec 13, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (24) dunks the ball against the New York Knicks during the third quarter at Delta Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Assessing Kessler’s Fit with the Knicks

Kessler represents a viable option, although he doesn’t offer the same skills as Isaiah Hartenstein did last season. However, with the addition of Bridges, who can handle the ball and create opportunities, the Knicks are not in dire need of a center who can play make. Furthermore, the drafting of Tyler Kolek, a floor general from Marquette, in the second round addresses their need for elite passing, which Hartenstein’s departure made less critical.

The Quest for a Defensive Anchor

Now, the Knicks primarily need another big man who can rebound effectively and play staunch defense. Kessler, who ranked third in Rookie of the Year voting during the 2022–23 season and has consistently played at least 64 games over two seasons, seems to fit the bill perfectly. With Robinson’s inconsistent availability, Kessler’s durability and defensive prowess make him an attractive target, but the Knicks must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to secure his services.

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