How can the Knicks trade for a superstar and who’s out there?

The optimism around the Knicks isn’t just about this season.

It isn’t about the looming postseason that almost certainly will include them.

Or that they have shattered low preseason expectations and even could do some damage in the playoffs and win their first series since 2013.

No, the good feelings Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks are generating are fueled by their future possibilities.

There are few teams in the league better suited to land the next disgruntled superstar. From young, affordable players to a cupboard full of draft picks, team president Leon Rose has accumulated a wealth of assets with which to bargain.

The Knicks came close to landing Donovan Mitchell last summer, but haggling over unprotected draft picks, and the interjection of arguably a better offer from the Cavaliers, cost Rose the four-time All-Star.

They are in a better position now to acquire someone of that ilk, in part due to the development of young players such as RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley and Miles McBride.

Quentin Grimes #6 of the New York Knicks defends against Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the first half when the New York Knicks played the LA Clippers Saturday, February 4, 2023 at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, NY.
Qunetin Grimes’ ability to defend on the perimeter and hit 3-pointers with some reliability has made him a valuable asset.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Even in a down year, the 22-year-old Barrett is averaging 19.5 points per game. Grimes and McBride have both proven to be strong defenders who are at least rotation players, and Quickley has ascended in his third season.

Quickley has improved across the board, posting career highs in points (12.9), rebounds (4.0) and field-goal percentage (44.3).

Since Thibodeau went to a nine-man rotation on Dec. 4, Quickley has performed so well the Knicks went from looking to move him for draft capital to holding onto him — and expanding his role.

In that time, he is averaging 14.6 points, 3.1 assists and shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. Eligible for a contract extension this summer, the third-year guard should be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

Then there are the draft picks, 10 first-round selections over the next seven years, even after sending their natural 2023 pick (lottery protected) to the Trail Blazers in the Josh Hart deal.

Draft choices, of course, are the currency rebuilding teams covet.

New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) during the first half at Madison Square Garden in New York. Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.
Once thought to be a potential trade piece this season, Immanuel Quickley has emerged as a crucial part of the team’s bench since Tom Thibodeau shortened his rotation in early December.
Noah K. Murray for the NY Post

Now, it remains to be seen who will be the next big star to become available. At this time last year, nobody expected Mitchell to be on the move just a few months later.

There are whispers Anthony Davis isn’t happy being a Laker.

Maybe Karl-Anthony Towns, a New Jersey native formerly represented by Rose, will want out of Minnesota. The pairing with Rudy Gobert wasn’t working well for the Timberwolves when Towns suffered a serious calf strain in late November.

On his The Ringer podcast, Bill Simmons suggested the idea of star 76ers center Joel Embiid wanting out if James Harden heads back to Houston, as has been rumored as a possibility for months.

Whoever it is, they likely will follow the path their predecessors took — to a contender.

Kevin Durant was traded to the Suns.

Kyrie Irving went to the Mavericks.

Mitchell was sent to the Cavaliers.

Star players have control these days.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27), left, and center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) talk during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Would Karl-Anthony Towns’ struggle to blend in with Rudy Gobert in Minnesota prompt him to pursue a deal to get him back closer to his New Jersey home?

The Knicks suddenly look like an attractive destination, a team that is headed to its second postseason berth in three seasons and is one big star away from contending.

And now they have the pieces in place to land that player once he becomes available.

They also have the depth to get someone without gutting the core of their roster.

This season has been fun, and it has the potential to include the franchise’s first postseason series victory in a decade. But most importantly, it has laid the groundwork for the kind of deal that could vault the Knicks into title contention.

That was the hard part

On Jan. 22, the Knicks sank to two games over .500 at 25-23. They were out of the main draw of the playoffs.

But it wasn’t just the standings that led to so much negativity at the time — it was the upcoming schedule, which so many observers predicted would be their downfall: Ten of the following 16 games would be against teams above .500.

Josh Hart of the New York Knicks drives past the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum
The Knicks have punctuated their recent slate with a pair of wins over the Celtics.

That’s what makes this recent stretch, during which the Knicks are 12-4 after Wednesday night’s 142-118 rout of the Nets, so impressive.

They’ve done it against a brutal slate. They’ve beaten the Celtics and Nets twice apiece, the 76ers, Heat and Cavaliers once each.

Of the four losses, two came in overtime (to the Clippers and Lakers), games the Knicks could easily have won.

It underscores an even bigger body of work. Since the Knicks truly took off on Dec. 4, going 27-14 over half of a season, they are 11-6 against teams with winning records.

They haven’t climbed up the standings by accident, and with just the 20th most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA, according to Tankathon, it seems unlikely they will lose their footing in the standings.

Most of the hefty lifting is finished.

How Kyrie is helping the Knicks’ draft position

Kyrie Irving #2 of the Dallas Mavericks watches his last second shot in the second half against the Indiana Pacers at American Airlines Center on February 28, 2023 in Dallas, Texas.
Kyrie Irving has struggled to help the Mavericks win while playing alongside Luka Doncic, going 1-4 in his first five games with the Dallas superstar.
Getty Images

The Knicks and their fans have two playoff races to follow — one involving the orange-and-blue and one taking place in the middle of the Western Conference.

At the moment, both are going in the Knicks’ favor.

The Knicks own the Mavericks’ first-round draft pick this year from the Kristaps Porzingis trade, and there is a chance it could wind up in the lottery if Dallas either falls out of postseason contention altogether or is bounced from the play-in tournament.

The one caveat is the Knicks don’t want the pick to be too good — it is top-10 protected. (The pick is protected 1-10 through 2025, after which it turns into a second-round pick.)

After dropping their second straight game Tuesday night and sixth in their past 10, the Mavericks now trail by a half-game for the sixth and final guaranteed spot in the Western Conference.

And they have no guarantee to reach the play-in tournament either. The seventh-place Mavericks are separated from the 13th-place Thunder by just three losses in the log-jammed conference.

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) reacts to a foul call during the second half of NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Dallas, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.
The Mavericks’ middling performance around Luka Doncic means they face the possibility of sending a lottery pick to the Knicks this year.

The Mavericks were expected to take off after acquiring mercurial star Kyrie Irving from the Nets, but instead are just 3-4 since he joined Luka Doncic and Co..

Knicks president Leon Rose opted to send his own first-round pick to the Trail Blazers (with lottery protections) in the Josh Hart trade rather than the Mavericks’ pick. Right now, it seems like a smart decision with the Knicks in a strong position to reach the main draw of the postseason and the Mavericks trending in the wrong direction.