After years tailoring his plan to fit whatever narrative best excused the failure du jour, New York Knicks president Steve Mills earned another stay of execution, making coach David Fizdale the scapegoat for another terrible roster. Barring a midseason turnaround, the seat Mills has kept warm since assuming the position will only get hotter, which makes this trade deadline all the more interesting in New York.
The Knicks are 7-11 since interim coach Mike Miller took over for Fizdale, which has lifted them from a league-worst record to merely third from the bottom. Only team owner James Dolan can know if that is a satisfactory enough turnabout to extend his president’s stay, but it seems as though Mills will get the chance to see the season through, and lame-duck executives make for a dangerous game in the NBA.
No team wants a desperate front office, because the potential for prioritizing incremental improvement over long-term success only increases when someone is looking to cash a few more checks before his time comes. It always comes, sooner or later, and multiple reports have indicated that it could come sooner than later for Mills, who made a habit of patchwork fixes long before his job was on death row.
Now, rumors are swirling around New York about the Knicks’ thinking ahead of the Feb. 6 deadline.
According to various reports, the Philadelphia 76ers and both Los Angeles teams are among the contenders inquiring about Marcus Morris, the Minnesota Timberwolves are on the list of teams eyeing Dennis Smith Jr., and Bobby Portis is drawing interest, too. The Knicks have also entered the Andre Drummond sweepstakes, per multiple reports. According to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, the Pistons requested Julius Randle and Frank Ntilikina in a return package. A lot of irons are in the fire.
Per SportsNet New York’s Ian Begley, opposing teams are under the impression Mills is seeking “starter-level players who can help the team in the short-term and in future seasons,” while those close to the Knicks believe they are unwilling to include first-round picks in any deal currently on the table.
Drummond fits this bill. The 26-year-old All-Star center would be bound for the Atlanta Hawks if they were willing to part with a first-rounder, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick. Per Stadium’s Shams Charania, the Pistons want picks or young talent in return for Drummond, who is expected to decline his $29 million player option for next season. According to Ellis, Detroit wants at least one asset back beyond the salary cap relief Drummond’s free-agent departure would create. This may all be posturing.
Meanwhile, opponents believe Mills could score a late first-round pick or a young player with second-rounders attached for Morris, but the Knicks are considering him as a long-term solution, given his performance, leadership and reported willingness to stay beyond the one-year, $15 million showcase deal he signed this past offseason, per The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov. Again, posturing is a possibility.
The game is afoot, and New York has not won in some time. The best path forward is to salvage as many picks from the scrap heap the Knicks built this season, avoiding any cap restrictions in the process. That is what a front office with some security would do. Yet, they are entrusting Mills to navigate these waters with his own future serving as the undercurrent. You can bet everyone calling the Knicks is looking for a bargain, and which side would you bet on given those circumstances?
You could envision any scenario under the Knicks sun. Turn Morris into the pick that sweetens the pot in a package for Drummond, a New York native they can sign in free agency at no additional cost. Sell off spare parts, work around the margins, keep Morris and sign Drummond in the summer, making Mitchell Robinson — their most promising prospect outside R.J. Barrett — expendable. None of it sounds too appealing, and we will be back here again wondering how Mills spins this into next season.
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