By John Schmeelk
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As the NBA trade deadline draws closer, more and more names are going to be mentioned as potential targets for the Knicks.
Though more may follow (like Damian Lillard and DeAndre Jordan), the primary name mentioned so far has been Kemba Walker.
It’s a name that gets Knicks fans attention, and for good reason. He makes $12 million a year, a reasonable contract that expires after next season. The 27-year-old is a point guard in his prime that can score, get to the basket and make big shots. His character is unquestioned and he is native to this area.
Yet, the Knicks still need to stay as far away as possible.
The biggest reason is the state of the franchise. By now, it should be abundantly clear to Knicks fans that this team is not ready to win anything significant this season. The roster next season likely won’t be much different, unless Enes Kanter opts out (questionable) or the Knicks use the stretch provision on Joakim Noah (foolish).
There is really no point in adding a veteran to a young roster that won’t win in the immediate future, even with his presence. If the franchise really wants Walker it can sign him in the summer of 2019 and give up nothing. Trading away pieces for him now would only hurt the future without enough return in the present.
The Hornets asking price should act as another big red sign that says “STOP.” They want young players (like Frank Ntilikina), draft picks and the opportunity to part ways with one of their onerous salaries. The Knicks are still in building mode, and can’t afford to trade away future assets or hurt their future cap space. They should be trying to do just the opposite.
There are also some concerns with the type of player Walker is. He is shooting just 42 percent from the field this season, and has never shot above 45 percent for his career. He has never shot 40 percent from 3-point range and is below 35 percent this season. He has averaged only five or so assists per game fairly consistently over the course of his career. He is a low-efficiency, high-volume scoring point guard.
The Knicks shouldn’t be buyers for anything at this point unless it is a future asset that can help them in the 2020-21 season. They will almost definitely have cap space before that season due to Kanter’s contract being guaranteed to come off the books. If things break right (Kanter’s player option primarily) they could have space this summer, but it would be more prudent to try to arrange room for a max player if a transformational type of guy would be willing to come to New York.
You never know when a player like that may shake loose and the Knicks should try to keep themselves in a position to have the money and/or assets to acquire him. Walker is not a guy that will lead you to a championship. He is a helper. The jury is out on whether Kristaps Porzingis can be that 1A guy. He might have to be the second-best player on a title team, with someone else that can score more efficiently one on one being the focal point of the offense.
And that’s a point. We still don’t know exactly where the Knicks are. How much better is Porzingis going to get as an offensive player? What exactly is Ntilikina going to become? Is Willy Hernangomez, Damyean Dotson or Ron Baker a real future piece? The Knicks should have a better feel for that if not by the end of this season, then by the end of the 2018-19 campaign.
The franchise and its fans still need to be patient. The front office needs to avoid the quick fix that might help win a few more games now but could also negatively impact the future. The Knicks are still building, and aren’t ready to really make a run and win yet.
— Porzingis deserved his All-Star bid, and despite his complaints of being tired a few weeks ago he should play in the game. Making it for the first time is a big deal and he has the right to enjoy it. If he was a 10-year veteran it would be a different story.
I was disappointed with how many people criticized Porzingis for missing the game against the Warriors, when nobody knows the exact nature of his knee injury. The same people complaining were often the same ones that said he was injury prone. The point of resting a minor injury is to avoid missing more games in the future. If it really was just a rest day and his knee was fine, the criticism would be valid. It would make more sense to miss one of the back-to-back games against the Nuggets and Suns. But unless we know exactly what is wrong with his knee or how much he lobbied to play, the criticism comes from a place of very little factual information.
— It will be fun to watch Ntilikina play in the Rising Stars Challenge. I hope he lets loose a little bit and plays free and relaxed. Let’s see him jack up some ill-advised shots and go to the rim with authority. He is very timid (understandably) in NBA games, but the futures game is an opportunity to see a different side of him.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk