The NBA is a merciless business. If a team isn't delivering title after title, the clock begins ticking on sweeping changes. When a team is locked into the middle class, not good enough to contend nor bad enough to tank and add intriguing young talent in the draft, a team is just waiting to be attacked, be it in the media, by the fans, or by its fellow teams.
The sharks are circling around the Atlanta Hawks, waiting for the moment when they can start to tear pieces off of this losing team. After two years of landing in the Play-In Tournament, the Hawks have stumbled to a 13-19 start, and the rest of the league is ready and waiting for the Hawks to throw in the towel and start selling off players to the highest bidder.
One player in particular has been a frequent name in trade rumors. Former All-Star guard Dejounte Murray is both having a strong season for the Hawks and is clearly not helping them win, at least not at the level they want to be at. His fit with Trae Young was fraught from the beginning, and it's clear why teams that need backcourt help would be calling Atlanta and making trade offers.
One team that was linked to Dejounte Murray over the past few weeks was the New York Knicks, a team with a collection of young players and extra draft picks that could have made an intriguing trade partner.
Are the Knicks out of the Dejounte Murray sweepstakes?
The New York Knicks then made a stunning blockbuster trade over the weekend, breaking open the floodgates of NBA trade season and landing Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby in exchange for Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett and a second-round pick. Presumably, each team has just one blockbuster trade in them per season.
The Hawks would be forgiven, then, for pivoting to other trade suitors, or potentially even for concluding that the market for Murray is not worth giving up one of their core players on an excellent contract. Forgiven perhaps, but not correct.
In moving Quickley and Barrett, the Knicks gave up two of the four players on the team who could reliably create shots for themselves or others. The rest of the roster is a collection of support players and play finishers. Anunoby may be one of the league's best defenders, able to lock up anyone on the perimeter and also provide weakside rim protection, but on offense he's a mid-usage play finisher. He thrives on catch-and-shoot and cutting opportunities.
Anunoby is there an ideal player to insert into the lineup of a contending team, as he can fit with anyone and won't demand the ball. Yet what the Knicks now face is a serious lack of shot creation and playmaking. Trading Quickley means they won't find it on their roster. They will need to look back on the trade market to address that weakness.
What's more, the Knicks won't be heading back on the market empty-handed; they aren't hoping to sell an old cow for a piece of silver and hoping they can find magic beans. The Knicks made the deal for Anunoby without including a single first-round pick; that leaves them with eight first-round picks and another three first-round swaps to include in a deal. Quentin Grimes is an ideal 3-and-D role player on a cheap contract. They have a handful of mid-tier salaries to use to build a deal.
The Knicks need another strong shot creator and playmaker, and it would help if they weren't a negative on defense as so many other trade targets like Zach LaVine and Donovan Mitchell would be. Murray is also significantly less expensive than that group of high-octane guards.
Expect the Knicks to come for Murray
This isn't merely speculation that the Knicks could eventually reason their way to this point; they are already there, or perhaps more accurately, they were always intending to go after both Anunoby and Dejounte Murray. The ink was barely dry on the Woj Bomb before HoopsHype's Mike Scotto reportedthat Murray remained "a player the Knicks are interested in acquiring."
The Atlanta Hawks may decide to keep Murray. They may decide to make changes elsewhere on the roster, or to stubbornly keep this group together and make a run at the Play-In Tournament. They could make Ian Malcolm proud and insert maximum chaos into the trade market by making Trae Young available, keeping Murray to run the offense.
Yet trading Murray makes a lot of sense; something has to change, the fit isn't working with Young, and Murray likely has a lot of trade value. That supposition will be tested by the market, and the Knicks in particular are one team that will be coming hard for Murray.
The Hawks can only hope that's the indication of a frothy market that will drive up the price for Murray. Surprisingly, even after moving on from Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett, the Knicks are a team that can offer a lot. The Hawks will be sure to ask for as much of it as they can.