The New York Knicks are tanking hard and the Minnesota Timberwolves are stuck in neutral. Could the Wolves use the Knicks to bolster their depth?
The Minnesota Timberwolves are currently treading water at 25-27, sitting at 11th place in the Western Conference and three games out of eighth place.
At this point it has become clear that the current active roster is not working. And while Robert Covington, Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones are all still out with injuries, the Timberwolves will need to find another piece or two who can push this team towards the playoffs while those three get healthy.
Meanwhile, in New York, the Knicks are trying to set up for their future as they try to tank all the way to the No. 1 pick and Duke’s Zion Williamson. They are also trying to free-up cap space in the hopes of signing top free agents such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
They have already shipped out former franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas and currently carry contracts on just seven players for next season. While there are few assets the Knicks have outside of draft picks, the Wolves can certainly make a play to try and bolster their team’s depth.
Here’s the trade:
If you count Damyean Dotson’s non-guaranteed contract for next season, the Knicks would have nearly $71 million in cap space for 2019-20 season, and that’s after taking on Dieng’s contract.
Minnesota has been reluctant to trade away any draft assets in exchange for dumping Dieng’s contract, but if the front office is serious about making this team a true competitor, they will part ways with the 2020 pick. Looking at Bayless and Tolliver, Bayless has been playing very well as of late, but I find it hard to imagine that Bayless is the future of the Timberwolves backcourt.
Now, let’s look at the players that Minnesota would receive. Up first is Enes Kanter, who has publicly voiced frustrations with his lack of playing time in New York. He would virtually match Dieng’s salary for this season, and would pretty much replace Dieng’s minutes as well. There is no doubt that the Wolves would love to have Kanter as a backup to Karl-Anthony Towns, and he would absolutely anchor the second unit’s defense.
Lance Thomas is pretty much a cap filler in this deal, but the Wolves’ lack of depth at wing could make him useful for the remainder of this season. His salary for next season is north of $7.5 million, but only $1 million of it is guaranteed if Minnesota chose to part ways with Thomas.
My favorite part of this potential deal would be Frank Ntilikina. Ntilikina, aka Frankie Smokes, is a 20-year-old point guard who was taken with the No. 7 pick back in 2017. However, Ntilikina has struggled mightily since he arrived in New York. His shooting splits (field goal/3-point/free throw) of 34/29/75 are absolutely horrid, and the Knicks’ recent acquisition of Dennis Smith Jr. essentially makes him the third-string point guard.
If the Knicks are serious about pursuing Kyrie Irving this summer, they will be ready to move on from Ntilikina.
While Ntilikina may not be doing well this year, this may be the best example of “buying low.” Ntilikina is No. 96 out of 97 point guards in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, and looks to have been supplanted on the depth chart by DSJ. The Wolves need point guard depth, and buying low makes some sense here.
To recap: the Knicks get back a first-round pick in the deal, which helps with their rebuild while clearing some salary on the books. The Wolves get back a defensive-minded guard who is only 20 years old, which sounds a lot like a current guard on the Wolves’ roster that he could be paired with in the future.
Remember, the Wolves don’t have any of their four point guards under contract for next year, so the buy-low on Ntilikina could end up paying off in the long run.