Knicks don't plan to tank but won't trade future assets at deadline

BOSTON -- The New York Knicks don't look like a playoff team right now -- certainly not after that 30-point loss Wednesday night to a Boston Celtics team missing Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart.

But you shouldn't expect that embarrassment to alter New York's plans at the trade deadline. At the moment, the Knicks have no intention of selling off assets at the Feb. 8 deadline and tanking the rest of the season. The club wants to remain competitive and fight for playoff position while it's feasible. The Knicks enter play Thursday three games out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Reasonable people can disagree over the merits of that strategy. Some fans would probably love to see the Knicks lose the rest of their games to improve their chances of landing a top pick in the NBA lottery.

The Knicks aren't going to take that approach just yet, but that doesn't mean they're blindly chasing a playoff berth and ignoring their future.

New York likely has no plans to include any first-round picks in trades before the deadline and doesn't want to acquire any significant salary -- unless it's tied to a player whom the organization views as part of its future.

The club wants to maintain cap space for the summer of 2019, when it projects to have significant money to spend on free agents. And New York adamantly wants to hold on to its 2018 first-round draft pick, which is viewed as a crucial part of its rebuild.

So unless a young All-Star-caliber player who fits into New York's future plans becomes available, you can expect the club to hold on to its first-round pick and protect its future cap space at the deadline.

That being said, what are the Knicks looking to accomplish at the deadline? They'd love to add a young, athletic wing -- something that most NBA teams covet (athleticism is one of the more glaring weaknesses of the current roster). New York is also looking to find a workable solution to pare down its overpopulated center position (they have four big men on the roster).

That solution starts with Joakim Noah.

As ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday, the Knicks have been unwilling to attach significant future draft assets or young Knicks players to incentivize a team to take on Noah, who is exiled from the club. Without adding any sweeteners to the deal, it's hard to see a team taking on Noah and the roughly $55 million he's owed between this year and the remaining two seasons on his contract.

What about Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O'Quinn? New York has received interest in both bigs but the belief is that the club is not committed to keeping one over the other at the moment. It seems it will come down to which player draws an offer that makes the most sense for the Knicks. O'Quinn's production behind starter Enes Kanter is valued by the organization, but the Knicks also see no reason to give up on Hernangomez simply because he's fallen out of the rotation this season. (There is no concern about alienating Kristaps Porzingis, Hernangomez's close friend, if the Knicks decide to trade the 23-year-old center.)

The approach with Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas and other veterans on the roster is similar to what was described above: New York isn't looking to move on from Lee or Thomas solely to shed salary or to put itself in position to tank. Trading either would require getting something back (a pick or a player) that fits the Knicks' long-term plans. Unless a young star becomes available unexpectedly, New York is unlikely to take back significant salary -- or send out a first-round pick -- in a trade of Lee, Thomas, or any other player on the roster.