The New York Knicks are 24-28 and are falling way short of expectations as they enter the most rigorous leg of their schedule. They have lost seven of their last nine games and play nine of their next 11games against teams with a record at or above .500. Their All-NBA forward Julius Randle hasn’t led the team in scoring since Christmas Day, and the team’s morale is draining despite the strong performances from third-year wing RJ Barrett. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Knicks will make veterans Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, and Alec Burks available at the trade deadline. Separate reports have said that even Randle may be available.
As a below-.500 team currently fighting for a play-in spot, the Knicks are at a fork in the road. It’s been a generally disappointing season compared to 2020-21 when they finished the season with 16 wins in 20 games and placed 4th in the Eastern Conference. Their off-season additions haven’t worked out, as the pieces haven’t fit as Leon Rose expected. Though their main concern is Julius Randle’s inefficiency and lack of effort, the Knicks’ starting lineup has been one of the worst in the entire league. Coach Tom Thibodeau seems reluctant to switch it up, so the changes might have to come from the front office.
They currently employ a 10-man rotation, leaving midseason trade acquisition and 2019 10th overall pick Cam Reddish in a situational role. As the roster is currently constructed, there are 12 players who deserve rotational minutes, but their starting lineup still plays the bulk of the minutes despite having the worst point differential out of any 5-man lineup in the entire NBA. Although playing Immanuel Quickley and Quinten Grimes as the starting backcourt would immediately improve the team, Thibodeau seems attached to the veteran offseason acquisitions.
If Tom Thibodeau refuses to budge, president of basketball operations Leon Rose might have to take away some of his pieces. It seems inevitable that Alec Burks is moved, but the Knicks have other options to make. There are a few routes they could take, and it may come down to how they perceive the duo of RJ Barrett and Julius Randle.
Option 1: Sell the Vets
While trading everyone over the age of 25, save maybe Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose, would be to the delight of much of Knicks Twitter, it’s not realistic and blindly playing young players doesn’t emphasize the “future”. There have been reports that the Knicks are willing to move on from their veterans, even Julius Randle, but it seems very unlikely that more than a couple of pieces will be moved. Among players with as much volume as Randle, he has been, by far, the least efficient player in the league (30.6% 3P%, 50.7% TS%). Part of the problem for Randle has seemingly been the addition of two high-usage, offensive-minded guards who also need the ball in their hands.
The solution could be to move on from one (or both) of those players, which could shift the focus of the offense back to Barrett and Randle. The pieces clearly don’t fit in the starting lineup, and the odd man out has been Kemba Walker this season. The problem is that the Knicks weren’t much better with Alec Burks at point guard. While Immanuel Quickley seems to be the obvious solution, he’s “not a point guard,” right? While I won’t make any specific trade proposals, teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers may be interested in Walker as a dynamic backup point guard. If Walker isn’t moved, he’ll probably be benched or bought out, especially once Derrick Rose returns from his injury.
The other two veterans mentioned in trade talks, Alec Burks and Evan Fournier, appear to be the most likely options to be traded. Burks struggled in the month of January, averaging just 9.5 PPG despite starting eight of his 15 games and averaging 27.2 MPG. His 3P% plummeted from 42.6% prior to January to just 32.8% in the month of January. His last game was his best, as he put up 21 points and had a +25 +/- off the bench in a blowout victory. While Burks struggled, Fournier came alive in January. He averaged 15.7 PPG while making 45.7% of his threes (on 7.5 attempts per game). Despite his inconsistency, Fournier has settled into his role with the Knicks as a volume shooter who spaces the floor for Randle and Barrett.
While Fournier is on a pretty big contract, it’s still a moveable deal as he’s only signed for two more years. Burks is also signed for two more seasons, but he is only making about $10 million a year. Both could be moved to contenders for picks, which would free up roster spots and minutes for Quinten Grimes and Cam Reddish. While Fournier may be harder to move, Grimes could fill a similar role on offense as a floor spacer who brings effort and intensity defensively. Burks’ playstyle may be harder to replace, but Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley can bring scoring off the bench. Playing the young guys more minutes would not only help them with their development, but it may improve the team whose pace is currently the slowest in basketball.
Option 2: Add a Piece
The Knicks currently rank 12th in the Eastern Conference but are only four games back of the 7th place Raptors. Although their rotation is already jam-packed with talent, they could be one piece away from everything fitting together nicely. Last year, they traded Dennis Smith Jr. (who was out of the rotation) and a 2nd round pick for Derrick Rose, who was a key piece in their run to the playoffs. At first, the move was frowned upon, as young guard Immanuel Quickley’s role was reduced.
They could make a similar move once again, making a move for one of the top guys on the market. Though Myles Turner and De’Aaron Fox have both been mentioned, Jalen Brunson makes the most sense. Kemba Walker clearly doesn’t fit in with the Knicks, who don’t use him in the pick-n’-roll nearly as much as they should. While the Knicks could just wait until Derrick Rose returns, they should look into the trade market, whether that’s for Brunson, Turner, or someone else. Unlike last year, they’re really not in the position to be trading for a role player. If the Knicks add someone, it would have to be an impact player.
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