Knicks trade former first-rounder to Pacers, stockpile more picks for a potential big splash

Obi Toppin, New York Knicks
Apr 2, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin (1) reacts during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more anticipated moves of the offseason for the Knicks finally came to fruition as the Knicks traded 2021 1st Round Pick Obi Toppin to the Indiana Pacers. In return, the Knicks will be receiving two future second-round picks, although because free agency hasn’t officially begun, the trade isn’t official until Thursday.

A tough loss for the locker room, Toppin was a well-respected teammate in New York, although the lack of playing time because of the emergence of two-time All-Star Julius Randle may have caused some friction. Toppin averaged 7.4 points per game on a 56.5% TS%, becoming more of a catch-and-shoot option in the corner despite the fact that he really isn’t much of a floor spacer. For a win now Knicks team, they needed to add more shooting and defense at the position, and for Obi Toppin, he needs an opportunity to consistently start.

Opening Up Cap Space and Roster Spots for the Knicks

The Knicks are currently in pursuit of Donte DiVincenzo, who would add some shooting and defense to the Knicks at a critical position. We also know of their rumored interest in James Harden and Paul George, although the Clippers’ interest in James Harden and Philadelphia’s interest in Damian Lillard created conflicting interest in what these teams are going to do. The Knicks, who opened up some cap space by dealing Toppin, load up on some extra trade assets in the form of second-rounders and try to better position themselves to make a big splash.

They’re also going to need to find a backup for Julius Randle, since that’s the role Toppin played, and the Knicks aren’t particularly deep at the position. Fortunately, the offseason still has some options available, and the Knicks’ interest in names like Paul George and James Harden could get them tangled in a deal where they not only land the star they’re seeking but also land a bench piece who better fits Toppin’s role.

It’s clear that Toppin’s inability to consistently play defense or contribute on offense caused the rift in playing time, although the touches available weren’t enough to truly evaluate Toppin. With the emergence of Julius Randle as a two-time All-NBA and two-time All-Star forward, it was hard to find a lane to start Toppin, as even with the struggles in the postseason, Randle’s regular season play is a massive reason why the Knicks have two playoff berths in the past three seasons.

julius randle, knicks
May 2, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) reacts during the fourth quarter of game two of the 2023 NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoffs against the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks will look to add better off-ball players that fit their system better, and Toppin will join fellow 2021 draftee Tyrese Haliburton in Indiana, where he looks to carve out a permanent starting role in the NBA. Quietly the Knicks also freed up north of $5 million in cap space, which is a nice cherry on top of the situation. This trade isn’t an indictment on Toppin or the Knicks’ playing time, but rather a split that will serve to better both parties involved.