Knicks fans are waiting with bated breath as the franchise heads into Thursday’s NBA Draft as rumors of potential trades have ratcheted up.
The team’s disappointing 37–45 record last season, which saw them miss out on playoff contention, afforded them the 11th overall selection in the draft — but rampant speculation about a possible move to acquire a higher pick has sparked the imagination of pairing a talented rookie with their young core.
Likewise, the team has also been linked to a number of marquee free agents as the team looks to fill the gaps in their roster and return to playoff action next year.
So, where does the rumor mill at Madison Square Garden stand before the highly-anticipated draft? What assets could the team use in a potential trade?
What do the Knicks need?
With a youthful nucleus of talent led by RJ Barrett, who came to the Knicks as the 3rd overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft, the team already boasts many solid up-an-comers.
The Knicks biggest need comes at the point guard spot, with aging stars Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker manning the position alongside 3rd year guard Immanuel Quickley (who played well towards the end of the season, but is far from a universally-accepted option in the long-term for the team). They will likely look to add another ball handler, either in the draft or free agency — as they’ve been linked to Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson.
The center position is also a position-of-need for the team, as the injury-prone Mitchell Robinson is slated to hit free agency this offseason and many other franchises have been rumored to be interested in the 24-year-old big man. If he bolts, that would leave the team with the uninspiring options of 36-year-old Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel as the only true centers on the roster. As they look to make a run next season, adding someone to hold down the paint would certainly be a priority in the absence of Robinson.
Staying at #11?
Perhaps the still-most likely outcome for the Knicks would be to do nothing ahead of Thursday, and use their own selection on a college prospect. While that may disappoint starry-eyed fans, it would allow them to keep many of their assets (both young players and future picks), while adding a solid prospect — though there has historically been a significant drop-off in talent remaining on the board as the draft hits double digits.
If they go that route, they could target a player such as the explosive shot-blockers Jalen Duren from Stanta Clara or Mark Williams from Duke to fill in at center, or potentially target G-Leaguer Dyson Daniels as a primary ball handler (if he falls far enough for the Knicks at 11).
No player in the double-digit range stands out as an obvious candidate to move the needle, but the team has drafted fairly well in recent years, so team president Leon Rose may trust his scouts to find a needle-in-the-haystack.
Trade up to #4 and solve the point guard problem
Recent days have seen increased speculation that the Sacramento Kings are in the market looking to trade the 4th-overall pick in an effort to secure a veteran to help them end their 16-year playoff drought (which is by far the longest active streak in the NBA). Several teams, including the Knicks, have been linked to a potential deal — including the Washington Wizards, the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers, according to ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
Other rumored-to-be-interested teams have higher picks in the draft than the Knicks that they could offer in a deal, so the Kings may prefer to go that route to avoid moving all the way back to 11, but it remains in the realm of possibility that New York could unload their veteran assets to convince Sacramento that their best chance to win soon would be a deal with the team from MSG.
If they were to make that swap, the Knicks would need to offer a pretty penny — but they’d likely end up with Purdue point guard Jaden Ivey, who is the consensus 4th-best player of the class. Ivey, who recently made unprompted comments suggesting his interest in wearing blue and orange, is an elite athlete with superior ball handling skills that can score inside and from beyond the arc. Acquiring the 20-year-old would essentially settle the debate over the long-term option at the position, and add star power alongside RJ Barrett for a solid one-two punch.
For his part, Ivey’s skill set would be somewhat redundant alongside Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox, and the Purdue product has indicated he would rather avoid Sacramento if possible.
Trade up to #2 and target a big man
Less likely, the team could move even further up in the draft and trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Team general manager Sam Presti is notorious for stockpiling assets, as he’s accumulated a whopping 38 picks between now and 2028.
While it’s a bit of a stretch, league sources have reported mumblings about the Thunders’ openness to deal, which is a tantalizing idea for Knicks fans. Jabari Smith Jr. from Auburn is essentially a lock to go 1st-overall to the Orlando Magic, which leaves 2 other options atop the draft class — Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren.
Banchero, a 6’10” big man from Duke, boasts incredible interior scoring ability, and has the ball handling skills of a much-smaller player, which would give the Knicks a tremendous boost for a team that finished dead-last in points coming in the paint last season.
Holmgren, meanwhile, is a 7-footer from Gonzaga that boasts elite shot blocking potential that could anchor the team’s defense (surely an enticing concept for defensive-minded head coach Tom Thibodeau), while also possessing the ability to shoot from the perimeter. He will need to bulk-up as he heads to the pros, as his 195-pound body threatens to allow bigger interior players to back him down under the basket — though most scouts have expressed little worry that he’ll eventually be a significant contributor in the NBA.
Either option would allow the team to move on swiftly in the event of a Robinson exit.
What assets could the Knicks use in a draft trade?
Trading up from double digits to 2 or 4 would require the Knicks to expend much of the capital they’ve acquired in recent years, but what and who could they give up?
Future picks: Unlike the Knicks of old, the team has managed to retain all their future first-round picks, while acquiring an additional first rounder in 2023 from Dallas, along with 4 second round selections that year. Any major deal would likely require them to give up this year’s #11 overall selection, along with next year’s first rounder and some combination of more future first and second round selections.
RJ Barrett: Perhaps the most untouchable asset the Knicks have is Barrett, the 22-year-old wing who averaged 20 points and 5.8 rebounds in his 3rd season last year. Fans would likely demur any deal that sends Barrett to a new team, and (while it may solve other roster problems) would open a gaping hole at small forward — so the Knicks would have to be truly sure that they were getting an elite prospect in return. Still, moving Barrett seems like the least-likely move for Rose and the front office.
Obi Toppin: The 6’9” power forward has been a fan favorite at MSG since joining the team as the 8th overall pick in 2020, but he’s been relegated to the 2nd tier behind Julius Randle, and hasn’t been given the chance to live up to his pre-draft hype. Still, he’s shown flashes of brilliance on the court, and most every franchise would love to acquire a young player with his raw skillset.
Immanuel Quickley: The point guard entered as the 25h pick in the same draft as Toppin, and has shown solid improvement in his game whenever he’s been given the chance. While he is serviceable for the Knicks, he’s in no danger of being a top-2 player on a championship team, so parting with him wouldn’t be the most devastating move for the franchise. Still, countless teams would love to employ the services of Quickley — particularly cap-strapped teams, as the 23-year-old is on a team-friendly deal, as he’s under contract through the 2024-25 season, and making just $2.3 million next year. That, along with his potential to continue growing, make him a hot commodity around the NBA.
Cam Reddish: After acquiring Reddish mid-season from the Hawks, Reddish played in just 15 games while dealing with injuries. Thibodeau reportedly wasn’t in favor of acquiring the 22-year-old small forward in the first place, and his skills overlap with Barrett, so parting with him isn’t an absurd idea. Despite his up-and-down career thus far, Reddish has the potential to be a long-term player in the NBA, and is making only $6 million next year — making him a solid target for a plethora of franchises.
Julius Randle: The power forward was the driving force behind the Knicks run to the playoffs in 2020-21 when he had a breakout season, but regressed in most-every statistical category last year and has often clashed with Knicks fans. More troublingly for the Knicks, Randle is making a whopping $30 million each year through the 2025-26 season, which will hamper the team’s cap space for years to come and limit their options in free agency if they can’t rid themselves of his deal — though that also limits Randle’s trade value going forward. As an added benefit of potentially moving the power forward, that would make room for Toppin (assuming he remains in blue and orange) to get the necessary minutes to live up to his potential. While many teams will avoid taking on Randle due to his contract, he could be a tantalizing prospect for the Kings as they look to add toughness and veterans — and they could make him a cornerstone of any deal between the franchises if they swap picks on Thursday.
The Knicks could combine any of those assets in a deal to move up in the draft — with the possibility of acquiring the Kings pick (and likely Ivey) in exchange for a package that includes Randle, future picks, and Quickley or Reddish. Another team may offer more than that, but it’s not inconceivable that a deal could get done. The same goes for a (albeit less-possible) deal with the Thunder.
In any case, the Knicks will look to return to playoff contention this upcoming season, while boosting their roster for the long term.