NBA trades don’t happen overnight, they percolate under the radar, starting as a seed of an idea and taking a lot of time and watering to take root and eventually flower into a full-on trade.
Not this one. The Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks trade seemed to come out of nowhere. It came together fast, according to all accounts. So fast it caught the NBA off guard when it became public Thursday afternoon.
Who won and lost in this trade? Let’s break it down.
Winner: Kristaps Porzingis. Having not stepped on an NBA court this season as he continues to recover from to a torn ACL — combined with the feeling David Fizdale had not been able to improve a relationship first damaged by Phil Jackson — had led to a lot of “should we really pay this guy a max?” rumblings around New York. Porzingis doesn’t exactly have the cleanest injury history in the first place, and there is a lot of uncertainty about how a mobile 7’3” guy will bounce back from this injury. Everyone is rooting for him to come back and go the full Joel Embiid, but that’s a big unknown. Hence the Knicks wanting to hedge against a max contract.
At the top of the list of things Porzingis will get out of this trade is money. And lots of it.
Dallas traded for Porzingis with plans to pay the man and keep him in town. Yes, Porzingis’ camp made threats of signing the qualifying offer and get out of Dallas, but nobody pushing near a max deal (five years, $158 million) does that and leaves almost all of that money — his first “set your family up for generations” contract — on the table. He will stay in Dallas and partner up with…
Winner: Luka Doncic. He’s got his partner for his buddy cop film, the Cagney to his Lacey, the Charles Boyle to his Jake Peralta. A partner who should fit like a puzzle piece with Doncic’s game: A big who will pop out after setting the pick and force defenders to track with him. A big he can feed in transition, either deep in the post or as the trailer at the top of the arc. A long big man in the paint who can block shots. A guy with a similar sensibility about the game.
Dallas found one star in the draft (thanks again, Atlanta), and now it has a second. Probably. Maybe.
Too early to call: Dallas Mavericks. Dallas has pushed all-in on the idea that Porzingis can return to full health, stay that way, and be everything Knicks fans had projected him to be. Dallas needs that to happen. With this trade, the Mavericks have capped themselves out this summer and will struggle to add quality around their stars. The Mavs gave up a couple of first-round picks with minimal protections, too.
If Dallas has gotten itself the full Unicorn back for that price, if Porzingis can play 72 games a season and be the All-NBA player he projected to be — and he re-signs long-term — then Dallas is a winner. But if Porzingis is not quite the same, and is a guy who plays 60 games a season at a borderline All-Star level, they will have lost. It’s a gamble worth making, but it is a gamble.
Too early to call: New York Knicks. The Knicks front office had to get a back-channel nod from Kevin Durant’s camp saying he was coming, right? They wouldn’t trade the potential of Porzingis, the fan favorite, and everything else thinking they “could” land a superstar or two, right?
Well, this is James Dolan’s Knicks, so….
The buzz that Durant and Kyrie Irving are coming to New York is all over the league now, and while there are some reasons to doubt that entire story (Irving’s decision is more in flux than that, he is not leaving Boston for sure, I’ve heard) clearly the Knicks know something and are confident. They think they are getting at least one household name player. Also on the bright side for New York, moving the nearly dead money contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee plus getting two first-round picks in the deal makes this a lot more palatable, whatever happens in July.
Loser: Boston Celtics…. maybe. If this trade gives Kyrie Irving serious thoughts about taking his talents to Madison Square Garden to partner with Durant, then Boston should be worried they will end up losers in this deal. There’s a lot of moving parts to that last sentence, but Boston’s pitch to keep Anthony Davis after a possible July trade (another moving part) was always pairing AD and Irving with good role players on a team that can contend right away. If Irving is wearing blue and orange — or any team’s colors other than green — then Boston loses.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers.…. maybe. If Kyrie Irving leaves Boston, maybe Danny Ainge scales back is potential trade offer, and the Laker offer looks better to the Pelicans. Again, a lot of “ifs” between now and that outcome, but it seems more likely than it did 24 hours ago.
Winners: DeAndre Jordan and Wes Matthews. Two veterans on a non-playoff team led by a rookie will spend a couple of weeks in New York then be bought out and become free agents. Houston, Golden State, Philadelphia are just a few of the teams that will come calling. By the third week of February, these guys likely are playing meaningful minutes for a team headed to the playoffs.
Winner: Dennis Smith Jr. He simply did not fit next to Luka Doncic and was getting squeezed out in Dallas. In New York is the best guard they have now, the ball will be in his hands and it will be an all he can eat buffet. Smith showed flashes last season in Dallas, in New York he will get to flash his athleticism again and make his case to be part of whatever the Knicks future is.
Loser: Frank Ntilikina. Phil Jackson loved him, picked him one spot in front of Smith, but now Phil has his feet up on the ottoman out in his ranch in Montana, and Ntilikina is about to lose his job to the guy picked after him. This feels like the end of the Ntilikina era in New York, such as it was.