Report: Knicks emerge as legitimate trade suitor for CJ McCollum

New York Knicks, CJ McCollum
Aug 22, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) celebrates after scoring against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first half in game three of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With four days left before the trade deadline, the New York Knicks appear to be pivoting from seller’s mode and scrambling to salvage this season.

The Knicks have reportedly shown strong interest to acquire Portland’s CJ McCollum, viewed as a win-now move.

“Two rival teams say that the Knicks are emerging as a legitimate trade suitor for Portland’s CJ McCollum. The Pelicans, until now, have been most frequently mentioned as the leaders of the McCollum chase if another trade materializes for the Trail Blazers after their Friday deal with the LA Clippers to send out Norman Powell and Robert Covington,” Stein wrote on his substack newsletter Monday.

The 30-year old McCollum has successfully recovered from a collapsed lung and is averaging 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists with a 44/39/71 shooting split over 36 games so far this season. But his scoring average is his lowest since his sophomore season and the emergence of Anfernee Simons has made him expendable.

The Trail Blazers have traded away veterans Norman Powell and Robert Covington to put them under the luxury tax. Trading away McCollum for expiring salaries and future assets will give them cap flexibility to reshape their roster around Damian Lillard and Simons.

The Knicks have veterans on team-friendly contracts and assets to lure Portland. But they have a strong competition in the Pelicans who are willing to move their most attractive asset Josh Hart, a young and emerging two-way player who is on a current three-year deal worth $37.9 million with the last year as a club option.

McCollum is on the first year of a three-year, $100-million extension. But at 30 years old, the scoring guard might be on a decline with several injuries — from sprains in both knees and multiple left foot injuries — hampered his availability over the last few years. He also played through a fracture in his spine during the NBA’s truncated Orlando bubble.

The Knicks seem desperate to salvage this season. They are five games out of .500 but still in the running for a play-in spot in the competitive Eastern Conference. 

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out, especially with the Knicks visiting Portland two days after the trade deadline.

Another important thing to note on Stein’s report is Toronto’s willingness to attach a draft pick to Goran Dragic’s expiring salary. This is the kind of deal that this present Knicks front office had leveraged in the past. The Cavaliers’ package to acquire Caris LeVert from Indiana has inspired the Raptors to structure a similar deal around Dragic’s expiring salary.

“League sources say Toronto is exploring its trade options with the similar base offer of a first-round pick attached to Goran Dragic’s $19.4 million expiring deal,” Stein wrote.

The Raptors are reportedly seeking a center to fortify their Pascal Siakam-OG Anunoby-Fred VanVleet-Gary Trent Jr.-Scottie Barnes core. They have also been linked to Atlanta Hawks’ Danilo Gallinari, meaning the Raptors are also in the market for scoring punch off the bench.

The Knicks have a slew of veterans on team-friendly contracts, including Nerlens Noel, to dangle. Noel is averaging 1.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals this season and appears to have shaken off the injury bug that slowed him down. Last season, Noel averaged 2.2 blocks, and 1.1 steals as the Knicks’ primary center that catapulted them to a surprising playoff appearance.

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