• VSabatel

Trade Deadline Marathon: New York Gains a Star

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

NY receives: SG Victor Oladipo, F PJ Tucker

HOU receives: PG Frank Ntilikina, F Kevin Knox, SF Ignas Brazdeikis, Dallas 2021 1st Rd Pick

Why the Rockets would do it?

With the James Harden fiasco in the Rockets’ rare view, the front office is now looking down the barrel of a full-fledged reboot in Houston. It’s nearly impossible to find equal value for a player as decorated as Harden. GM Rafael Stone settled on the next best thing, hauling in a bundle of picks and swaps from Brooklyn and Cleveland while adding Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, and Victor Oladipo.

Oladipo is still struggling to return to form after rupturing a quad tendon in his right knee; it’s hampered his ability to drive and finish through contact. Oladipo’s perimeter shooting has been inconsistent at best this season, though he continues to provide flashes of his former self. Oladipo is only ten games into his Rockets career. Yet, many fans feel that they’ve seen enough to know that Oladipo is on the mend and may not be worth the max contract he’ll seek in free agency, meaning there is a genuine possibility that he walks this offseason. Trading Oladipo for a first-round pick ensures that the team gets a “return on their investment while maintaining the cap flexibility needed to forge their new identity. With every passing day (and injury), Houston continues to lose trade leverage; I’m not entirely sure how many teams are willing to commit a 1st- round pick for a damaged rental.

P.J. Tucker’s 4-year tenure as a Rocket was a success for the career journeymen; Tucker staked a reputation for himself in Houston as a rugged, reliable flex option in the frontcourt. For years, Tucker’s measurables undermined his productivity. Tucker’s defensive prowess and physicality made the former All-American a versatile chess piece for D’Antoni’s “small-ball” lineups. Tucker is now 35 and playing out the final year of his contract. Tucker will have his fair share of suitors, though most teams hope Tucker will negotiate a buy-out before the season’s end. Packaging PJ Tucker along with Oladipo will justify the draft pick compensation for a fringe contender.

Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina have earned reputations for being underachievers, it may not be an entirely fair assessment, but few would question the legitimacy of the statement. Two lottery picks, who’ve failed to solidify spots in the rotation after years of the development. What often gets lost in this narrative is the fact that both players are incredibly young and had the unfortunate pleasure of being drafted by one of the most dysfunctional, ill-equipped organizations in all sports (at the time). Knox and Ntilikina still have their best basketball ahead of them; with their size and length for their respective positions, it wouldn’t surprise me to see both players flourish as rotational pieces in a different setting.

Why the Knicks would do it?

Thibs’ Knicks are in the playoff hunt and seem to be positioning themselves as “buyers” at the trade deadline. The Knicks have gaps on the offensive side of the ball, where the team’s poor perimeter shooting continues to create a narrow margin for error. The jury is still out on Knox and Ntilikina, who’ve fallen out of the rotation. A rebuilding team like Houston may see value in the two as reclamation projects. If the Knicks do fancy themselves as “contenders” this season, they will have to move assets; trading those two and a draft pick may be enough to prevent the team from drawing from the current rotation.

Leon Rose has stated he’s not going to compromise the team’s long-term success for short-term victories; the organization understands how valuable their draft capital will be in the long run. The pick in question belongs to the Dallas Mavericks, who currently sit at 9th place in the Western Conference standings. The selection could end up being a lottery pick or a mid-late 1st; I imagine that the front office will let things play out through March before deciding whether to make one of their two first-round picks available.

The Knicks used their two first in 2020 to draft Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley; the latter has proven to be one of the better rookie guards this season. Teams can find actual value in the latter parts of the 1st, particularly this year, where COVID-19 has significantly impacted teams’ ability to evaluate talent effectively. Rose needs to determine whether Oladipo qualifies as a short-term fix or a long-term solution. Knicks fans still remember how the Carmelo Anthony trade gutted their roster. With Oladipo in the final year of his contract, the Knicks may wait until he hits free agency.

On paper, Oladipo seems like an ideal acquisition, but it doesn’t come without risks. Oladipo hasn’t played a full 82 game schedule in any of his eight professional seasons. At the tender age of 28, the cumulative effects of his injuries seem to be taking their toll. Statistically, Oladipo’s numbers are on par with his career averages, but when you watch the film, it’s evident that he’s still working himself back to form. At his best, Oladipo’s improved jump shot, fearless slashing, and stout perimeter defense make him a formidable option at shooting guard.

The pairing of P.J. Tucker and Tom Thibodeau, on paper, seems like a match made in heaven. The addition gives Thibodeau another useful piece to add to what has quietly become one of the more capable second units in basketball. Tucker’s ability to provide spot relief across the frontcourt makes him indispensable, particularly behind foul prone talents such Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson. Like Taj Gibson, Tucker’s influence extends well beyond the floor; his leadership and work ethic align with the culture Thibs’ has been cultivating in New York. Having a veteran of his stature on hand every day to model professionalism will do wonders for their young core.