Knicks trade Willy Hernangomez to Hornets, eye young players at deadline

The New York Knicks traded disgruntled center Willy Hernangomez to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.

The team also plans to aggressively pursue younger players and draft picks ahead of Thursday's trade deadline in the wake of Kristaps Porzingis' season-ending injury, league sources told ESPN.

New York received forward Johnny O'Bryant and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 from Charlotte in exchange for Hernangomez. Knicks general manager Scott Perry says that O'Bryant will be waived.

"We thank Willy for all of his contributions to the New York Knicks organization and wish him the best moving forward," general manager Scott Perry said in a news release. "This trade adds valuable draft picks, better positioning this team as we build toward the future."

Hernangomez, 23, had been unhappy with his role in New York, where he averaged 4.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 9 minutes per game this season. He played twice as many minutes per game last season, when he averaged 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds and was an All-Rookie selection.

Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn have logged the majority of the Knicks' minutes at center this season. New York continues to take calls about O'Quinn and guard Courtney Lee ahead of Thursday's trade deadline, opposing executives tell ESPN. The Knicks are also still trying to trade exiled center Joakim Noah.

The Knicks (23-32), who are five games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, now will focus their attention on playing younger players like Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke, sources tell ESPN. Prior to the Porzingis injury, the club held out hope of making the playoffs and planned to operate with that in mind at the deadline, holding on to veteran players unless a significant package was offered in return.

The Knicks' hopes of rallying for a postseason spot suffered a devastating blow Tuesday night when Porzingis, their lone All-Star, went down with a torn ACL in his left knee. So New York now shifts its focus to the 2018 NBA draft and the future, which is why the Knicks are more aggressively pursuing young players and draft picks ahead of Thursday's trade deadline.

The club hopes to pair an elite college prospect in the 2018 NBA draft alongside Porzingis, Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr. Assuming Porzingis returns to the court during the 2018-19 season, the Knicks hope that that core can attract free agents in the summer of 2019, when New York projects to have significant cap space and another first-round draft pick.

O'Bryant, 24, is a 6-foot-9 power forward who is averaging 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 10.5 minutes per game. Whereas Hernangomez is under contract through 2019-20, O'Bryant's deal is done after this season.

The Bucks drafted O'Bryant in the second round in 2014. Milwaukee waived him in 2016, and he signed with the Wizards, who waived him a month later. He signed a 10-day contract with Denver last season, and then two 10-days with Charlotte before getting a multiyear deal.

Hernangomez's representatives had been telling the Knicks for much of the season that they were unhappy with his role. More recently, they requested that New York send Hernangomez to a team where he'd have a better chance to play and develop. Hernangomez is one of Porzingis' closest friends and predicted Tuesday that Porzingis would be pleased if Hernangomez were sent to another team.

"He wants the best for me. He really wants to see me play," Hernangomez said. "Whatever happens, he will agree with that."

One issue that is unsettled in the wake of Porzingis' injury is the Knicks' plans to offer him a rookie extension. This summer, Porzingis is eligible for a five-year, $157 million extension, with a starting salary of $27 million. If New York decided to wait and offer Porzingis an extension in the summer of 2019, it would create an additional $10 million in cap space for the club that summer.

The club had been comfortable with the idea of offering Porzingis an extension this summer. It is unclear if or how Porzingis' injury impacts the Knicks' thinking.