The New York Knicks won their third straight game Friday night, defeating the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder in what was the first of a four-game road trip.
While of course the biggest story is that the win gave the Knicks a winning record, the latest into a season they’ve been over .500 since April 2013, the side story of the night was Durant’s upcoming free agency and the (slightest of slight) possibility that he may take his talents to the Big Apple next summer.
This isn’t really anything worth monitoring in my honest opinion, especially not in November, but it got me thinking about the Knicks’ big free agency acquisition from this previous offseason, Robin Lopez. The big man agreed to a four-year, $54 million contract this past July, just weeks after the Knicks drafted rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis.
At first it seemed that with Porzingis being a couple of years away from being able to contribute in a meaningful way, Lopez was a slam-dunk signing to be the Knicks’ defensive anchor. As you’ve seen, and not to overstate things, Porzingis has been one of the team’s best players, leading the squad in rebounds and coming in second behind Carmelo Anthony in points per game:
Knicks are probably better off with Kristaps on Davis instead of Lopez which is a real thing I can't believe I'm typing
— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) November 15, 2015
Despite his ability to step outside and both knock down shots and even be a competent defender on the perimeter, it appears Porzingis is better suited as a center than a power forward. To make matters more complicated, Anthony, who’s still the team’s superstar and best player despite the Porzingis hype, is at his best when he’s playing power forward.
Not to take anything away from how good Lopez is at his job, but just 13 games into the season, it’s beginning to seem as if the mascot-fighting big man is less of a necessity for the Knicks than he was thought to be during the offseason. Driving that idea home is the fact that he’s sat for the entire fourth quarter in three of those 13 games, per NBA.com, with Porzingis and even Kevin Seraphin, another offseason addition, getting those crunch-time minutes ahead of him.
While Lopez played 10 of his 33 minutes Friday night in the fourth quarter, this isn’t exactly something to be freaking out about for Knicks fans. Also along those lines, there’s still about 80 percent of the NBA season ahead of us. Signing Lopez to a four-year deal was a commitment to a guy who brings excellent intangibles like hustle, teamwork and leadership to an organization desperate for all of the above:
— Posting and Toasting (@ptknicksblog) November 21, 2015
Here’s where I begin to really think about possibilities for the Knicks’ future.
Not to downplay Lopez’s impact, but with Seraphin, Kyle O’Quinn and Lou Amundson on the roster, not to mention Porzingis, who you want to get in as much playing time with Anthony as well as get the experience in big situations, what if the Knicks were to look into making their starting center expendable?
Again, I’m not being completely serious. This is more of a creative exercise littered with “what-if’s.”
Don’t the Knicks want to commit to Porzingis as their center? How can they afford a $14 million a year backup center? Isn’t there a team out there that would love Lopez moving forward at that price considering the salary cap is reportedly going way up?
The Knicks still have several holes on their roster, mainly on the perimeter, and also don’t have a first-round draft pick for 2016. You’re obviously not going to get a Bradley Beal for Lopez, but maybe it’s worth looking into seeing if the team could get some kind of package of picks.
Off the top of my head, the Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks and Toronto Raptors could be three teams looking for big-man depth as they make their playoff push, and with teams like the Houston Rockets (Dwight Howard) and Chicago Bulls (both Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol) depending on big men who aren’t the most reliable when it comes to staying healthy, I don’t think it’d be impossible for the Knicks to find someone willing to give up assets for a player as proven as Lopez.
As someone who thought Lopez would be a game-changer for the Knicks, I think he has a ton of value in this league. Unfortunately – in the least of unfortunate ways – for New York, it doesn’t appear that he’s their best option at center. Not for the future, and maybe not even for now.