By Ben Horney
Without Kristaps Porzingis on the court the New York Knicks resemble a dumpster that has been set aflame, but if owner James Dolan continues to let the executive tandem of Steve Mills and Scott Perry do their thing, the team’s future can still be bright.
Mills and Perry, president and general manager for the Knicks, respectively, didn’t have much time for assessment in the wake of Porzingis’ ACL tear, seeing as the injury occurred up against this year’s trade deadline. Unlike years past, however, the Knicks didn’t spend the deadline doing nothing at all, nor did they send away everything of value in return for a big name that is past his prime.
Instead, they made a couple of sensible moves that potentially set them up for future success, so long as Porzingis returns to form.
First, they dealt Willy Hernangomez to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for two future second round draft picks (2020 and 2021). Then, they sent away Doug McDermott, aka Dougie McBuckets, and a second round draft pick (2018) in a three-team trade that netted the Knicks Emmanuel Mudiay.
Discarding Hernangomez was a head-scratcher, especially since the second-year player has shown potential and is best buds with Porzingis, but he had fallen out of coach Jeff Hornacek’s rotation and isn’t the type of player who should be off-limits when it comes to trades. Second round draft picks are no sure thing, but they provide the Knicks with some flexibility going forward, and it can’t hurt to mention that players like Draymond Green, Manu Ginobili and Marc Gasol were all drafted in the second round. Heck, Hornacek himself was a second round draft pick, taken 46th overall in 1986.
The Mudiay trade, meanwhile, adds to the Knicks roster a 21-year-old player who just three years ago was selected 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft. It’s hard to imagine now, but there are Knicks fans who would have actually preferred Mudiay over Porzingis at the time.
Despite some struggles in Denver, Mudiay is a certified baller who has yet to reach his potential, and the 6’5”, 200 pound point guard could be a key part of the Knicks future. He was pretty darn good in his Knicks debut, scoring 14 points and dishing out 10 assists in 29 minutes off the bench in an 8-point loss to Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers.
Mudiay just generally looks like a legitimate NBA player who deserves to be on the court, which is something the Knicks have been known to lack in recent years. He also brings ball handling capabilities, something else the Knicks are well-known for not having much of. Perhaps most importantly, Mudiay speaks French, meaning he and Frankie Ntilikina can communicate on the court using words that opponents will not understand.
Neither trade is necessarily a home run, but they certainly aren’t strikeouts (this also isn’t baseball), and both deals demonstrate a level of front office competency that has eluded the Knicks for a long, long time.
It’s important to note that there is no guarantee Dolan will allow Mills and Perry to continue operating without oversight — lest we forget that he forced Donnie Walsh to trade everyone for Carmelo Anthony when the Knicks could have likely just landed him in free agency a few months later — but thus far the duo has stuck to the plan of getting actual basketball players who aren’t terrible at the sport.
For now, the losing will continue, and it will be hard to watch. However, Knicks fans can take solace in the fact that it was always supposed to be a little while before the team was truly competitive, and all the losing will lead to a better draft pick to pair with Porzingis when he finally comes back.