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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Why the Knicks Traded for a 36-Year-Old Finnish Coach in the Draft

  • Petteri Koponen never played in the NBA and is now a coach for the Spurs.
  • Koponen is a retired Finnish point guard who was a strong three-point shooter in Europe.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Move over, Mikal Bridges. 

The Knicks made their first trade with the Nets since 1983 this week. On Thursday, they made an even rarer deal.

As part of their trade with the Mavericks to acquire Ariel Hukporti—the 58th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft—the Knicks also received cash and the draft rights to Petteri Koponen.

Never heard of Koponen? He was the No. 30 pick in the 2007 draft, the same draft as Kevin Durant. He never came over from Europe, bouncing around in a successful career in Finland and elsewhere. He retired two years ago and just took a job coaching with the Spurs’ Summer League team.

“I’m honored,” Koponen wrote, “but I’m still going to honor my commitment” to the Spurs, he joked. “Of course, a financially ridiculous offer could change things. + I got the new hip! I’m ready!” His bio on X says that his nickname is “The General of Susijengi.”

Sometimes, to make an NBA trade work financially, teams have to include in their lowest asset as a throw-in, whether it be a player stashed overseas or the draft rights to someone who will never play in the NBA. In the Knicks’ case, it was the latter. In return, they sent the Mavericks the rights to Melvin Ajinça, who was taken 51st overall Thursday. 

Dallas has held Koponen’s rights for more than a decade. While he would technically be a 36-year-old rookie, he is a veteran of draft-day trades. 

The pick Koponen was selected with originally belonged to the Mavericks. Dallas traded it in 2004 in a deal that involved former Duke star Christian Laettner. In ’05, the Warriors traded it to the Nuggets, who then sent it to the Sixers the following year in the trade that brought Allen Iverson to Denver. Philadelphia kept it and used it on Koponen, who, transactionally, rubbed elbows with two of the biggest basketball stars of the ’90s. 

Shortly after Philadelphia selected Koponen, he was traded on draft night to the Trail Blazers for Derrick Byars, who was taken 42nd overall. Four years later, Koponen’s rights were traded to Dallas for the 57th overall pick in the 2011 draft as part of a deal that involved former Knicks point guard Raymond Felton. His rights stayed with Dallas for 13 years while he had a solid career in Europe, shooting 46% from three in 155 EuroLeague games. Koponen played for the Wizards’ Summer League team in ’08, which is the closest he got to actual NBA basketball.

While unconventional, it’s not the first time a team has traded for a coach. The Clippers acquired Doc Rivers from the Celtics for an unprotected 2019 first-round pick, since Rivers was still under contract with Boston. 

Koponen is also far from the most noteworthy athlete to be working for one team while having its rights held by another. The New York Yankees currently have the rights to Super Bowl–winning quarterback Russell Wilson, who had a minor league baseball career before returning to college to focus on football. 

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