Last Monday, three NBA teams went in cahoots with each other to forge a surprising move that looks to help their struggling sides. The Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder masterminded a six player trade that sent J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavaliers, Dion Waiters to the Thunder and Louis Amundson, Alex Kirk plus Lance Thomas to the Knicks. Aside from the players, the Cavaliers will receive a conditional first round pick from the Thunder, while the Cavs will be sending a 2019 second rounder to the Knicks. With this development, let’s take a look at what the trade does for each team:
Who would have thought that the Cavs needed help after they acquired both LeBron James and Kevin Love during the offseason? Yet the Cavaliers are currently just 19-16 out East and are 4-6 in their last ten games with Lebron James, Shawn Marion and Kyrie Irving going in and out of the injured list. The Cavs have struggled finding their chemistry and were already rumored to have been shopping Waiters a couple of weeks into this season. For giving up Waiters to the Thunder, the Cavs get enigmatic guard J.R. Smith and the equally perplexing Iman Shumpert from the skidding Knicks. Smith and Shumpert should provide Cleveland added scoring to a bench that is 27th in the NBA in points scored (25.5 PPG). Smith, the NBA’s 2013 Sixth Man of the Year winner, may be having one of the worst seasons of his career but his struggles could be due to the deteriorating situation in New York and adjusting to the triangle system more than a personal decline. But if Smith rekindles his focus with the Cavs, he is a valuable player on offense. But more than offense ( Cavs are #11 in offensive efficiency), Cleveland’s woes have started on their defensive end as the Cavs’ defense is ranked #23 in the entire NBA. Shumpert is known to be very good perimeter defender and his defense could compensate for Kyrie Irving’s main weakness in the backcourt. So if Shumpert returns to good health and Smith is offensively in synch, this could be a very wise gamble for the Cavs, one that could give them the spark as we head to the playoffs.
We all saw how the Thunder fell to 4-10 to start the season without both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook because aside from their dynamic duo, the Thunder don’t have a clear third offensive option who can take charge when KD and Russ are out and who can take some pressure off both. We also saw how they reached their full potential in 2012 with a supersub named James Harden being that third force leading their bench. Waiters may not be a James Harden, but he does compare to the bearded one in offensive mindset. If the Cavs gave up on waiting for Waiters to break out, the Thunder claim to have him under their radar since his days at Syracuse ( or at least that’s what GM Sam Presti says. Waiters gives the Thunder stability off the bench although he must learn to play more consistent basketball there. Reggie Jackson played very well when the Thunder were without their stars. But then he may be the main reason why the Thunder coveted Waiters.The reason is that Waiters (at $5M next season) is an inexpensive security blanket for Reggie Jackson who becomes a free agent at the end of the season. Jackson’s free agent value has risen after the way he started the season. But if the younger Waiters can jell in OKC, then that won’t be a problem at all. Lastly, the Thunder are 19th in the NBA in scoring (99.2 PPG) despite having both KD and Russ. Adding Waiters without losing a valuable piece gives them instant points that should push them closer to snatching that 8th playoff spot from Phoenix.
New York Knicks
If the Cavs and Thunder got better, the Knicks didn’t-or at least not yet. It was obvious that the Knicks had been shopping both Smith and Shumpert around but couldn’t find any takers until last Monday. Aside from executing the trade, the Knicks also dumped Samuel Dalembert and his $3.8M payroll. So if the Knicks will go on to dump Amundson and Co ( they are expected to) by Wednesday, they will have saved around $20M in payroll and taxes. With Smith’s $6.4M salary for next season now off their books, the Knicks are looking at around $30M in cap space during the 2015 free agency. That’s enough money to get a max star and more to get the rebuilding started next season. Phil Jackson continues to say that the moves were in connection with their “search for players who will fit in their system”. But who buys that crap in January with the Knicks in the bottom of the standings at 5-32 and are losers of 12 straight games? Giving away Smith and Shumpert who were integral parts of the team in recent years just signaled that the Knicks are ready for “war”. War because they look like they are in a “tank” mode right now. That war may be for the lottery not the playoffs, although D-Fish and Phil dismiss that. Melo’s injuries may have shut him down for the rest of the season and the Knicks look like they’ve given up on the season already. This is the worst start in franchise history and it may be getting worse. But the Knicks could end up winners too, because the trade just helped them in the race to the draft lottery.