With two open roster spots in the wake of the Josh Hart trade, the New York Knicks have activated their two-way players Trevor Keels and Daquan Jeffries for Friday night’s road game in Philadelphia, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic.
Two-way players are allowed to be on the NBA team’s active list for a maximum of 50 games during the regular season.
The move made sense for the Knicks, who are just $3.2 million below tax after acquiring Hart from the Portland Trail Blazers in a 3-for-1 trade. The Knicks sent Cam Reddish, Ryan Arcidiacono, Svi Mykhailiuk, and a lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick to the Trail Blazers, who expanded the deal into a multi-team trade involving Charlotte and Philadelphia.
Mykhailiuk was rerouted to the Hornets with added draft compensation, while the 76ers netted Jalen McDaniels. The Knicks also acquired the draft rights of Montenegrin center Bojan Dubljevi?, the team captain of Valencia in the Spanish and Euroleague, and Spanish forward Daniel Díez. Both Euroleague stashed players are not likely to play in the NBA.
Hart is listed as out in the latest official status report as of 11:30 a.m.
But New York coach Tom Thibodeau couldn’t hide his excitement despite playing coy with reporters after Thursday’s practice in Philadelphia.
“I have great respect for him. He’s been a top-flight competitor in the league for a long time, and he brings a lot of intangibles to the game,” Thibodeau said about Hart before the trade was officially announced.
Hart was Leon Rose’s former client at CAA. He now shares an agent with Julius Randle, Isaiah Hartenstein, and his college teammate, Jalen Brunson.
“We are excited to add Josh Hart to our Knicks family,” Rose, the current Knicks president, said in a statement. “He’s a versatile two-way player who brings toughness, veteran leadership and a competitive edge to our roster.”
Hart was highly regarded in Portland, but the Trail Blazers were focused on retaining Jerami Grant, who declined a $112 million contract extension for a larger deal in the offseason.
Hart has a $12.9 million player option which he will likely decline in the summer to earn a more lucrative contract. But the Knicks have the upper hand as they also acquired Hart’s Bird rights, meaning they can go over the cap to retain him beyond this season if he doesn’t pick his player option.
The 6-foot-5 Hart is one of the leading rebounding guards in the league, averaging a career-high 8.2 rebounds in 51 games for Portland this season.
Hart’s rebounding prowess was one of the guard’s attributes that drew the Knicks to trade for him.
“The volume of 3s has changed that aspect of it because of the long rebounds,” Thibodeau said. “So I think that’s become important. I think we’ve always put a premium on the rebounding — we always say the defense, the rebounding and low turnovers puts you in position to win. And when you see teams taking 50 3s, and then those long rebounds, they’re important. They’re critical.”
Hart also normed 9.5 points, 3.9 assists, and 1.1 steals over a career-best 33.4 minutes with the Trail Blazers as a key starter.
It will be interesting to see where those minutes will come from in New York as Thibodeau is set with a nine-man rotation and none of them were included in the trade.
“We’ll see,” Thibodeau said. “Once the deal is official we’ll take a look at all the possibilities. And then we’ll do what we think is best for the team, what gives us the best chance to win. It won’t change from that standpoint. You always look at, here’s the personnel we have, what gives us the best chance to win, what makes the most sense? And then continue to ask everyone to make sacrifices because that’s what a winning team does.”
If Thibodeau doesn’t expand his rotation to 10, the most logical choice to be bumped off is second-year guard Miles McBride, averaging 15.5 minutes since he became part of the regular rotation on Dec. 4 against Cleveland. The rest of Hart’s playing time will have to come from Quentin Grimes (35.0 minutes), RJ Barrett (36.1 minutes), and Immanuel Quickley (31.5 minutes).
Hart’s arrival bolsters the Knicks’ roster whether he starts or comes off the bench. If he starts, Grimes will likely return to the second unit. If not, Hart will form a strong backcourt with Quickley, who has tremendously improved as a perimeter defender and rebounder in his third year, in the second unit. Either way, the Knicks bench will get a much-needed boost on both ends.
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