Courtney Lee, Willy Hernangomez among names Knicks could move

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Thursday, January 25, 2018

Back in September, Scott Perry offered some insight into his approach as New York Knicks general manager.

"Part of my job is to assess our roster, take phone calls and figure out ways to keep getting this basketball team better," Perry said before training camp. "I will continue to do that as long as I'm here."

Those comments are instructive as New York approaches its first trade deadline with Perry and team president Steve Mills running the show. Perry and the Knicks -- along with every other general manager in the NBA at this point on the calendar -- have received plenty of calls recently from teams interested in their players.

Will those calls turn into a trade? Right now, a move seems more likely than not.

What's on the table for New York over the next two weeks? Let's take a look at which players have -- and have not -- drawn interest ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

Is Kemba Walker in play for the Knicks?

The big name that surfaced recently is Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker. According to a report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Hornets are listening to offers on Walker and are open to moving him.

As of late last week, Charlotte had hoped to engage with the Knicks on trade talks involving Walker, but no substantial discussions had taken place at that point, per league sources. Charlotte is looking for a young player or a draft pick and appears eager to shed one of its less desirable contracts in a potential Walker deal, according to the report by Wojnarowski.

Those requirements would seem to be a holdup for New York. Opposing executives have gotten the impression that the Knicks are opposed to trading draft picks or taking on a significant amount of salary unless it brings back a transformative player.

This seems like a sound approach for a team that is in the early stages of a rebuild and has a history of making mistakes when searching for a quick fix (examples: trading a first-round pick for Andrea Bargnani in the 2014 offseason and signing Amar'e Stoudemire to a five-year contract after striking out with other free agents in the summer of 2010).

If Walker is dealt, it wouldn't surprise anyone around the league if the Hornets started trading off other players under long-term contracts. That could leave a young player such as guard Jeremy Lamb available for a reasonable return.

Centers could get plenty of attention at the deadline

Opposing executives believe that the Knicks will move one of their four centers before the deadline. As ESPN first reported, several teams have expressed interest in 23-year-old center Willy Hernangomez.

Hernangomez has been largely out of coach Jeff Hornacek's rotation this season, but teams have interest in the second-year center based on his age, his strong performance last season (8.2 points, 7.0 rebounds in 18 minutes per game) and his contract (two more years at about $1.5 million).

Starting center Enes Kanter and backup center Kyle O'Quinn also have received interest from opposing executives, sources said, with members of the Golden State Warriors among those executives to express interest in 27-year-old big man O'Quinn.

"O'Quinn has certainly outperformed his contract," said David Jacober, a strategic planning consultant for NBA teams. "His diversity on offense makes him attractive to a number of teams, such as Houston and Golden State."

Hernangomez, though, might bring back more value than Kanter or O'Quinn because of his age and contract. Both Kanter ($18.6 million) and O'Quinn ($4.2 million) have player options for next season; executives around the league expect O'Quinn to decline the option and test free agency this summer.

Teams who have spoken with the Knicks believe they are keeping their options open on O'Quinn and Hernangomez and, like all teams at this time of year, are looking for the best return available for either player.

Also worth noting when talking about potential trades involving Knicks big men: The trade market for centers might be clogged at the deadline because of the availability of several bigs, including LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, and the dearth of teams looking for big men.

Speaking of Jordan, one name that came up in a conversation between members of the Rockets organization and the Clippers in a Jordan deal was Clint Capela, according to sources. Those talks, sources say, went nowhere because of Houston's affinity for Capela.

Look for New York to join the wing frenzy

Several teams have expressed interest in wings Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas, as has been the case dating back to the beginning of the season. What the Knicks do -- or don't do -- with a player such as Lee could tell us a lot about whether they feel this team has enough to make a run for a playoff spot.

Trading Lee -- and the $25 million he is owed over the next two seasons -- could open up cap space for New York in the coming summers. But the 32-year-old has been instrumental in getting the Knicks to a larger win total than expected at this point, and he has been a strong voice in a young locker room.

New York values its veterans and views them as pivotal in building a winning culture. So those factors likely will be weighed if serious offers for Lee emerge. Opposing executives have come away with the impression that the Knicks aren't looking to trade Lee and would do so only if it meant bringing back a significant return.

"Lee is a plug-and-play type of player that would fit well with a few playoff teams," Jacober said. "The question they have to ask themselves is: Do you part with an asset that may have future value for Courtney Lee, who helps you in the near term?"

According to another report from Wojnarowski, the Knicks also are one of many teams looking to acquire wings on the trade market, an area that will certainly present some competition. New York, according to opposing teams, is hoping to add a young wing who can contribute on both ends of the floor -- something that all NBA teams crave.

Fight for the postseason or play for the lottery?

The trade deadline should indicate to some degree whether management sees the Knicks as a playoff-caliber team in 2017-18. New York is 21-26 and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference -- three games out of a playoff spot -- and has lost 12 of 16 games. If a tailspin continues, it would seem logical for the club to pull the plug on the season and look ahead to the NBA draft lottery.

After all, some Las Vegas sportsbooks pegged the Knicks' over/under at 29.5 before the season, so most expected the team to be playing for pingpong balls before Christmas.

But the expectations for the club changed -- both externally and inside the locker room -- when New York started the season at 16-13 following a Dec. 16 home win over Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

So how would players react to management trading away veterans and essentially waving the white flag on the season? How would that sit with Kristaps Porzingis? He has stated loudly that he wants to play meaningful basketball late in the season.

Surely Hornacek wants to add talent at the deadline and continue to play for something in the final weeks of the season. He wants to show Perry and Mills that he is the right coach to lead under the Knicks' new management.

Will Hornacek have that chance, perhaps with another strong rotation player in the mix after Feb. 8, or will the Knicks trade a veteran or one of their extra centers for a young, unproven player or draft pick and hope for the best come June? We'll find out over the next two weeks.

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