Grade the Trade: Knicks jettison All-Star for hated irritant in bold new pitch

Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks / Evan Yu/GettyImages
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Do the Knicks make this trade?

The New York Knicks do not need Marcus Smart, per se. They have elite perimter defense coming from OG Anunoby, capable rim protection with Mitchell Robinson and (if they re-sign him) Isaiah Hartenstein. Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart and Miles McBride are no slouches.

Yet at the same time, the presence of Julius Randle on this team is a potential problem. They need his secondary scoring, but at the same time they have built a defensive identity that would be best deployed without him in the lineup. Anunoby would be best deployed at power forward, where his secondary rim protection will have the most impact.

Slide Anunoby down, however, and you open up space on the wing. That's where Marcus Smart comes in. He can work as the secondary ball-handler with Jalen Brunson or run the offense when Brunson is on the bench; in fact, his presence on the team would hopefully allow Tom Thibodeau to stop playing Brunson, McBride and Hart obscene minutes.

Smart's defensive ability and constant motor would also endear him to the Knicks fan base quickly, no matter his history as a villain and hated irritant. A couple of charges taken and dives to the court for a loose ball and he'll be adopted quickly.

What about the cost? Trading Randle is obviously painful, but as a high-volume, middling-efficiency scorer he would always cap the ceiling of this Knicks team. Moving on from him also breaks his salary up into a few different pieces, giving the Knicks more flexibility in their next trade to add a top-20 player to pair with Brunson.

Ziaire Williams and Jake LaRavia haven't developed into clearcut rotation players, but they would give the Knicks depth, and it's very reasonable that one or both will develop in the Knicks' ecosystem. If not, they are relatively short-term commitments. The second-round pick from the LA Clippers in 2026 has a decent upside to be one of the top picks in the second round.

This deal would be an adjustment, and it's possible they find a better deal out there for Randle. This trade would add defense, experience and fire to a team that thrives on all three, and it's reasonable enough for both sides that the Knicks can spend some time considering it.

Grade: B+

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