Assessing a potential Knicks’ trade for Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine

If you’re Knicks president Leon Rose, do you run it back next season?

Do you think RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Quentin Grimes, Mitchell Robinson, etc. can help you take a step forward? Are you willing to bet that internal improvement of those young players, and a full year of Josh Hart, can get you past the second round?

Or, do you trade some of those young players and draft picks for an established star? There could be several big names on the trade market this season. Karl-Anthony Towns, Damian Lillard, Zion Williamson, Joel Embiid, Zach LaVine, etc.

Starting next Friday, you can include up to eight first-round picks in a trade. So you have the draft capital to make a competitive offer. And your young players – Barrett, Grimes, Quickley, Robinson – have improved their trade value since last summer. That gives you the opportunity to put together a compelling trade package for a top player.

With that in mind, we’ll look at the details of potential trades for top players over the next two weeks. We started with Towns, Williamson and Bradley Beal (who looks to be headed to the Phoenix Suns), and we’ll look at Embiid, Jaylen Brown and others.

Today, we break down the math, pathways and impact of a LaVine trade to the Knicks:

What would the Knicks need to give up?

LaVine will make $40 million next year. The Knicks would need to send out at least $32 million to satisfy league trade rules. They can do this in a number of ways. (Our scenarios include the assumption that New York declines Derrick Rose’s team option and picks up Miles McBride’s team option.)

If the package to Chicago includes Evan Fournier, New York would need to send out an additional $13 million in the deal. A package including Fournier, Toppin, Isaiah Hartenstein and draft compensation would work. This would allow Chicago to shed salary in 2023-24 and in 2024-25, when Fournier’s contract expires. If the Bulls want Barrett, the Knicks sending out a package including Barrett, Quickley, Toppin and draft compensation would work.

Also worth noting in any trade conversation about the Knicks: Grimes’ 2023-24 salary is $2.4 million. I assume New York would do everything it could to keep Grimes (and Quickley) out of a deal. I also assume that any team making a significant deal with New York would want Grimes and/or Quickley in the trade. From a salary perspective, it’s easy to include Grimes’ $2.4 million in a package that sends out $32 million.

Of course, the Knicks can send out more than $32 million in a trade for LaVine. But we’d assume Chicago wants to take back less salary to improve its flexibility and avoid any punitive measures in the new collective bargaining agreement.

**We’re not commenting on the wisdom of trading these players for LaVine; we’re just laying out the math involved in making the trade work.

Why would he be traded?

The Bulls missed the playoffs despite near full seasons from Lavine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Of course, the team was missing a key piece in Lonzo Ball. But given Ball’s health concerns, there are reasons to believe Bulls management would significantly alter this roster.

As NBC Chicago’s KC Johnson notes, the Bulls would be in close proximity of the luxury tax if they run this roster back. IF they sign a free agent with their mid-level exception, they would be a luxury tax team. Does ownership sign off on paying that kind of money for a team that didn’t make the playoffs?

All of that adds up to uncertainty around LaVine. Yahoo Sports reports that Chicago is gauging LaVine’s value around the league. There is a difference between gauging a player’s value and seriously considering moving him.

If the Bulls earnestly considered moving LaVine, would New York be interested?

LaVine, a two-time All Star who averaged 24.8 points last season, fits New York’s timeline. The Knicks, under team president Rose, were doing background work on LaVine leading into his free-agent season. More recently, the Bulls and Knicks did touch base casually during the regular season about potential trades. At that time, I was told that some with Chicago had interest in Quickley. But that was months ago (well before the 2023 trade deadline). And the contact between the two teams was casual. Both teams may have changed their thinking at this point. Certainly, Quickley’s value is much higher now than it was then (something ESPN Front Office Insider Bobby Marks touches on in this article).

Also worth noting: In an SNY mailbag last month, we covered the idea of New York trading for LaVine. When reached for that article last month, a Bulls spokesperson said the idea that Chicago had any discussions involving LaVine is “100 percent false.”

But more recently, Johnson, a Bulls insider, wondered whether the Bulls would entertain moving LaVine.

Even if Chicago is totally open to moving LaVine, there are other hurdles involved in any LaVine-to-NY scenario that, to me, make a deal unlikely.

We’ll find out exactly where the Bulls stand on LaVine on Thursday night, when teams like Portland decide whether to keep their top pick or trade it for a veteran.

Could the Knicks still add players after a LaVine trade?

Yes. Let’s assume the Knicks stay below the apron of $169 million after this trade. This would leave them with access to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($12.2 million), which can be used on multiple players. They’d also have access to the $7.6 million bi-annual exception. So they would have tools to add other free agents after a LaVine trade. But they might be limited financially in future seasons if LaVine is on the roster with other high-salary players. The 28-year-old is entering the second season of a five-year, $215 million deal. The new CBA has punitive rules in place for teams that spend above a certain threshold, particularly once we get to the 2024-25 season.

Just food for thought as you consider what the Knicks should – or shouldn’t – do this offseason.