With rumors swirling that New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina may be traded this summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder seem like a logical team to capitalize on the situation.
The Oklahoma City Thunder may be a logical trade partner.
Over the summer the Thunder will look to improve their roster after a lack-luster post season run. Seeing as a monumental, blockbuster move is unlikely, the team will look to improve on the peripheral: with role players and draft picks.
Ntilikina fits that mold.
With the Knicks blockbuster deadline trade last Feb that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks in an attempt to off-load a massive amount of long-term money, New York’s plan became crystal clear to the rest of the league: It’s time to hunt big name free agents.
The Knicks project to have nearly $70 million in cap space this summer; enough money to sign two max-level free agents. If they do trade away Ntilikina, it would make sense for New York to avoid taking back any salary in order to further open up their cap space for free agency.
The Knicks also acquired the highly touted and extremely athletic point guard Dennis Smith Jr. in the Porzingis trade, making Ntilikina even more expendable.
This is where the Oklahoma City Thunder come into play.
heading into June’s draft Oklahoma City will be looking to select a player with high upside who also has a chance to make an immediate impact. Those types of players are hard to find at pick 21 – the spot in which the Thunder will be selecting.
Ntilikina possesses the type of attributes that Oklahoma City typically covets. He is long (6’6″ with a 7’1″ wingspan), versatile (can play point guard, shooting guard, and small forward), and a terrific perimeter defender.
He also won’t be 21 years old until late July, making him younger than possible draft prospects such as Matisse Thybulle and Cameron Johnson.
If the Knicks are looking to trade Ntilikina without taking back salary — say, for a draft pick — the Thunder could be a possible partner. Although he was taken with the eighth overall pick in 2017, Ntilikina’s value has dropped in his first two years in the league.
Oklahoma City is armed with a $10.9 million trade exception created when they traded away Carmelo Anthony last off season, allowing them to take back salary in a trade without sending anything in return.
The Thunder have a history of making trades just like this. In the past General Manager Sam Presti has targeted former lottery picks who are still on their rookie contracts but did not pan out with their first team, and his gambles have paid off.
In Jan of 2015 the Thunder acted as a third team in a Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers trade, acquiring Dion Waiters by using a trade exception. Waiters was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft and had fallen out of favor with the Cavs at the time.
Just a month later Oklahoma City orchestrated a trade deadline deal in which they received Enes Kanter from the Utah Jazz, a former third overall pick who could not find a role in Utah.
Both Waiters and Kanter went on to flourish in Oklahoma City, rebuilding their reputation and cashing in on large contracts.
Could Ntilikina be the Thunder’s next project?
If the Knicks do intend to trade their young guard, Oklahoma City’s 21st overall pick may be just enough to get a deal done.