Knicks Will Face ‘Pressure’ to Trade $120 Million Star: NBA Execs

Knicks star Julius Randle (left) with fellow starters Jalen Brunson and Mitchell Robinson (right)

Getty Knicks star Julius Randle (left) with fellow starters Jalen Brunson and Mitchell Robinson (right)

The numbers on Knicks star Julius Randle are good, and have been so since he arrived in New York as a free agent in 2019. Before the shoulder injury that ended his season in late January, Randle was averaging 24.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists at the time, numbers that were good enough to secure an All-Star spot.

But, as is always the case with Randle, the solid numbers were not enough to remove the notion that he tends to take the air out of the ball, and that the Knicks are not all that much worse without him than with him. For a player now in the back half of a four-year, $117 million contract, that stigma will always lead to the same place: trade speculation.

Randle won’t be around for the Knicks’ playoff run, and if they go out and play well without him when the NBA’s big tourney tips off next week, expect the trade chatter around him to pick up.

“There is going to be a lot of pressure on them to move him, no matter what they do in the playoffs,” one Eastern Conference GM told Heavy Sports. “If they win without him, then they do not need him. If they lose without him then they need to make big changes, and he’s really the only tool they have to make a big change.”

Knicks’ Star Pursuit Hinges on Julius Randle Trade

The Knicks gave Randle a generous four-year extension back in 2021, and there is an option for the 2025 season. Certainly, the team could keep him as part of its plans. But if the Knicks are going to make a move in the Eastern Conference, if they’re going to add a star player who can nudge them out of their current situation as a good-not-great bunch, Randle will need to be a significant part of a trade.

“It depends on what they’re going to be going for, but there is no way that you’re going to make a trade for another star unless Randle is part of it,” one Western Conference executive said. “You need his money ($30 million for next season) to make a deal happen. The issue is that the Knicks see themselves as, ‘Hey we are trading you an All-Star, we want All-Star compensation,’ and other teams see it as them taking a big contract off their hands.

“That’s the issue with Randle all along. They’ve never come close to trading him and have not tried very hard because other teams just see that contract, not the player.”

Jalen Brunson & OG Anunoby’s Team

One of the difficulties with trading for Randle is that he is a ball-dominant big man who, while a very good passer, has had one good season shooting the 3-pointer (41.1% in 2020-21, but with a 33.3% rate for his career). The Knicks are committed to running more through Jalen Brunson and, now OG Anunoby, a player who will need a new contract this offseason.

“If they’re going to move forward, add a new guy, one of those three is out, and it is not going to be JB or OG,” the GM said. “That leaves Randle.”

It won’t be easy. But the Knicks do have all their first-round picks in place, plus an extra pick from Dallas and two more future picks that won’t come to fruition (from Washington and Detroit) for at least a year or two. The hope is that a package of Randle, another player (Bojan Bogdanvoic? Mitchell Robinson?) and picks will lure a franchise-changer in the offseason.

“Yeah, they’re almost in a situation where they have to do something,” the exec said. “They can’t afford to wait. They can stay a pretty good team. But if they want to have a chance at the Finals, they have to find a taker for (Randle), find a way to turn him into a star who fits better.”

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