Knicks Trade Out Of NBA Draft To Shed Kemba Walker Contract; Who Is The Team Clearing Cap Space For?

(Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)

The 2022 NBA draft came and went and the New York Knicks were active, but not in the way their long-suffering fans wanted. When commissioner Adam Silver arrived at the podium and announced, “With the 11th pick in the 2022 NBA draft, the New York Knicks select Ousmane Dieng from France,” the assembled Knicks fans at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn let out a loud collective boo.

Worse for the Knicks fans in attendance is they didn’t realize the pick was a part of a big trade-and-salary-dump package. Dieng was sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder for three future protected first-round picks and Trevor Keels.

The Knicks also were part of a three-team deal that saw them get off of Kemba Walker’s contract, which had a year and a little over $9 million remaining. They sent some second-round picks away as well and received a 2025 first-round pick from the Milwaukee Bucks.

All told, the Knicks traded out of the 2022 NBA draft because the player they coveted, Jaden Ivey, wasn’t available and they could not put together a package valuable enough to lure him away from the Detroit Pistons.

The move certainly left Knicks fans confused, but team president Leon Rose released a statement on Friday to let fans know they have a “plan.”

Rose and William “World Wide” Wesley, both with ties to Creative Artists Agency (CAA) have largely been quiet about their plans to rebuild the Knicks franchise. They almost never do media interviews and do not hold press conferences or media availability like most NBA teams do. The statement released on Friday, their actions on draft night and the subtle moves they’ve made to the coaching staff is all we have to go on.

The Knicks, at the behest of Rose and Wesley, hired Rick Brunson as an assistant coach. Rose and Wesley have known Brunson for decades. Brunson, a former NBA player, was most recently the head coach at Camden High School, where top recruit D.J. Wagner, son of Dajuan Wagner, plays. Brunson is replacing Kenny Payne, who left the Knicks to be the head coach at Louisville, which is recruiting Wagner. Louisville is also where Wagner’s grandfather, Milt Wagner, played college ball.

Why does all of this matter?

Because this is the world of the NBA. Relationships, who considers whom family, etc., all come into play and matter as to how and why someone is hired or selected for a position.

Rick Brunson also happens to be the father of Dallas Mavericks unrestricted free agent Jalen Brunson. Rose and Wesley have known Jalen since he was born.

In addition to draft capital, the Knicks also shed salary Thursday night. The picks they acquired will also allow them to potentially move off the Evan Fournier deal, which has three years and $55 million remaining. No team is likely to take on that contract unless a future first-round pick is included.

With 22 draft picks over the next seven years, including 11 first and 11 second-round picks, some of the contracts the Knicks don’t want (Alec Burks or even Julius Randle) would be more attractive to potential trade partners.

Potential cap space, draft picks and Rick Brunson as an assistant coach. All signs point toward the Knicks making a serious run at Jalen Brunson. Sources tell The Shadow League that something in the neighborhood of Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet’s contract is possible. That’s four years and $85 million.

Even $80 million is an overpay for a short point guard (6 feet 1) who is a minus on defense and benefited from playing next to superstar Luka Doncic in Dallas. The Knicks have nobody in the same galaxy as Doncic in terms of talent or ability.

Still, this is a likely free agent target. If they continue to clear cap room, the picks could also mean they become a player in potentially trading for the Nets’ Kyrie Irving. Assuming the mercurial guard and Brooklyn remain at odds.

At the end of the 2021 season the Knicks made the playoffs and the future looked bright. No bad contracts, young talent and direction. A year later the team regressed, coaching and the front office are being questioned, and they look to be going all in on an undersized point guard.