The rumored aggression of the New York Knicks within the Anthony Davis trade market could be tipping management's hand after keeping things close to the vest for most of this miserable season.
With the second-worst record in the NBA, the Knicks and first-year head coach David Fizdale have been giving their younger, inexperienced players priority in playing time over most of their established veterans.
Enes Kanter has fallen so far out of favor in the organization that he has basically demanded a trade while he's benched for the likes of Mitchell Robinson and Luke Kornet. The incredibly raw talents of Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox have also been getting plenty of burn despite the fact that both of their campaigns have been somewhat disappointing. Sure, there's plenty of promise, but Ntilikina's offensive game continues to lag and Knox has a lot of work to do before he can be considered a consistent contributor.
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There have also been some positives to come out of this, including the emergence of Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier behind Tim Hardaway Jr., who has seen his name crop up in trade talks as well over the past week or so.
In a season which star big man Kristaps Porzingis at this point seems unlikely to return as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in February of 2018, it's an understandable tactic by Fizdale and Co. considering this season was already considered lost without their best player.
The 2018-19 campaign could have been seen as one elongated tryout as the Knicks face a pivotal summer ahead. With a continuous link to Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant in free agency this July, the Knicks could quickly catapult to contending status next year. That makes finding the right young players who can step up when it actually matters imperative for Fizdale, general manager Scott Perry, and team president Steve Mills.
After all, a starting 5 that features Durant and Porzingis would pack quite a punch in the weaker Eastern Conference.
Yet the interest in Davis might indicate something entirely different from this notion, at least when it comes to the youngsters. Fizdale basically could have just been showcasing them for a possible trade package. An NBA source told the New York Post's Marc Berman that the Pelicans "have always liked" Robinson, who could be a prime option for a Pelicans team looking to get younger and cheaper.
It would obviously have to take much more than that, but at the end of the day, it all hinges on Davis' desire to play in New York.
The Pelicans are not going to trade Davis to any team that he would not be willing to re-sign with. As he becomes a free agent in 2020, New Orleans' return for the 25-year-old star is going to be limited if the center becomes a year-plus rental. If he commits his future to a team in negotiations, the Pelicans can maximize their return.
Given Davis' talents, if he were to tell the Knicks that he wants to sign long-term in the Big Apple, there should be no asset that is out of the question. That includes Porzingis.
Offering up the 23-year-old and their 2019 first-round draft pick, which could very well be the No. 1 selection and turn into Zion Williamson, would give the Knicks the strongest offer among any of the rumored teams that are in for Davis, including the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
The problem is Porzingis is a restricted free agent this summer and it's believed he would not be willing to commit to the Pelicans long-term. This is where the supporting cast comes in.
No matter what, the Knicks would have to part ways with that first-round pick for Davis. But further sweetening the pot with Robinson, Knox, Ntilikina, or maybe even Hardaway could appeal to New Orleans.
Not only would Hardaway, who is just 26, provide the Pelicans with an immediate offensive talent to at least bring some offensive firepower back to add to Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle, but the Knicks would be able to get a big contract off the books.
Hardaway will make over $18 million per season over the next two years and that freed up money can go a long way in not only securing Davis but either going after Durant or signing Porzingis to a long-term deal.