For a guy who has not played a single minute of basketball this season, Kristaps Porzingis really shook things up around Madison Square Garden the other day.
Tired of watching the Knicks stumble their way to the worst record in the NBA, Porzingis marched into the front office to voice his opinion on the direction of the team and demand a trade.
He did not have to ask twice. The Knicks apparently had the same thing in mind.
Within a few hours, Porzingis and his mending ACL were on their way to Dallas along with most of the rest of useful players on the Knicks roster, traded for Dennis Smith Jr., two other players with expiring contracts, and two future first-round draft choices.
This is one of those deals that Casey Stengel used to call addition by subtraction. On the surface, the Knicks parted company with their best player, a 7-foot-3 stringbean who could dunk on one possession and nail a three-pointer on the next. He captured the imagination of the Knicks faithful, but he was an injury waiting to happen.
His gangly frame spelled trouble. He seemed to move his body in sections. His size should have been an asset but it often worked against him getting up and down the court. And when he came down awkwardly on a rebound a year ago, his ACL snapped and so did his career as a Knick.
He also had a bit of an attitude problem. Barely 21 years old, he bailed out on a routine exit interview after his second season. This is not polite behavior and it was noted by Knicks brass, who would have preferred the courtesy of an end-of-season meeting with the young man.
So, his talent notwithstanding, Porzingis became expendable. The Knicks have done this before, when they decided that Carmelo Anthony did not fit the complicated offense of team president Phil Jackson and dumped him. The problem was none of the other players did either and soon, Jackson was shown the exit, too.
Waiting in the wings, anxious to scoop Porzingis up was Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, a loose cannon in his own right. Cuban has to be chortling about this trade because of Porzingis’ potential and he may be right in the long run. But don’t dismiss what the Knicks came away with in this deal.
They dumped some serious salary by including Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke in the deal with Porzingis, opening up a ton of salary cap room which they hope to use to attract a couple of max contract free agents this summer. They also own two first round draft picks from the Mavericks. Those are invaluable. And Dennis Smith Jr. is one of the bright young stars in the NBA.
The trick will be attracting those fancy free agents, who might not be interested in putting out the franchise’s dumpster fire, even with the bright lights of Broadway blinking in their eyes.
The Knicks will play out the schedule with an anonymous roster, dreaming about Kyrie Irving or Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard, free agents to be.
The trick will be convincing them to become saviors of a struggling franchise, to become the centerpiece that Anthony and Porzingis once were.