The NBA is nothing if not entertaining. This morning, The Vertical reported that the New York Knicks are listening to offers for Kristaps Porzingis because they like . . . Lauri Markkanen? I'm lost too. Naturally, any trade rumor that includes a young star must include the Boston Celtics because of their treasure trove of assets. Celtics fans everywhere are growing weary of the word "assets," but perhaps no longer. In fact, this is why you acquire assets: to throw the proverbial farm at a guy like Porzingis. He is a premier player in the NBA (on a rookie contract) and one of the few multi-talented "unicorns" in the league. Before we get all heart-eyes emoji, we have to do some serious thinking on what it would take to bring a player like Porzingis over, if he's worth it, and if Boston is willing to pay that price.
How much does a unicorn cost?
A lot. Kristaps Porzingis is one of the youngest stars in the NBA, and he's still on the team friendliest of team friendly rookie contracts. That's part of the reason why he holds so much appeal. He's still young, he's still growing, and he's still really good, but he's so cheap. A team could conceivably add him, sign max contract players and Porzingis would still be among the best, if not the best, despite making significantly less money for the next two years. On top of that, it would take a lot for him to leave after the next two years because he'll enter restricted free agency, allowing his team the opportunity to not have to worry too much about retaining his services.
All of these factors add up to a really expensive cost. Phil Jackson is actually insane enough to deal such a brilliant piece to any team's plans (and trust me, this would take a great deal of insanity). I mean, look at this:
(Hint: it's goink really well). However, I don't believe that he's blind enough to truly get fleeced in trading Porzingis. The Knicks truly are a dysfunctional NBA team. There just has to be more behind their relationship with their unicorn that would lead to such a wild overreaction such as trading him. Clearly there is something, so rival teams, such as Boston, are going to try to finesse their way into this. With that in mind, what would it for Boston to acquire a young talent like Porzingis?
Everything. It's not going to be easy. To start, Brooklyn's 2018 first rounder has to be on the table. On top of that, the Knicks are looking for a "lead guard" to star in their triangle offense (*cringes*), and additional assets. For a player like this who could likely and conceivably develop into It's going to take something resembling a package of Brooklyn 2018, Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder or Avery Bradley, and another first round pick (either Memphis or the LA Clippers' pick in 2019).
The Knicks will surely ask for the LA Lakers' 2018 pick that Boston just acquired from Philadelphia this week. That pick conveys if it lands between 2-5. If not, it turns into the best pick between Philadelphia and Sacramento in 2019 as long as it isn't #1 overall (my head hurts too). Boston should be open to talking about adding this pick at the expense of dropping that late first round pick.
Is that a lot to offer for one player? Absolutely.
Is Porzingis really a worthy unicorn?
I mean, you can't buy a unicorn at Wal-Mart, can you? Kristaps Porzingis is probably the second best talent in the league right now behind Karl-Anthony Towns. You can legitimately build a team around him. In fact, that's what New York should be doing. In just his second season, at 21 years old, the Latvian forward averaged 19.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. While his rebounding did dip by about one rebound per game after his freshman year, he showed improvement in shooting. Last season, he shot 42% from the floor but improved that to 45% this season. His 3-point shooting improved from 33% to 36% despite attempting 70 more in 6 less games. His free-throw percentage dipped, and he attempted less, but the triangle offense is partly to blame for that. Additionally, Porzingis increased his offensive win-shares from 1.5 to 2.4 this season. That's a big jump.
Overall, though Porzingis' defense took a slight hit in his sophomore season, his already stellar offensive ability improved. Also, Porzingis played for a bad New York Knicks team, which impacts his defensive statistics. However, at 21 years old, Porzingis offers tremendous value as a versatile
unicorn player with the ability to play in an inside-out offense. He also provides help-side defense with his rim-protecting ability. Hey, you know what team needs an inside-out player to help with rim protection and help-side defense?
How badly does Boston want a unicorn?
I'd be willing to bet that they want him pretty badly. Then again, it's tough to be sure what they're thinking. After all, they clearly rate Markelle Fultz much lower than we, as fans, do. That's why they traded the #1 overall pick. Another reason why they traded that pick, however, was to be in good position to make a move for the unexpectedly available star. Boston has to be interested in Porzingis, and I'm of the opinion that they need to throw the farm at him. The Celtics have been in the asset-acquisition phase for a long time, and they've caught a lot of criticism for it. They haven't thrown all of their assets at players who won't put them over the top, and that's why Paul George and Jimmy Butler aren't in green yet.
But Porzingis is different. He's only 21, he's already a high-impact player, and he's under team control for potentially 6+ years. That's ridiculous. No team can truly out-bid Boston if Danny Ainge and his staff is truly committed. That's why, although the price seems steep, they should be willing to pay it. They have the assets to still be in a good position even after throwing so much at New York.
For the Knicks, even though they already have the player that most teams hope their top picks will turn into, they have very little means to improve further to get him help. It's still insane, but having two (maybe three) high lottery picks next year would be arguably a better position than the one in which they are now. New York needs a total rebuild. We all thought that it would include Porzingis, but adding Boston's assets might leave them in a better position. If the Knicks miraculously hit on another pick like they did with 'Zinger, then they'd be in a great spot.
It's a gamble. It could, however, pay off for both sides. If we've learned anything in the last week, it's that Danny Ainge loves his gambles. We know Phil Jackson is going to, uh, do something. If he's bent on trading Porzingis as reports indicate, Boston definitely is on the list. I'd wager that Ainge wants a unicorn. The safe bet is to always bet that Ainge is willing to bet.