After getting cold feet on the Donovan Mitchell trade last summer, the New York Knicks are more equipped this coming summer to be bullish in star hunting.
Jalen Brunson’s arrival and Julius Randle’s revival have made the Knicks a playoff contender this season. Currently fifth in the East, the Knicks are poised to make the postseason for the second time in three years.
All signs point to a more successful campaign than they had two years ago when they got bounced by the Atlanta Hawks in five games. If they make it past the first round, the expectation is that the Knicks will be aggressive in the trade market for a star or even two to add to Brunson and Randle.
“Here’s what I think about the Knicks,” said ESPN’s NBA insider Brian Windhorst on the latest episode of his podcast. “They have two handfuls of trade material, in my opinion. They can make, in my opinion, two big trades if they had to coming into this summer.”
Windhorst was referring to Evan Fournier, who has one year of guaranteed money left in his contract, a collection of young players, and a haul of first-round picks. Fournier, who’s buried on the Knicks bench, will earn $18.9 million next season with a $19 million team option in 2024.
“In my view, they can trade for two star-level players if needed. It doesn’t mean they’d have to do those deals in the summer of ’23. Those deals can be made within the 23-24 season, they can be in ’24,” Windhorst said. “But they can hold, in my opinion, they can hold Jalen Brunson, they can hold Julius Randle, and they can make two giant trades.”
Randle will earn $25.6 and $27.5 million in the next two seasons. Brunson’s deal is descending — $26.3 and $24.9 million over the next two seasons — giving the Knicks ample cap space to acquire stars.
Barrett’s poison pill will be lifted on July 1. But Windhorst said the Knicks could also keep him as he only stands to earn $23.8 and $25.7 million in the first two years of his extension beginning next season.
The trio’s combined salary for next season is way below the projected salary cap of $134 million and $162 million luxury-tax line.
“Whether they can hold Brunson, Randle and [RJ] Barrett and make two giants trades, that would depend on the players,” Windhorst said. “But there is even a window that they can hold all three of those and make two giant trade.”
The Knicks have been linked to Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Chicago’s Zach LaVine in the past. Boston’s Jaylen Brown could join that group after he was non-committal about his future with the Celtics.
“I don’t know. As long as I’m needed. It’s not up to me,” he told The Ringer. “We’ll see how they feel about me over time and I feel about them over time. Hopefully, whatever it is, it makes sense. But I will stay where I’m wanted. I will stay where I’m needed and treated correct.”
The Celtics reportedly offered Brown in a potential Kevin Durant trade with the Brooklyn Nets last summer. Durant is now in Phoenix.
More stars will be linked to the Knicks after the playoffs. A first-round win and a strong showing in the second round would make them attractive to All-Stars with wandering eyes.
“It’s going to require, I think, a player to say, ‘Send me to New York.’ And potentially another star player to say, ‘Oh, I’ll go to New York too.’ Or for New York to pull a big trade and a star player going ‘Ah, man. They got this, and they still have this. I want to do that,'” Windhorst said.
The NBA insider views the Knicks’ situation as similar to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 when LeBron James returned. It can be noted that Brock Aller, a numbers cruncher who helped the Cavaliers build a contender around James that led to the 2016 championship, is now the Knicks’ chief strategist.
“I kind of compare it to where the Cavs were in 2014. The Cavs had stuff and they had space. They used the space on LeBron and they used the stuff for Kevin Love.”
The Cavaliers had then-rising star Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 pick (Andrew Wiggins), which they flipped for Love.
The Knicks have a rising star in Brunson and a two-time All-Star in Randle. Their cache of first-round picks is the current currency for stars.
They are in a better position now than last summer to chase for a star. The only question left is, who will be the next star or stars available, and can Leon Rose execute a trade of that magnitude?
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