Knicks reportedly monitoring Zach LaVine’s trade availability: Would such a move make sense for New York?

If you haven’t been paying attention, the New York Knicks aren’t terrible anymore. They might even be downright competent. As of Saturday, Jan. 30, they’re in the playoffs — well, at least the play-in round as the East’s No. 8 seed, albeit with a sub-.500 record (9-11). 

With Tom Thibodeau’s prints all over their suddenly gritty, physical identity, the Knicks have hovered around being a top-five defense. Some of that is opponent shooting (bad) luck. Over 76 percent of the shot attempts the Knicks surrender are at the rim or behind the 3-point line, and their opponents are shooting just 30.8 percent — the worst mark in the league — on wide-open 3-pointers (closest defender six-plus feet away), which is a number that almost certainly won’t remain so extremely in New York’s favor. 

Still, the Knicks are defensively long and athletic with a legit rim protector in Mitchell Robinson. Where they struggle is on the other end. Entering Saturday, the Knicks have the third-worst offense with the third-worst effective field goal percentage in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. Which begs the question: Is it time to make a move for some firepower?

This brings us to Zach LaVine. Per SNY’s Ian Begley, the Knicks are “keeping an eye on LaVine’s situation in Chicago,” which is to say they are monitoring his potential trade availability. 

This doesn’t make the Knicks any different than a lot of other teams, of course. LaVine is a premier scorer, tied for 10th in the league at 27 points a night entering Saturday, and he’s a rapidly growing facilitator. Should he become available, the Bulls will have plenty of options depending on their asking price. 

To that point, the Knicks, who have prioritized low-cost, short-term deals the past two offseasons, don’t have much in the way of matching salary for LaVine’s $19.5 million contract this season unless they were to part with Julius Randle, who might be seen as a long-term piece in New York as he’s having a Most Improved Player type season. 

R.J. Barrett is almost certainly off the table unless a true franchise-changing superstar were on the other end of the deal. You would think the Knicks would avoid putting Robinson in a deal. The Knicks do have significant draft equity, five first-rounders over the next three years, and could include Immanuel Quickley and Kevin Knox as the young prospects. Throw in, say, Frank Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton as expiring contracts, and a reasonable deal is there to be made. 

Whether Chicago could get better is another question. That would likely depend on just how many draft picks New York would be willing to include. This raises another, even more, important question: Would a move for a LaVine-type player make sense from a Knicks timeline standpoint? 

That depends on whether they’re still waiting for home-run signings that can catapult them into contention (they have to wake up from this pipe dream at some point, don’t they?), or if Leon Rose is committed to a more incremental rebuild in the interest of establishing a semblance of credibility with players throughout the league. 

If the latter is the route — and it should be — then LaVine, or a similar player, could make sense. He’d put the Knicks on even former postseason ground and potentially serve as the stepping stone to even better players who might now be willing to go to New York to play with another at least fringe star player. As of now, the Knicks stand to have more than $50 million in cap space this summer just by letting their expiring deals walk. 

Indeed, there’s a halfway interesting thing happening with the Knicks. Let’s not jump too far ahead. They’re still the Knicks. But this is a team that competes every night, plays defense, and has the making of a sound front office moving forward. Barrett can still turn into a star, though if his jumper doesn’t develop into a consistent weapon he’ll likely land as a third-option type on a good team. Hopefully, Randle’s improvements sustain. Austin Rivers is playing terrific. 

So, yeah, there are things to be moderately excited about. Would going after a player like LaVine be too aggressive a double down on a small sample of encouraging developments? It depends on how you look at the Knicks’ timeline. 

Everyone has the same long-term goal: To compete for a championship. But short-term goals differ among organizations. Some simply want to develop their young players, lose games, and keep drafting high. Some want to become competitive as soon as possible. The Knicks would appear to be in the latter camp with Thibodeau in charge. Through that lens, LaVine would make sense in New York should be become available, and should the Knicks even be able to put together the most competitive offer, which is far from a sure thing.

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button