Photo: Tony Gutierrez (AP)

Last Thursday’s trade that sent a disgruntled (or at least mildly gruntled) Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks came as a shock to many around the league, not least among them Knicks fans. Where did this come from? Why did this happen so quickly? Why didn’t the Knicks shop around for better offers? All excellent questions, but now we’ve got some answers. Maybe not entirely satisfying ones, but answers nonetheless.

Marc Stein of the New York Times has a tick-tock of the days and hours leading up to the trade, which sent Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, and Trey Burke to Dallas in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr., the expiring contracts of DeAndre Jordan and Wes Matthews, and two first-round picks. The whole thing is very much worth reading, as a story and not just a nugget collection, but the most immediately surprising news is that the foundation of the trade was in place for long before either side came to the table. Stein writes,

The Mavericks’ interest in Porzingis has been an open secret to the Knicks for years. One Mavericks official estimated that Dallas approached the Knicks “about a hundred times” before the team ever showed any willingness to discuss trading him.

On the other side, the Knicks had long made known their interest in Smith, while the teams had separately been discussing a Hardaway-for-Matthews deal. That trade alone would’ve represented part of what the Knicks ultimately got here—cap space—but not nearly on the scale New York needed to clear another max spot. But because the teams had already independently discussed the major parts of what turned out to be the final package, a megadeal was able to come together quickly once the Knicks decided they were actually willing to trade their superstar.

Stein pegs Jan. 28 as the first time the Knicks became “open” to trading Porzingis, and on Jan. 30, the Mavericks visited New York. Before that game, in which Porzingis warmly greeted Luka Dončić and Smith scored a triple-double, Knicks GM Scott Perry and Mavs GM Donnie Nelson met in a hallway before retreating to an office to discuss particulars. It’s heavily implied that the trade’s particulars were worked out then and there.

The next morning, the Knicks met with Porzingis—a meeting they claim had been requested by him and his agent/brother. In that meeting, Porzingis reportedly gave the team a list of four teams he’d want to be traded to. The Mavericks were not on the list. That might’ve been the reason the Knicks pulled the trigger on the trade so quickly, and why they didn’t call around the league seeking better offers.

The Knicks also were fearful that letting the Dallas offer linger, or engaging other teams in the week leading up to the trade deadline, would enable the Porzingis camp to scare off the Mavericks or other potential suitors by threatening to sign long-term only with teams like the Nets or the Clippers.

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That’s entirely plausible, given that we’re seeing exactly this scenario play out in the Anthony Davis saga. (Perhaps less plausible is the Knicks’ insistence that they couldn’t have gotten a better return than the one the Mavs were offering.)

Stein paints a relatively rosy picture of the Knicks’ haul, both in his own view and in the views of rival team executives. Of course, all of it depends on whether the Knicks are able to lure two max players this summer, and if one of them is Kevin Durant. That’s a pretty freaking huge contingency. But maybe it’s not such an unlikely outcome as it once was. Still, these are the Knicks, and things never work out as planned. So while fans of a losing team need hope—since there’s literally nothing else—there’s every chance in the world that yet again this will backfire, and that these few months of hope are as good as it’s going to get.

[NY Times]