The Knicks are looking to clear cap space ahead of free agency, and they’ve discussed trades involving center Nerlens Noel to the Clippers and guard Alec Burks to the Celtics.
After the NBA Draft, in which New York offloaded Kemba Walker to the Detroit Pistons (along with his $9.2 million salary for the upcoming season), the team made it clear they were pursuing veteran free agent options this offseason.
Their main target, according to widespread rumors and reports from NBA insiders, is point guard Jalen Brunson, who hits free agency after 4 years in the league with the Dallas Mavericks.
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In order to make a serious run at Brunson, the Knicks will need to offer him between $20 and $30 million — forcing them to clear cap space by ridding themselves of prior commitments, with Walker being the first domino to fall in that effort.
Still, the team is at least one more move away from securing the necessary financial room to do so, as they are still around $7 million shy of having the cap space to bring on Brunson.
That had led the team to explore options involving Noel and Burks.
According to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, the team from Madison Square Garden has already been in contact with the Los Angeles Clippers about a deal involving Noel.
The 28-year-old center is slated to make $9.24 million next season, so ridding themselves of his contract would give them breathing room for when free agency begins on June 30.
The Clippers are a logical trade partner, as they currently have just two centers on their roster (Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein), and those options remain underwhelming for a team with championship aspirations.
Making a potential trade more plausible, the Clippers possess a $9.7 million trade exception, which they sent Serge Ibaka in a trade to the Milwaukee Bucks — meaning they could absorb Noel’s salary without needing to send a similar contract back to New York.
Noel would slot nicely alongside the high-powered Clipper offense that boasts Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, while also utilizing his interior shot blocking to improve the Los Angeles’ defense, which had the 8th-worst defensive rating in the league last year.
The 30-year-old Burks is slated to count $10 million against the Knicks cap number next season, and there are several teams “with a degree of interest” in acquiring the journeyman guard, according to SNY’s Ian Begley.
Among those teams is the Atlantic Division rival Boston Celtics. After coming up just shy of an NBA title this season, the Celtics are looking to add another ball handler to take the load off their starters, and Burks would fit that bill nicely.
He is under contract for 2 more seasons, though his contract includes a team option after the upcoming year — so acquiring him would not be a long-term commitment for the Celtics or another franchise.
After shooting 40% from the 3-point line last season, while averaging 11.7 points and 4.9 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game, Burks would make a nice addition to the Eastern Conference champions, who ranked in the middle of the pack from beyond the arc.
Offloading him to the Celtics, if they can manage to avoid taking substantial contract obligations back, would give the Knicks the necessary room to pursue Brunson.