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Knicks’ point guard Frank Ntilikina expected to miss rest of season

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina is expected to miss the rest of the season with a groin injury, ending a disappointing second year for the former lottery pick.

Ntilikina had just returned from a nearly two-month absence but left again during a loss to the Clippers on Sunday because of more soreness. The Knicks say Friday that after a subsequent evaluation, the team’s medical staff recommends he not play again this season.

Ntilikina has appeared in just 43 games, averaging 5.7 points. The No. 8 pick in the 2017 draft was the final selection made by Phil Jackson as team president.

The native of Belgium played professionally in France. However, he hasn’t developed an offensive game and struggled to crack first-year coach David Fizdale’s lineup even when healthy.

Dennis Smith Jr. and second chances

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The Knicks got a lot in their trade of Kristaps Porzingis. Double-max cap space next summer that could be used to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. An unprotected future first-round pick. Another likely first-rounder.

And Dennis Smith Jr.

Smith has been treated as an afterthought in New York’s return for Porzingis. That’s somewhat understandable when the trade puts established stars like Durant and Irving in play, but don’t just forget about the 21-year-old Smith.

“I’ve been overlooked before,” Smith said. “It’s nothing new. This is familiar territory for me.

“That’s why I’ve been in grind mode. I’ve been in grind mode since I stepped foot in New York. That’s what I’m all about.”

Smith was most infamously overlooked in the 2017 draft, when he fell to No. 9. The Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina one spot higher. LeBron James even said New York should have taken Smith.

To be fair, LeBron was feuding with then-Knicks president Phil Jackson. Jackson, in an incident that drew a lot of attention, pressured Smith into eating octopus at a pre-draft dinner meeting. Did Smith’s reluctance to try the octopus actually contribute to New York not drafting him?

“I hope not,” Smith said. “I ain’t for sure. But I hope that wasn’t the reason.”

It’s remarkable we can’t be certain of it not factoring. But that was the absurdity of Jackson’s tenure.

At least the Knicks get Smith now.

He even sometimes orders octopus for himself.

“I’ve got a little bit of money now,” Smith said.

Dallas drafted Smith, and his future there appeared promising. He scored 15.2 points per game as a rookie. Obviously, scoring isn’t everything, but it indicates a player’s stature, how much his team has entrusted him. When teams get someone young with Smith’s scoring average, they almost always build around him.

But the Mavericks acquired Luka Doncic in last year’s draft and are justly prioritizing him. Doncic is better and younger. Smith, who also fills a primary-ballhandler role, no longer fit.

Smith left Dallas averaging 14.5 points per game with the Mavericks. That’s one of the highest-scoring averages ever for someone with his original team who got traded or sold before the end of his second season:

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In Smith’s lifetime, only Michael Carter-Williams had a higher-scoring average with his original team then got traded before the end of his second season.

Smith is no longer the player I ranked No. 4 on my draft board or even the one who actually got picked in the top 10. His stock has rightfully dropped while in the league. He’s inefficient as a scorer, and he lacks complementary skills. His accuracy on 3-pointers is disappointingly low. His distributing lags well behind with his score-first approach.

But the reasons Smith looked so intriguing fewer than two years ago haven’t completely dissipated, either. He’s got nice handles and quickness, and he has the athleticism to finish above the rim. His inefficiency seems due more to shot selection than mechanics and is therefore likely an easier fix. Point guards tend to develop later.

In the meantime, Smith is losing prominence. He played in the Rising Stars Challenge last year but wasn’t invited back this year. Of the several dozen players who participated in that game as a rookie but weren’t selected as a sophomore, only three – Joe Johnson, Caron Butler and Chris Kaman – developed into All-Stars.

Smith wanted to return to All-Star Weekend this year, anyway. It’s in his native North Carolina, and his grandma is getting older. She wanted to see him there. So, after competing in last year’s dunk contest then declaring it wasn’t for him, he’ll re-enter.

“I kind of learned what it was about last year with all the extra gimmicks and things,” Smith said. “So, I have a couple myself.”

That’s where Smith wants the gimmicks to end.

Knicks fans can dream about Irving or even look to Kemba Walker as a fallback. Smith wants to earn the starting-point guard job for himself.

Right now, it has been handed to him on a barren roster. New York is tanking, biding time until its next era.

Maybe, just maybe, Smith will be an integral part of it.

“He really knows how to run a team,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “And we’re just getting started together, and I’m really excited for the future with him.”

Report: Anthony Davis equally as interested in Knicks as Lakers long-term

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When Anthony Davis requested a trade from the Pelicans, his agent, Rich Paul, said, “Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him the chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.”

Davis reportedly put out word he’d re-sign with only the Lakers. That made sense. Any team with LeBron James is already a championship contender, and Davis would lift Los Angeles even higher.

But the Knicks? The 10-43 Knicks? The Knicks who haven’t made the playoffs in five years and have won only one postseason series in 18 years?

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Armed with assets after the Kristaps Porzingis trade, the Knicks could try to trade for Davis now. But that’d reduce their cap space next summer. The most-ambitious move would be signing two max free agents then trading for Davis.

A trade of Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, a guaranteed Damyean Dotson and a top-five pick for Davis projects to meet salary-matching requirements next offseason. If necessary, New York could also guarantee Lance Thomas‘ salary and/or exercise Allonzo Trier‘s team option to gain more salary ballast.

Davis, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – that’d be an instant contender.

But it’s a long way to making that dream reality.

First, it’s worth examining who’s leaking this now and why. Is it Davis trying to avoid the Celtics at all costs? With the Lakers falling out of the race now and maybe not having the patience just to wait for 2020 free agency, Davis might want to present another threat now. Is it the Pelicans trying to present the idea of another pre-deadline suitor? They can always wait for Boston, but it can’t hurt to see more offers now.

No matter the leaker’s agenda, this could also genuinely reflect Davis’ mindset. Which makes New York’s plan even more intriguing.

Winners and Losers from Kristaps Porzingis trade

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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.

The trade sends Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to Dallas, while New York gets Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, and two lightly protected first-round picks.

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.

Report: Knicks trading Kristaps Porzingis to Mavericks, opening projected $73M in cap space next summer

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The Knicks are closing an unhappy Kristaps Porzingis era and opening the door to a tantalizing unknown that could include Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or maybe even both.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

The Knicks unloading Tim Hardaway Jr. (due $37,125,000 over the next two years) and Courtney Lee (due $12,759,670 next season) is huge. New York now projects to have about $73 million in cap space this summer – enough for two max slots, depending on the players’ experience level. The possibility of landing star free agents like Durant and Irving is electrifying.

So is the Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis pairing the Mavericks just formed. Those two budding stars give Dallas a more certain pathway upward. That is such a fun young core.

The Knicks’ future is far more unknown. They’re left with Dennis Smith Jr. (who maybe should have been in New York all along), Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and all that cap space. Capitalizing on that cap room is essential to justifying losing a young star like Porzingis. But cap spaces goes further in New York. This is a more-logical risk there.

In the meantime, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews have little use on the tanking Knicks. Those two veterans could get flipped to winners before the deadline or, failing that, bought out. If it looks as if they’ll get bought out, that could stall trade talks across the league. It did not seem players so productive would be available post-buyout this season, and teams would generally prefer those direct signings to surrendering assets in a trade.