It is an interesting NBA thought experiment, as we so often get from the folks at Bleacher Report. This time it was writer Zach Buckley, offering some advice to the Dallas Mavericks as to whom they should chase as a trade target before this February’s trade deadline.
The pick? Knicks center Mitchell Robinson.
The problem? The Knicks do not, as of yet at least, have any plans to trade Robinson.
Certainly, the Mavericks would be eager to take Robinson off the hands of the Knicks, given the mess that the Dallas center position has been—the Mavs have four options, each less appetizing than the last. Coach Jason Kidd has resisted any urge to play ex-Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis at the 5, forcing Dallas to start the overmatched Dwight Powell in the middle.
Robinson, meanwhile, is very limited offensively, but is an excellent defensive center who is averaging 6.8 points and 1.7 blocks in 25.8 minutes per game.
Mitchell Robinson is an audacious aim as the starting center of a New York Knicks team trying for consecutive playoff trips. However, the Knicks learned they could live without him last season, and they know life with him will get pricey in the near future since he needs a new deal by next offseason. If New York stagnates or simply doesn’t want to pay Robinson, Dallas should be ready to pounce.
Which gives us this somewhat reasonable proposal:
Knicks get: Maxi Kleber, Dallas’ 2022 second-round pick
Mavericks get: Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox
Mitchell Robinson Will Hit Free Agency This Summer
Indeed, the Knicks will have a decision to make on Robinson this summer, when he will be a free agent. He is currently making $1.8 million this season, the final year of a four-year deal, and should land a deal something in the range of what Kings center Richaun Holmes got this year—four years and $46 million.
The Knicks do want to take a run at major free agents going forward, and having an eight-figure deal for Robinson on the books annually would get in the way of that. And Robinson’s lack of durability should keep the Knicks open to at least the possibility of dealing him away. Robinson missed 41 games last season after suffering a fracture in his foot.
That could open a path for Dallas, which has been unimpressive in the middle. Powell starts, but behind him the Mavs have Willie Cauley-Stein, Boban Marjanovic and the inexperienced Moses Brown. As long as Kidd sticks to his determination not to give Porzingis big minutes at center, the Mavs have some pretty weak options.
Robinson’s Plus/Minus Has Been Poor for Knicks
The Knicks, on the other hand, have been a much better team this season when Robinson is not on the floor. Offensively, New York scores 107.3 points per 100 possessions when he is playing and 114.7 points when he is on the bench. Defensively, it’s the reverse: Opponents score 118.1 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor vs. 102.1 when he is off the floor.
That’s not all Robinson’s doing—the entire Knicks starting five has wretched on/off splits, and it could be that Robinson is keeping the numbers from getting even worse. Still, it should show the Knicks they might not suffer much by sending away Mitchell and starting, say Nerlens Noel at center, when he is healthy.
Question is, what could the Mavs give them in terms of return value?
The answer might be the exact kind of stretch-4 and smallball 5 that the Knicks sorely lack right now: Maxi Kleber. If the Knicks sent Robinson and draft bust forward Kevin Knox to Dallas for Kleber, the money would work. It works on the floor, too. The Knicks do not have a stretch option among its collections of big guys, and Kleber solves that. New York could start Nerlens Noel at center.
The Mavs get a promising young big guy who is clearly better than any of the centers on the roster.
Because Kleber is 29 and Robinson is 23, the Knicks might be wise to squeeze a second-round pick in the deal. But, again, the basics would be Maxi Kleber and Dallas’ 2022 second-round pick going to New York, with Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox going the other way to the Mavs.
It’s a thought experiment, for sure. But a worthwhile one.