Sports

The Knicks Fleeced Atlanta for Cam Reddish. Or Did They?

After a 5-1 start to the season that had bing-bong hosannas cascading throughout the five boroughs, the Knicks stumbled and slumped, posting the NBA’s third-worst record and seventh-worst net rating from the start of November through the middle of December. This was not what team president Leon Rose and Co. had in mind when they brought in Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker to build on last season’s surprise run to the playoffs; with expectations outstripping results, you had to figure New York would try to shake things up before next month’s trade deadline.

You knew for certain the Hawks were about to shake things up, because their GM just gave the roster he’d built a very public vote of no confidence. Coming off a brilliant run to the Eastern Conference finals, Travis Schlenk shelled out more than $400 million to keep the good times rolling, extending the contracts of Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela, and Kevin Huerter. The times, in fact, have not been good: Despite Young continuing to blossom into a superstar, Atlanta entered Thursday at 17-23, three games behind New York in the standings and three games out of the final play-in spot, tied for the NBA’s third-worst defense. After watching his creation spend two months stepping on rakes, Schlenk recently went on Atlanta radio and said the quiet part very loud: “Maybe I need to lower my expectations for this team. … Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to bring everybody back.”

The motivations for New York and Atlanta to do something were clear, but it’s kind of fascinating they chose to do this: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday that the Hawks are sending Cam Reddish—the no. 10 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, which Atlanta famously got along with Young for moving down two spots so that Dallas could take Luka Doncic—along with Solomon Hill and the Nets’ 2025 second-round pick to the Knicks, in exchange for a protected 2022 first-round selection and fourth-year forward Kevin Knox II.

On its face, this looks like a potential fleecing by New York. After making 57 starts as a rookie for a terrible team under David Fizdale, Knox largely receded from view; of the 312 players who have played at least 2,500 minutes in the NBA since the Knicks drafted him ninth in 2018, Knox ranks 311th in effective field goal percentage. (Dead last on that list? Fellow former Knick lottery pick Frank Ntilikina. Yeesh.) Knox, plus a Charlotte first-rounder that can’t be any better than the no. 15 pick in a couple of years, is all it took to get Reddish, a 22-year-old wing who hung 21 on the eventual champs in a closeout playoff game six months ago? What are we missing?

Maybe it’s as simple as taking Schlenk at his word: that he believed something needed to give with the Hawks, and that decongesting a crowded rotation by redistributing Reddish’s minutes to more efficient and consistent performers (the reportedly disgruntled John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, the just-returned De’Andre Hunter) while recouping a first-rounder and creating a roster spot were worth the cost of losing Reddish’s talent. After all, Hill, a 30-year-old veteran, is out injured for the season, and his roster spot plus the acquired pick could be useful in crafting more deals between now and February 10. (Hill seems fine with the deal, by the way.) Financial concerns surely played a role, too. With all those just-signed extensions about to kick in, dealing Reddish, who becomes eligible for his own extension this summer, relieves the Hawks from having to decide whether to pony up yet again—and provides some additional flexibility to re-up the oft-injured but excellent Hunter, who’s also extension-eligible this summer.

It also might be that Schlenk and Co., after seeing Reddish’s flashes of brilliance mitigated by shot-jacking and underwhelming production, were no longer as enamored of his talent as others are. Reddish has shot just 38.5 percent from the field in his career, with more turnovers (174) than assists (160), and the Hawks have performed significantly better with him off the floor than on it over the past two seasons.

Reddish, who was the no. 3 recruit in his high school class, clearly believes in his ability: “I know I’m nice,” he told Michael Pina of Sports Illustrated before the season. Early in the campaign, with Atlanta struggling out of the gates, Reddish told my Ringer colleague Seerat Sohi that figuring out how to play off the ball and spot up from the corner was “one of the hardest things I had to learn,” but made it clear that he saw it as a temporary condition: “I don’t think that’s gonna be my role forever.”

Schlenk evidently wasn’t convinced Reddish merited either the “increased role” he sought in Atlanta or an extension that could wind up paying in the range of $18 million to $20 million per year. Now, he’ll try to prove worthy of both in New York. Reddish will get minutes on the wing, but it’s fair to wonder whether the size of the opportunity he’s walking into is dramatically larger than the one he’s leaving behind.

While an earlier iteration of the deal reportedly would’ve sent Knicks rookie Quentin Grimes to Atlanta, the final version didn’t, meaning Reddish joins an already-crowded New York rotation. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are already entrenched at the starting forward spots. (Barrett, Reddish’s former Duke teammate, has started to surge after a sluggish start to the season, averaging 23.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists while shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 41.3 percent from 3-point range over his past eight games.) Tom Thibodeau has favored veterans Fournier and Alec Burks in the backcourt of late, with Grimes and Immanuel Quickley playing significant minutes off the bench; when they’re healthy, Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose will factor into the rotation, too. And while the addition of another big, versatile, and athletic wing could unlock more small-ball configurations for the Knicks, it’s unlikely that the famously doctrinaire Thibodeau, who believes in protecting the paint above all else, will dramatically slash the minutes of his center troika of Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel, and longtime Thibs favorite Taj Gibson. Reddish has tantalizing physical gifts, but his defensive commitment can wax and wane.

That said … he truly does have physical gifts:

Wings with Reddish’s combination of size (6-foot-8, 217 pounds, 7-foot-1 wingspan), athleticism, defensive upside, and touch (83.3 percent from the free throw line for his career, 37.9 percent from 3-point range on 4.5 attempts per game this season) don’t grow on trees, and they don’t come cheap; as my Ringer teammate Kevin O’Connor put it earlier this week, “Many other teams want [Reddish] because he could be worth it.”

If Thibodeau can get Reddish to consistently defend and cut some of the fat out of his shot diet—chiefly the midrange shots that account for 30 percent of his attempts, and that he makes only 30 percent of the time—he could bolster the perimeter rotation of a Knicks team that, quiet as it’s kept, has won seven of 10 to get back to .500 and sits just three games out of fifth in the East. If Reddish soars in new surroundings, the Knicks might have landed a future All-Star for a pittance. If he fails to impress over the next 40 games, New York’s brass can kick the can down the road on an extension for Reddish, making him sing for his supper next season before deciding whether to bring him back in restricted free agency in 2023.

This is the kind of deal that a smart front office makes: pouncing on a team in turmoil to take a low-risk, high-reward swing, effectively buying a season-and-a-half trial subscription to a player viewed by many as a top-of-the-draft talent. (New York has also reunited two-thirds of the headliners from the 2019 Blue Devils, which is sure to inflame speculation over the contractual situation of the third, the injured Zion Williamson, who, as you might have heard, enjoys playing at Madison Square Garden.)

This deal also raises plenty of questions about what comes next: for the Knicks, trying to position themselves for both a postseason push and perhaps an even bigger swing in the star-hunting trade market down the road; for the Hawks, who might have their sights set on a bigger deal, too; and for Reddish, who doesn’t seem content with being a role player and will now try to show he’s a star at the World’s Most Famous Arena. We might see bigger deals before the deadline, but we might not see a more interesting one.


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