There was some question as to whether the New York Knicks would be buyers, sellers, or simply inactive at the NBA trade deadline, but after top gun Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL on Tuesday night, it became clear that the Knicks had no reason to hold out hope for a playoff berth. Immediately after KP's diagnosis, general manager Scott Perry and the Knicks front office hit the phones looking for ways to acquire pieces that could benefit the future of the organization. The move they ended up pulling the trigger on, however, is a bit of a head-scratcher: The Knicks traded center Willy Hernangomez to the Charlotte Hornets for power forward Johnny O'Bryant and two second-round draft picks.
The Knicks had a logjam at center—that was clear. As a result, it made sense for the team to shop some of their players at the position. It seemed that moving Hernangomez could be a decent option, as he is a talented young player, and the Knicks could have used him to acquire talent at a position where they are lacking (i.e. point guard). What Perry and the Knicks did, however, was ship Hernangomez to Charlotte for what essentially amounts to a heap of scrap metal.
Hernangomez wasn't playing much for the Knicks this season—he logged just 9.0 minutes per game over 26 contests—but anyone who paid any attention to the 23-year-old Spaniard could surely see his exciting potential. He was named First-Team All-Rookie less than a year ago, and his per-36-minute averages jump off the page. Over his 98 NBA games, Hernangomez boasts 16.1 points per 36 minutes to go along with 13.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 block, and a 54.0 field-goal percentage. The youngster has never played big minutes in the NBA, but it stands to reason that he could be an impact player if given the right opportunity.
With the Knicks in the process of rebuilding, they should be harboring all the young talent they can get their hands on—and Hernangomez clearly qualifies as young talent. But instead of holding on to Hernangomez, giving him more playing time, and trying to develop him into a quality player, the Knicks opted for O'Bryant—a fourth-year pro averaging 3.5 points per game (40.2 percent from the field) on his career—and a couple of draft picks that are highly unlikely to turn into useful players. If the Knicks could get even one player of Hernangomez's caliber with those two draft picks, it would be a surprise.
This isn't to say that Hernangomez is a lock to be a valuable NBA contributor. Plenty of All-Rookie members who flashed in limited minutes have ended up quickly flaming out. But you have to weigh the odds in situations like this. Second-round picks rarely turn into useful NBA contributors—a random example: only five of the 30 players drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft have played more than three NBA seasons. Meanwhile, O'Bryant has done little to suggest that he'll become an impact player. Uncertain as his future may be, Hernangomez's potential is far greater than the potential of the lousy throwaway pieces the Knicks received from the Hornets.
Making the trade even more mind-boggling is that the Knicks gave up a big man for another big man. They clearly downgraded their front court by swapping Hernangomez for O'Bryant, and all they have to show for it are a couple of virtually useless draft picks that NBA teams generally to throw around like pennies.
In addition, Perry put the Knicks in a precarious position for next season. With two more years left on his deal, Hernangomez was the only Knicks center (other than the ousted Joakim Noah) under team control for next season. Both Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn are able to opt out of their contracts, and given that both players are having career years, they very well may look to maximize their value on the open market. Hernangomez could have been in line for big minutes as a cheap alternative to those players, but the Knicks inexplicably decided to roll the dice and put their future at the center position entirely up in the air.
It is also worth considering that this move may not sit well with Porzingis, who is known to be close with Hernangomez. Granted, Hernangomez specifically asked for a trade, but you have to think that if the Knicks were willing to give him playing time (which would have been the smart way to go about this situation), Hernangomez would have been content in the Big Apple. It's not as if Porzingis will base the future of his career on the fact that the Knicks traded his buddy, but the Knicks should be doing all they can to keep their franchise player happy. It's been made clear that Porzingis wants to see the some progress from the Knicks before signing an extension, and if he doesn't like the direction of the team, he could become a free agent in 2020, which would likely force the Knicks to start from square one once again.
Porzingis and Knicks fans alike want to see the Knicks front office finally get their heads on straight and start moving this franchise in the right direction, but trading a talented young big man for an end-of-bench player and a couple of hollow draft picks won't get anyone excited for the future (aside from perhaps the inept Knicks executives who seem to think that moves like this are good ideas). The Knicks have been a disaster almost every season since the end of the Patrick Ewing era, and it doesn't look much like a change is on the horizon.