NEW YORK • The New York Knicks shook the National Basketball Association on Thursday by abruptly cutting ties with Kristaps Porzingis, sending the player long hailed as their saviour to the Dallas Mavericks in a blockbuster trade that could make the team a major player in free agency in July.
The deal came a week before the league's trading deadline on Feb 7 and changes the course of the Knicks' franchise.
Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr, Courtney Lee and Trey Burke have all been shipped to Dallas in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr, who was a first-round draft pick in 2017, two future first-round picks and the expiring contracts of DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews.
The Latvian centre, who was increasingly unhappy about the Knicks' position as also-rans (they have the league's worst record at 10-40), asked to be traded on Thursday, according to a team statement and subsequent comments that Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry made.
But the Knicks and the Mavericks were already far along in trade talks before Porzingis lodged that request, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
"As is standard for this time of year, we were exploring various options on potential trades," Perry said. "Considering the uncertainty regarding Kristaps' free-agent status (on July 1) and his request today to be traded, we made a trade that we are confident improves the franchise."
Mills also described the All-Star as a player who "no longer wanted to be part of our group".
In a farewell Twitter post on Thursday night, Porzingis said: "New York will always have a special place in my heart. Grateful for everybody who made this journey so special for my family and I."
Salary-cap space the Knicks have freed up after Thursday's deals to be able to chase two top players in the summer. Their targets include Golden State's Kevin Durant, Boston's Kyrie Irving and Charlotte's Kemba Walker.
Dallas' willingness to acquire the contracts of Hardaway and Lee to land Porzingis clinched the deal and will position the Knicks to create nearly US$75 million (S$101 million) in salary-cap space this summer - enough to offer maximum contracts to two of the top players expected to be free agents.
The Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics and the Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker are said to be among their targets.
They are now also on course to have a 14 per cent chance at securing the top pick in the June draft, which would enable them to select Zion Williamson, the highly coveted Duke forward.
Porzingis established himself as a marquee player last season, but has not played since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last February.
The 23-year-old subsequently lost his trust in the Knicks' organisation, which has been waning since the final days of Phil Jackson's ill-fated tenure as team president and could not be repaired by Mills, Perry and David Fizdale, who is in his first season as their coach.
Even though Porzingis has been sidelined for a year, Dallas were sufficiently motivated to surrender their prized assets to get the deal done. The Mavericks now hope to make him the team's co-star alongside Rookie of the Year front-runner Luka Doncic.