I was at the Barclays when it happened. Of all places. Watching the Russians GO TO TOWN on the Mavs in the first quarter behind a ridiculous 18 points from the goofier Lopez Brother. (Don’t worry, those chokers lost in OT. Also pleeeease don’t worry, I’ll never hop on the subway and abandon my midtown miscarriages.) To be honest, it really just added insult to injury. Sitting there, watching an absolutely bland, soulless Brooklyn team decimating the best offense in the league as my my team figures out a way to jettison all the remaining trade bait it has left in an absolute race to the bottom. And yes, when I say the bottom, I mean that secret-elevator ,X-mansion, Cerebro sub-basement that no one is supposed to know about that. Because with a Philadelphia win later that night against a struggling Cavs team, the Knicks limped into sole possession of last place in the East and the worst record in the entire Association.
Now, of course, those titular words would have NEVER come out of my mouth. Since growing out his flattop and busting out moves like this during pregame huddles, Iman Shumpert forced himself into the “My Favorite Knick” distinction… and, of course, right into my heart. Losing him put me in a foul mood for the rest of that game and I had a hard time enjoying either my first excursion to Jay-Z’s shining BK palace or the two HUGE guys behind me wildly trash talking the Brooklynettes and every single “Fools Gold!” shot they lucked their way into making. And JR… Well, I’ll miss JR too.
On paper it makes a lot of sense. I can’t imagine how many phone calls Phil had to make, how many pleading “6th man of the year JUST TWO YEARS AGO!” petitions he put out there before finally finding a willing partner for JR’s $6 million salary (And player option next year; A $6.5 million he would almost certainly be opting in for if he had the choice to stay in New York City, partying with Rihanna and driving his tank around.) I would love to think that Phil tried to hold out on including a throw-in like Shumpert (still on his rookie deal) for as long as humanly possible, but there just wasn’t a sane man out there willing to take a chance on JR’s knees and woeful, woeful attitude without getting some kind of insurance, be it a young prospect or a future pick.
Well yeah. Yeah, kinda it did. The sad fact that as electric as Shumpert can be at times he was on the last year of said rookie deal. With the cap projected to go through the roof in a couple of years, somebody was going to some money at one of the league’s younger two-way wings in the hope that he could hit his stride in a different environment. A big part of this Knicks season for Phil has been trying to evaluate Shump and other players to see which players really deserve to be in the long-term plans. Sadly, with a dumpster fire season suggesting a complete summer overhaul, and with a younger cheaper 2 guard in Tim Hardaway Jr. already on the roster, Jackson and the New York front office decided Shump wasn’t worth the price of retaining, though it certainly didn’t help that he’s spent long stretches of this season injured.
It makes sense, I guessss. In his four years Shumpert has been wildly erratic as both a shooter and a ball-handler. A lot of this was probably a combination of being surrounded by constant trade speculation and struggling to find a role in a staggeringly isolation-heavy offense under coach Mike Woodson. (God, I miss that beard. I hope they appreciate it enough in L.A.) Shump was also frequently called upon to play outside of his strengths as a PG as New York has never really had a lead ball-handler while he was there who would crack the league’s top-20 (other than a few beautiful weeks of Linsanity that is). The Knicks also never played with enough pace to utilize the Shump’s athleticism in taking advantage of transition opportunities. But, more than anything else (outside of Hardaway’s future, I suppose), Shump’s reputation as a defensive stopper was never really deserved.
The guy absolutely has the body to defend, with the size and lateral quickness to lock down either guard position or opposing small forwards. There’s also no way you can doubt the effort Shump puts in every night as I’ve still yet to see a player sweat that much in a game. However, despite all that, Iman does a horrible job of gambling on defense: leaving his man to try to play passing lanes, flashing over to double the ball-handler and getting beaten back door, falling into the general Knicks malaise of not understanding how a simple defensive rotation or switch should work. He also gets into foul trouble INCREDIBLY quickly, often getting pinged for a reach-in as he goes for the behind the back steal of the man who has just blown past him. This particular deficiency was hugely highlighted by the fact that the rest of the Knicks defenders are shockingly worse by comparison and get horribly exposed when Shumpert is forced to hit the bench five minutes into the first quarter with two fouls. It doesn’t take all that much to be the best defender on your team when no one else can even keep up with their man down the court.
For the Cavaliers
In spite of all that, Shumpert will still be a far better defender than most of the guards on Cleveland’s roster and I am incredibly excited for him to get the opportunity to play alongside Lebron James. I’ve always compared him to Jimmy Butler as they came in the league at the same time with a similar skill set and I would love for him to find the kind of success that Butler is experiencing this season (while muttering death threats to Phil as I watch Shump explode in the postseason.) JR will also give the Cavs a Dion 2.0 showing and should be able to have a lot of fun chucking mercilessly from the bench and totally derailing any kind of serious work ethic King James is trying to instill in this young team.
For the Cavs, the whole trade seems like an absolute steal as they also managed to net a protected first rounder from the Thunder in exchange for Dion, basically grabbing two better players and a pick for the disgruntled Waiters. Of course, they will have to deal with JR’s salary, and are already strapped through the roof, but its very possible that Earl will not take to the bright lights of #TheLand after a few years of partying in New York. In fact, the only real concern to me seems to be that they used their best trade chip to go after more guards instead of a sorely lacking big man. However, with the young, versatile Shumpert and their shiny new first rounder its always possible that this was just a stepping stone towards another trade down the line to net them a real rim protector. Either way, I’ll be really excited to watch these guys get to smile for once. They deserve it.
For the Thunder
It’ll be interesting to watch Dion try to acclimate on another team after spending his entire career to date in the Q. I have to say I’m a little worried for how this will affect the Thunder’s sterling chemistry; if Lebron James couldn’t get through to him… will KD? There’s been a good bit written about how Dion’s skill set as a slasher are somewhat redundant with Reggie Jackson, as both are projected to lead bench-heavy units and have experience HUGE declines in their catch and shoot percentages over the last few seasons. And, of course, I find it totally bizarre that THIS is the trade that Sam Presti finally agreed to give up some of his precious, precious assets for, after so many years of being the NBA’s Ebeneezer Scrooge and especially after seeing his team go 9-2 since Durant’s return from injury.
Still, I like the fact that the Thunder are actually being proactive this season about surrounding Durant with more weapons. Its proving to be a little harder than originally thought to squeeze back into that Western Conference playoff picture and this organization needs to make some serious moves to stay relevant before that impending free agency. Its also worth noting that Oklahoma City has an excellent track record of nurturing young players and they claim to have been keeping an eye on Waiters since his days at Syracuse. Who knows, maybe Dion will be something like a Russ Westbrook talent in a couple of years? Hmmm.. maybe not.
Oh my poor, poor Knicks. In exchange for their 2 guard combo, New York will receive a 2nd rounder in 2019 (JOY!!) as well as three meaningless players they will immediately waive (along with Sam Dalembert). Yup. This was getting rid of that $6.5 million plain and simple. Saying goodbye to JR. Saying goodbye to Shump. Kissing this season goodbye as a total wasted effort and freeing up as much flexibility as possible for Phil to wheel and deal over the summer. Should be something like $30 million now, god I hope he puts it to good use.
Well, if there’s anyone sadder than me it’s Melo.
Seriously, dude is about to cry there. So are we all Melo, so are we all.
See ya this Summer.