How many times in NBA history have two title contenders and the worst team in the league come together to make a blockbuster trade only 35 games into the NBA season?
When the Twitter bomb was dropped late Monday, the reactions were swift and severe, as will often happen with major trades. But this was no typical NBA trade. Reggie Jackson very nearly made this the deal of the year for a Knicks team that very desperately needed just that. Instead, the breakdown appears to be as follows:
Knicks get: Alex Kirk, Lance Thomas, Lou Almundson (all expected to be waived), a future second round pick, and – most importantly – the lead for #SuckMoreForOkafor and the top overall selection in the draft.
Thunder get: Dion Waiters and the gift of Russell Westbrook and Dion Waiters playing basketball together.
Cavs get: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, a protected first roun pick from the Thunder and more regret for ever trading Andrew Wiggins before he played a single basketball game with them.
Why did they do it?
And the worst team in the NBA now resides due North of Philly, and it might not be close. Had they gotten Reggie Jackson – as was rumored for a few minutes – this would have been a grand slam. This trade, very simply, is Phil Jackson wiping the slate clean and freeing up cap space – nearly $30 million of it – for the offseason. The Knicks needed to start anew and this trade allows for Jackson to tear it all down and build from scratch. After rumblings that he might shut things down for the season, expect Melo to do just that now and for the Knicks front office to all but admit to tanking. It’s Jahlil Okafor or bust at this point, and can you really blame them? Okafor appears to be the most talented big man since Anthony Davis and if the Knicks want a shot at being good in the next few years, this move was imperative.
The Knicks, as it so happens, are the only team not getting an irrational lunatic in this trade, in fact they somehow gave one away. Shumpert has always been overrated for his supposed defensive proficiency, and the JR roller coaster has been well-documented. Between dumping salary, jockeying for draft position, and officially announcing their desire to tank, the Knicks finally swallowed the pill and did what they had to do. Now to find a match for Melo…
Why would they do it?
Hmmmm, good question. So, I guess they didn’t give up much? They added some bench scoring and upside, and if Waiters buys into the role, he could show the Thunder and the rest of the Western Conference why he was the #3 overall pick. Let’s just say that I have my doubts. What signals that Waiters is anything less than JR Smith 2.0 and an equally cancerous locker room figure to the Andrew Bynums of the world? He has been outlandish in his desire for shots and the ball, and the Cavs have been practically begging to ship him out of town for weeks now. For one finals contender to trade one of their main pieces to another mid-season should send major question marks. Kevin Durant made waves on Tuesday when he said that he doesn’t think “Waiters felt wanted in Cleveland” and “We’re gonna make him feel wanted.” I can’t wait for the first possession down the court that Waiters takes a contested 20-footer and proceeds to get a death stare from Westbrook.
You know, they wouldn’t have traded for Waiters if they still had James Harden… Too soon? Too soon. Ok.
Why would they do it?
So I guess we know the Cavs are all-in on this season now. To be willing to pay JR Smith anything, not to mention whatever percentage of the 5.5 million he is owed this season along with another 5.5 million next year, speaks to Cleveland’s desperation for perimeter defense in the form of Iman Shumpert. Cleveland wants to win it all – and they want to do it this year. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Cavs have gone from 23 million under the cap to 13 million over just this season, and they’re still not likely to be done. A move for a big man – possibly Kosta Koufos, Brendan Wright, or Samuel Dalembert – appears to be on the horizon, and they still have yet to figure out the chemistry issues (adding JR Smith to that mix should help, right?).
Oh, and they lost to the Sixers Monday night. There’s trouble in Cleveland and there’s a good chance they will regret going anywhere near JR Smith. But they absolutely had to take this chance to improve defensively. While it may admit regret for trading Wiggins – who has scored 20+ points in six of his last seven games – the Cavs did not compound one mistake into another. If Kevin Love leaves after the season, though…
Three teams, two maniacs, but just one winner. The Knicks – the only team that got worse – actually took home the win in this deal. Clearing the cap space, ridding themselves of the destructive JR Smith, and admitting to start over must have been difficult for a team in that caliber of market, but it was crucial. While Cleveland added perimeter defense (however valuable that may be without a rim protector), and OKC added some scoring, the Knicks actually stand the most to gain from this early season swap.