Fernando Medina/Getty Images
Houston Rockets Receive: Khem Birch, Courtney Lee
New York Knicks Receive: Jarell Martin, Terrence Ross
Orlando Magic Receive: Brandon Knight, Frank Ntilikina, 2021 second-round pick (via Houston)
It seems like the Knicks have given up on Frank Ntilikina, the eighth pick in the 2017 draft. Head coach David Fizdale slashed his playing time toward the end of November, and he has yet to take the floor in December. Damyean Dotson, Emmanuel Mudiay and Allonzo Trier are all getting minutes over him, and the return of Courtney Lee doesn’t bode well for his spot in the rotation moving forward.
Fizdale isn’t ready indulge these between-the-lines interpretations.
“I’m just going to keep trying to pump confidence into him and all of these guys,” he said after Ntilikina didn’t play in the Knicks’ rollicking Dec. 1 overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks, per The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov. “They know one thing about me is they’re never out. They’re never in the doghouse with me. They always have a chance to get themselves back into the rotation.”
Opposing teams disagree. They’ve started calling the Knicks about Ntilikina’s availability, according to Vorkunov.
Orlando is among those making inquiries, per Vorkunov, and would make for an interesting trade partner. Head coach Steve Clifford has done a nice job maximizing the talent on the roster, but the Magic need a trump card—someone to help stabilize their offense or advance their defensive identity.
Ntilikina takes care of the latter, and Orlando has the leeway in the backcourt and on the wings to test his mettle at the other end. Taking on Brandon Knight, who’s owed $15.6 million next season, kind of stings but is not without upside. He gives them another on-ball playmaking option to evaluate when fully healthy. The Magic shouldn’t have any qualms about sticking out his deal.
The same goes for moving Terrence Ross. He’s averaging almost 16 points and shooting 45.9 percent from three over his last 15 games, but his impending free agency makes him expendable. Going on 28, he doesn’t fit the timeline of a rebuild.
Nixing the Rockets’ inclusion works if the Magic would rather absorb Lee than Knight and a second-rounder. Houston should hope they don’t. Lee just returned from a neck injury, but he cuts down on the Rockets’ luxury-tax bill this season and next while adding serviceable depth to their wing rotation. Houston shouldn’t balk at including another second-rounder or sending Orlando a heavily protected first.
The Knick are selling low on Ntilikina relative to his draft position. They’ll have to live with it. They haven’t given him the opportunity to improve his stock.
Using him to wash off the final year of Lee’s deal is good value. New York sheds $17.6 million in salary heading into free agency, and having Ross’ Bird rights could prove useful depending on how the offseason shakes out. Also: Jarell Martin played well during his time in Memphis, some of which was spent under Fizdale. His arrival could mean nothing, or perhaps turn into a little cool something.