What would it take for the Knicks to trade for Zion Williamson?

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pelicans won’t entertain Zion Williamson trade offers unless he forces their hand. But if he does, the New York Knicks should be ready to pounce.

Let’s say this off the top – the Knicks need to stay the course and continue to build through the young guns and the draft. They have a collection of brilliant basketball scouts in Walt Perrin, Scott Perry, Leon Rose, and William “World Wide” Wesley in the front office to evaluate talent through. But, if Zion Williamson decides he finally wants out and demands a trade, they need to be prepared to offer a deal that other teams cannot outbid by understanding what would benefit New Orleans in the short- and long-term.

Suppose the Pelicans decide or are forced to go nuclear and trade their franchise cornerstone. In that case, they will almost certainly want both substantial draft capital and veteran complementary pieces to stay competitive with more than $120 million tied up in Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum over the next two seasons. New York can offer both. Julius Randle has outworn his welcome in New York. With the emergence of RJ Barret, the team can afford to pivot towards Barrett’s timeline and trade Randle in a deal to net a proper number one option.

A Zion to New York trade is every Knicks fan’s dream. But what would a trade look like? To build a trade for Zion around Randle would necessitate New Orleans including additional salary to make it work financially. This means New York would have to counter with additional assets.

From the perspective of a Knick fan, It feels nice to construct one of these mega trades for the Knicks without it seeming like it’s the only option moving forward. They can peel it back, trade Randle elsewhere, and build around the kids if needed. An extension on their timeline doesn’t hurt their overall trajectory since they own all of their picks moving forward and the Mavericks 2023, top 10 protected first-round pick.

Why would the Pelicans even entertain such a deal? Zion has given multiple indications that he does not want to be in New Orleans. If these mirages have any truth, then the Pelicans should pivot towards trying to elicit the best possible package for their young star. Three years into his career he’s barely been on the court for the Pelicans because of numerous injuries and he hasn’t appeared interested in pushing his recovery timeline for the sake of the team.

There are legitimate questions about his health and will to win that no trade would suddenly cure. But the prospect of landing a generational talent like Zion is too good for a superstar-thirsty franchise like New York to pass up. They would have to hope to pair him with college teammates RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish would satisfy him and motivate him to do what Duke couldn’t – win it all. In New York, he would also be joining a CAA family reunion, with Knicks president Leon Roe the former CAA president, William Wesley part of the agency, and Tom Thibodeau, also represented by CAA.

A possible Knicks trade package for Zion Williamson

Knicks receive: Zion Williamson, Larry Nance Jr., Jonas Valanciunas.

Pelicans receive: Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson (sign-and-trade), Immanuel Quickly, Kemba Walker, Knicks 2022 first-round pick (unprotected), 2024 first-round pick (unprotected), 2026 first-round pick (unprotected) and Mavericks 2023 first-round pick (top 10 protected).

Why New Orleans would consider it:

Julius Randle had his first breakout year with New Orleans in the 2018-19 season, averaging 21 points, and 9 rebounds per game,  shooting 52 percent from the field. A return to a franchise he broke out with would seem a comfortable choice after the harsh lights of New York appeared too bright for him. New Orleans would be getting an All-Star-level talent to replace Williamson’s production and a player who is proven to be healthy and available. Randle would provide spacing and playmaking at the power forward position while slotting in next to forward Brandon Ingram, who he played alongside while they were both with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Mitchell Robinson returns to his home state of Louisiana, where he was born and raised to play in front of his family while being surrounded by shooters in the Pelicans’ starting lineup. Walker’s expiring contract can be used in various ways while Immanuel Quickly provides increased playmaking and shooting at the point. Quickly would partner with Devonte Graham to give the Pelicans plenty of shooting and speed in the backcourt.

Overall, it’s a solid haul for the Pelicans. They add two dynamic young players with high ceilings in Quickly and Robinson and an All-Star in Randle. Not to mention the picks, one of which is this year’s first-round pick which is due to be a lottery selection. The Pelicans acquire assets for the present and future while solidifying a starting line-up of Graham, McCollum, Ingram, Randle, and Robinson. In the next four years, they would also have 12 first-round picks in a best-case scenario (if Lakers and Bucks picks owned by Pelicans convert in New Orleans’. favor). That could let them keep adding depth and talent with young players or through trades for veterans.

Why New York would consider it:

Isn’t it obvious? The Knicks finally acquire their long-desired star. And not just any star, but a transcendent one. When healthy, Williamson is unstoppable. Pairing him with rising star RJ Barrett and good friend and high-ceiling wing Cam Reddish would replicate the Duke trio under Tom Thibodeau. There would be no excuse for Thibodeau not to reach the Finals in a year or two. The pressure would be on for him to maximize Williamson’s potential and get him into the best shape of his career. Thibodeau has his clear flaws, as they have been on full display this season, but if there is any coach who can get his team in tip-top game shape, it’s Thibs.

Zion, Reddish, and Barrett all know each other’s game with the utmost familiarity, so it would be about building an offensive scheme around their strengths and united chemistry. Swapping Robinson for Valanciunas adds spacing and an elite post scorer to the starting unit. However, the team would still be lacking a starting point guard. With Quickly sent to New Orleans, Leon Rose wouldn’t have the draft capital to find the answer through the draft, which would leave free agency and additional trades to add a point guard to lead the way. With this level of talent on the roster, that shouldn’t be too hard. Worst comes to worst, Derrick Rose can start until Leon and company can find a younger replacement. This would leave the Knicks with a potential starting unit of Rose, Barrett, Reddish, Zion, and Valanciunas. That’s could be good enough to win the East with a nice bench and continued development for the young guys.

The Pelicans have overachieved under new coach Willie Green, especially after the mid-season trade for McCullom. They’ve achieved all this with Williamson sidelined for the entire year, which says a lot to the coaching ability of first-time head coach Green and the veterans on the team. It’s not hard to imagine adding a -talent like Randle, who would escape the New York press and fans, would bolster their depth and offensive output. The Pelicans are short on young talent, and Quickly and Robinson would give the team two guys with unmet ceilings. This core would potentially make serious noise in the West while stockpiling their draft capital for future transactions.

For the Knicks, the franchise would acquire the biggest star since Patrick Ewing. Zion would bring all the blockbuster New York could handle. It would give him the large market he’s been craving while teaming him up with two of his college teammates. There are only a handful of superstars worth trading a team’s draft capital and young players for. Zion is one of them. If the Knicks were in a position to deal for him, they should do anything they can to make it happen.

Zion would change the course for the franchise in ways not even Carmelo Anthony or even Ewing could achieve. He would be potentially the best player in franchise history if in shape and motivated. With Barrett ascending to All-Star play, a combo of him and Zion could be a one-two punch capable of reaching the Finals. This is one of the few situations where the Pelicans would net an excellent return for their star. At the same time, the Knicks position themselves to break a two-decades-old curse and a nearly 50-year championship drought.

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