NEW YORK (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis won’t be rejoining the Knicks once his knee is healed.
Instead, he’s on his way to Dallas after a surprising trade the Knicks say the All-Star forward requested Thursday.
The Knicks dealt Porzingis to the Mavericks in a seven-player swap that also netted New York two future first-round draft picks and possibly enough room to afford two top free agents this summer.
“As is standard for this time of year, we were exploring various options on potential trades,” Knicks general manager Scott Perry said in a statement. “Considering the uncertainty regarding Kristaps’ free agent status and his request today to be traded, we made a trade that we are confident improves the franchise.”
Porzingis has been sidelined for nearly a year after tearing his left ACL. The Knicks said recently he would undergo testing during the middle of February that could have determined if he would be able to return this season.
If it does, it will be in Dallas, where he can form an intriguing international frontcourt with rookie Luka Doncic. Both played professionally in Spain before coming to the NBA as top-five picks.
The Knicks acquired Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews in the deal, while also sending guards Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Courtney Lee to Dallas. Neither team said when the Knicks would get the two first-round picks.
The 7-foot-3 Porzingis was the No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft and averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in New York, where he was expected to be the Knicks’ franchise player for years. But they declined to give him a contract extension before this season, and now by trading him and Hardaway seem instead to be gearing up to pursue players in free agency.
Hardaway has two more years and about $37 million left on his contract, and moving that was necessary if the Knicks were going to find a way to open the most cap space possible.
New York (10-40) has the worst record in the NBA and is headed toward landing a high pick in the draft. Then the Knicks will be set up to be big spenders — perhaps for two top players — in a free agent market that could include Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and more.
But they won’t have Porzingis, who they once believed was the kind of talent who could help attract those players. The Latvian has 3-point range on offense and shot-blocking skills on defense, and had made his first All-Star team just before tearing his ACL after a dunk against Milwaukee on Feb. 6.
He had been frustrated with the franchise before, skipping his exit meeting after his second season before returning to Europe for the summer. But Knicks coach David Fizdale had said Porzingis was frequently around the team even while he couldn’t play, taking part in meetings and some activities on the court.
The most valuable player in the deal from the Knicks’ standpoint is likely Smith, the point guard they passed on with the No. 8 pick in 2017 when they instead took Frank Ntilikina. The Mavericks took Smith one pick later, and he posted the second triple-double of his career Wednesday when Dallas won at Madison Square Garden.
Jordan is a former U.S. Olympian and top defensive center, but if it’s unclear if the Knicks will hold onto him. They are focused on playing their young players, so could look to move Jordan. The trade deadline is next Thursday.