On the day of the trade deadline this year, the New York Knicks pulled the trigger on a rumor that was up in the air for a couple of months prior. Sending Marcus Morris to the LA Clippers in exchange for a few draft picks and small forward Maurice Harkless, the Knicks illustrated once again that their rebuilding process is still far from over.
Leaning towards a similar rebuild to that of the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks are keen on constructing a durable foundation of young, cornerstone players accompanied by a deep and versatile supporting cast. And although Morris was certainly the most consistent player on the team, the Knicks put themselves in the position they needed to be in to achieve their ultimate goal with their new franchise.
However, what makes this trade quite interesting, is that the Knicks also threw in Harkless, who will be a free agent this year. Starting his career with the Orlando Magic in 2012, Harkless has yet to hit his stride as the scorer and playmaker many thought he could be coming out of St. John’s (ESPN). Playing three seasons in Orlando, another four in Portland, and then half a season with the Clippers before coming to the Knicks, Harkless has always been a spot-on shooter but hasn’t been as consistent and productive as a scoring contributor.
For example, when he was playing with Portland in 2016-17, Harkless started 69 of the 77 games he played, was logging in just about 29 minutes per game, yet was only posting about 10 ppg with 4.4 rpg, 1.1 apg, and 1.1 spg (ESPN). Yes, he was playing with both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but considering the starting minutes he got, Harkless did not have much to show for.
Nonetheless, the Knicks don’t have much depth amongst their forwards, particularly after losing their best one to the Clippers. Furthermore, the Knicks have a very young team that could benefit from the insight of an eight-year vet like Harkless.
In addition, the favorable catch here with Harkless is that he joined the league at a very young age and is still only 27 years old, carrying plenty of upside to turn around his quiet start to his NBA career. Although he didn’t play much in New York before COVID-19 struck the globe, Harkless displayed bursts of bright talent with a team that was far more inferior in skill in comparison to what he had in LA. But it’s not very clear if that was enough to convince the Knicks to sign him to a new contract before he enters free agency this year. And with this lumbering question mark still floating up in the air, it remains to be uncertain whether the Knicks will sign the New York native or pass him along elsewhere.
That being said, the Knicks have nothing to lose and Harkless makes for a great add on for their supporting cast, mainly for two big reasons. The first is his ability to adapt to any playing style, system, or structure that he’s a part of. Because Harkless has a wide range of skills, he fits well with any type of format and can alter his role around anyone. He’s a small forward who can play at the two or even as a stretch four, he’s a good perimeter defender, crashes the glass when he needs to and has shot nearly 48% from the field over his entire career (ESPN).
We’re talking about a forward who’s not only played in a system with Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Vučević back in Orlando, but also with Lillard and McCollum in Portland as well as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Lou Williams in LA; he’s played with almost every type of role player you can have in the NBA and he’s done so successfully. With the Knicks frequently implementing all sorts of different changes and bringing in new comers in an attempt to solidify their foundation, Harkless provides consistency, flexibility, and depth for a team that’s in need of all three of those factors. Whether he should start over fellow small forward Kevin Knox, is certainly still up for debate. But Harkless deserves 20+ minutes and has the potential to be a great asset for this team.
Secondly, the Knicks could snag Harkless on a small, one year, “prove it” deal that would not only be very cost efficient but would also grant Harkless the opportunity to validate his worth. After Harkless signed a four-year, $42 million-dollar deal with the Trail Blazers in 2015, he produced solid numbers and was a key contributor towards the team’s success, but essentially, failed to live up to his contract. As a result, it’s highly unlikely any team in the NBA will grant him a big contract over free agency, which doesn’t give Harkless much room to negotiate a long-term deal that could dissuade the Knicks from signing him. For someone as young and well-rounded as Harkless is, the least the Knicks could do is offer a one year deal and give him a shot to prove that he’s worth their investment. And with the franchise still experimenting with which players can make a difference in the long run, signing Moe Harkless is not a bad bet.