Knicks Trading For Collin Sexton Makes Perfect Sense
Shams Charania had a lot of news in the NBA rumor world this morning, most notably breaking that the Philadelphia 76ers are officially engaging in possible trade talks for star defender Ben Simmons. Hidden in his news dump, though, was a tidbit of relevance to two fan bases. The Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to trade former No. 9 overall pick Collin Sexton ahead of the NBA Draft this year. The top suitor? None other than the New York Knicks. Per The Athletic:
The Knicks are the most aggressive trade suitor for Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton, sources said. Sexton is eligible for his rookie extension this offseason, and with one year left on his deal, it allows Cleveland to continue to be patient in constructing the roster.
Knicks fans may seize up in fear that their team is being aggressive in trade talks for only a pretty good player, but this front office has earned some benefit of the doubt after constructing a team that was greater than the sum of its parts last season. It is no longer likely the Knicks are going to get robbed blind if they do decide to pursue Sexton and acquire him through any means necessary.
And even if they did, they could do worse than Sexton. He's an ideal fit for the roster. New York doesn't have any point guard depth; Immanuel Quickley is a lightning rod off the bench, but Elfrid Payton spent most of the year starting thanks to Tom Thibodeau's inclination to trust vets over rookies and all viewers recoiled in horror at Payton's play. He can be fine in spot minutes, but is not by any means a starter. Quickley is similar but for different reasons. He can score in bunches but his slim frame and lack of instincts at this stage in his career means he's a complete liability defensively. They need a starter at the position.
If the Knicks can keep Quickley, which is likely given Cleveland is trading Sexton to clear up their glut of guards who can't play defense rather than add to it, a Sexton/Quickley rotation is excellent offensively. Sexton has his flaws as a defender but has transformed into a well-rounded and (most importantly) efficient offensive player after three seasons in the league. Last year he averaged 24.3 points per game as the No. 1 option on an awful Cavs squad. Normally those circumstances suggest he's a chucker, but not in this case. Sexton shot 47.5 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three while dishing out 4.4 assists per game. There are not many 22-year-old point guards who can put up those kinds of numbers on that level of efficiency.
Thibodeau would have some work to do if Sexton joined his squad, though. His turnover-to-assist ratio was horrid after averaging 2.8 turnovers per game to go along with those 4.4 assists. Like many young point guards on bad teams, he showed very little interest on the defensive side of the ball, and at only 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he'll need to battle to make a difference on that end of the court more often than not. But if anyone can instill defensive ferocity into players who previously had never before had it, Thibodeau is the man.
The two big questions for a possible trade come in the form of who they would send out in exchange for Sexton and what they'd do with his contract. Sexton is eligible for an extension and is entering the last year of his rookie deal. If the Knicks are going to give up assets for him, they'd probably like for him to stick around for a while. Sexton will use his PPG number as an argument for why he should be paid more than a league-average point guard, but the Knicks cannot afford to have an albatross contract on the books after finally getting rid of all their previous ones and presumably aim to be big players in free agency when a quality class enters the pool.
But if New York can negotiate a four-year deal that lands somewhere in the $100 million range, it could be a steal in a few years, very much like how the Celtics inked Jaylen Brown to a $106 million deal before he turned into the All-Star he is today. Should Sexton raise his defense to even an average level while keeping his ability to put up 20 points per game on a nightly basis, that's a great deal for the Knicks, especially since he'll only be 27 years-old after the end of that particular deal.
Cleveland won't give him away for free. The Knicks would have to give up at least one of their young talents to make it happen, probably along with one of their two first-round draft picks this year. A deal that makes a certain amount of sense is trading 2020 No. 8 overall pick Obi Toppin and 2018 No. 10 overall pick Kevin Knox, along with the higher of their two picks in the 2021 draft, for Sexton. Knox could be a classic "change of scenery" case and while it would be tough to give up on Toppin this early, he's actually older than Sexton is. Exchanging a bouncy forward without a set position for their possible offensive spark plug point guard of the future is an easy trade to make.
It would be a smart move for the Knicks, which is a weird thing to type, but that's the world we live in. Sexton is an offensive player who needs to be coached up on defense, fits the needs of the team perfectly, and could be electric in Madison Square Garden. He fits their timeline. This organization now knows better than anyone that simply being The Knicks isn't going to convince big-ticket free agents to sign on the dotted line. They need to prove to any future stars that they have a plan and can execute it to perfection. Sexton's addition wouldn't rocket the Knicks to the top of the Eastern Conference, but he would definitely make them better. In lieu of any big names on the block or the trade market, that's all the Knicks should be trying to do right now.