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The Kristaps Porzingis trade is about hope, or the utter lack of it

The Knicks are playing a dangerous game trading their best player.

New York Knicks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

-Emily Dickinson

Now is definitely the winter of our discontent. The Super Bowl is barely being talked about, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still unsigned free agents, global warming is causing a mini Ice Age, the NBA’s currently in a Renaissance of talent on the court but none of it compares to the drama of front office trade machinations and salary cap hypotheses, and half of us all are still dead from Thanos’s magic glove and his fierce, bejeweled fingersnap!

The New York Knicks traded their franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis, to the Dallas Mavericks yesterday for basically a salary dump. The Knicks did this because of reasons. It’s up to us to decide whether those reasons were good or not.

As soon as I heard the trade, I immediately thought, “MLB.” That’s a strange reaction to an NBA trade, I know. Bear with me a moment.

The reality is New York is sending away a top 25 player, who’s also young, and is the best player the Knicks have drafted since Patrick Ewing, and the best player they’ve had since peak Carmelo Anthony. In return for this prized player, the Knicks receive three first round picks: Dennis Smith, Jr., (a first round pick from two years ago, and the player the Phil Jackson-led Knicks disregarded in favor of Frank Ntilikina), an unprotected 2021 1st round pick, and a top 10-protected 2023 1st round pick. The Knicks also receive money: the money they save from not having to pay Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Courtney Lee, AND Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks are now left with cheap, young, controllable assets and plenty of cap space. Sound familiar? Almost like some kind of process, or like a big market team spending like a small market team so they can win “later.” (It’s always later, but tomorrow never comes.) This “wise” scrooge-ing is in anticipation of excellence at a future date, mainly via the draft, even though, historically, drafts are scattershot, at best, and talent can be found everywhere (like, with the last pick of the NFL draft, and a certain guy named Tom Brady).

The hubbub about the MLB owners being cheap this cold hot stove season, and not signing extremely awesome, young players is about one thing and one thing only: hope (or, the complete and utter lack of it). The hope, as expressed by the front offices and people who style themselves as sabermetricians, is that it’s wiser to keep your powder dry and only pay top dollar for the extremely elite. Financial flexibility is paramount because it allows you to efficiently allocate resources. The hope is that wisely penny-pinching, and thus tanking (because no one wants to be both bad and expensive), will result in better draft picks, better players, and eventual victory. The hope is that the money the owners make/save today by NOT paying players will be used to pay expensive players later, WHEN IT MAKES SENSE TO DO SO (according to, y’know, someone that the owner listens to). Just like with our latest federal tax change, the hope is that the money that goes to the top will eventually trickle down to the bottom.

So, how’s that trickle down thing going? Did the corporate tax cuts result in plenty of jobs and prosperity? Or, did the bosses just keep it for themselves?

The hope of austerity now and prosperity later is a false, forlorn one. The MLB teams that have acted most “cost consciously” (cheaply) are now the models for the entire sport. The hope of expensive players tomorrow is revealed to be an empty promise: EVERY team in the majors could use, and can afford, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. They are absolutely the elite-elites that you spend gobs of money on. Owners don’t want to pay them because they’re expensive. But, wait, I thought the owners were fielding cheap teams so that they’d be able to pay expensive players down the line? All the money the Pittsburgh Pirates have pocketed over the years, shouldn’t that have gone to keep Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutcheon? Isn’t that saved money available to sign Machado or Harper now?

And, thus we arrive at the second part of this strange event: this trade is about the lack of hope. Because, even though the Knicks are going to tank their asses off now (they already had the worst record in the NBA), the odds are that they won’t secure the #1 pick in the draft (even with the worst record in the league, they only have a 14% chance of securing the first pick), and thus won’t be able to draft Zion Williamson. The odds are that the elite free agents won’t sign with the Knicks in the offseason because A) look at the Knicks free agent history, it bad; B) the roster, even with two hypothetical All Star additions via max contracts in free agency, will not be a serious contender-worthy team, and C) good things don’t generally happen to the Knicks (I’m serious, look at their history! It’s depressing, man! Knicks fans have suffered, no shit.) The best free agent the Knicks have signed in the 21st century is Amar’e Stoudemire. That’s one good free agent in 18 years. In New York City. And, the Knicks, led by Mike D’Antoni, immediately orchestrated the obliteration of Stoudemire’s knees, anyway. (I didn’t include Tyson Chandler because I consider that a neutral signing, at best.) Free agents don’t come to New York. In fact, the Knicks don’t generally even sign players to two consecutive contracts: that’s how bad their personnel decisions have been.

On the other hand, the odds also say that Kristaps Porzingis will only have a couple of completely healthy seasons in his career; that he’ll be hampered by injuries much of the time, just like most other big men. Odds are that neither Kristaps nor DSJ, nor whoever the Knicks eventually acquire with their picks, ever lead their teams to a Championship because it’s really hard to win the NBA Finals, and it’s really hard to even make the goddamn Finals (just ask everyone in the East since LeBron James was drafted). The odds are that this trade won’t matter in the long term: the Mavs won’t become the reborn 2011 Miracle Mavs with Luka and Kristaps in place of JKidd and Dirk, and they won’t ever beat the Warriors, or the LeBron Lakers, and Luka will have to wait out the West until some HOFers retire; and, the Knicks will continue to Knick, and overpay and under-play.

Or, maybe, James Dolan will think about how the MLB offseason is going, and realize that he can rake in the dough while fielding a subpar, cheap team because “analytics,” which is just another word for data, tells him to. The numbers say I should I save my money. How convenient! The fact that the Knicks are being cheap is seen as an improvement in some circles: welcome to Present Day Pro Sports, where trying is dumb, and more money for the fabulously wealthy is smart. I wonder if that attitude is reflected in society at large?

This Kristaps trade is the equivalent of Bryce and Manny still being unsigned. Great players abandoned, because signing them doesn’t make dollars and sense. These sports leagues are businesses. They make business decisions. The Knicks will have a quiet offseason after (intentionally) whiffing in free agency; they’ll make piecemeal additions, they’ll take risks with younger (cheap) reclamation projects (who they can then flip), they’ll sign vets to tradable contracts so that they can acquire more draft capital and MORE assets, and make even MORE money while spending hardly any of it.

Or, maybe the Knicks made this trade because it’s just a Knicksy kinda thing to do. I saw a joke online that said, “The Knicks now plan to sign both Harper AND Machado.” Exactly! How about Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio to max contracts? Does that sound Knicksy enough to you?

On a personal note, I think the idea that Kevin Durant saw the Knicks organization this season and said to himself, I’m DEFINITELY signing with them!, is kind of insane. Did KD and Kyrie really like how David Fizdale was juggling his rotations? Did they like how Mitchell Robinson fouls out in under 20 minutes on a regular basis? Are they enemies of Enes Kanter and sadistically enjoy his lack of minutes?

I’ve heard some people say, in derision, mind you, that the Knicks will probably end up signing Boogie Cousins, or Eric Bledsoe, or Tobias Harris. The Knicks should be so lucky! All three of those guys are great players! Boogie’s looked good since coming back from injury, Bledsoe’s one of, if not the, best defensive point guards in the NBA this year, and Toby is bomb, man. Have you seen him play for the Clippers this year? Why exactly don’t you want to pay that man his money? He’s the definition of a good modern, 3-and-D player: Knicks fans should want Tobias Harris on their team.

The legends say that Hope is the last thing left in Pandora’s Box, and that Zeus wills Pandora to shut the lid before Hope can escape out into the world. Pandora’s Box was full of evils; Hope was kept contained. What does that mean for we fools who dare to dream and hope, despite rooting for the goddamn Knicks?

“Thus it is not possible to escape the mind of Zeus,” ends Hesiod’s poem of the Pandora myth.

There is no escape. Hope was not loosed upon the land.

We all know how this is going to end.