Is Iman Shumpert Key to Knicks' Future, or Is He New York's Biggest Trade Chip?

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Is Iman Shumpert Key to Knicks' Future, or Is He New York's Biggest Trade Chip?
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Iman Shumpert: The defense is there. The offense is next.

Iman Shumpert is more of a key for the specific makeup of this New York Knicks team on the court than as the roster's biggest (and only) potential trade chip to be cashed in for an NBA title any time soon.

He’s not the biggest trade chip in New York overall—that would be Carmelo Anthony—but if the Knicks are trading Anthony before his 2014 player option, something’s gone horribly awry in Gotham, and the Larry O’Brien trophy is nowhere in sight.

Same for Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith, the other two best players (and bigger trade chips) on the team.

No one else is even tradeable, or will bring little in return on their own (Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin and everyone else—the whole team practically—that’s signed for or around the veteran’s minimum).

USA TODAY Sports
The Untradeables (mostly).

Beyond the near future, Shumpert may find himself less a key to the Knicks' success and more a trade chip, but not today. Much depends on his progressive development and whether he re-signs to an extended (and more lucrative/tradeable) contract in the next two years.

Shumpert’s been good and better than expected, but is he the cornerstone, the foundation you build a championship team of the future around (i.e. the key or even the second option)?

Or, is he always to be at best an above-average, third-man defensive specialist role player on the floor? That’s great for this season and next but perhaps not forever.

If Shumpert can raise his offensive and defensive games another unexpected level this year—say a notch better than his already advanced maturation would suggest—it could be the difference-maker on this roster.

USA TODAY Sports
This New York Knicks team needs Iman Shumpert to beat this Indiana Pacers team. Who knows about two years from now?

It could push the Knicks over the top, ensure an Atlantic Division title and find New York giving the Miami Heat (or any other another team) a run in the Eastern Conference Finals.

We already know what we're going to get from Anthony, Chandler, even Metta World Peace. There isn't going to be improvement in their games at this late stage. What they give is maxed out or can only be fine-tuned and will take the Knicks to exactly where the team left off in 2012-13—maybe a bit further.

For more, the Knicks need a leap of improvement in Shumpert’s game. He needs to become that young and explosive "free-agent" player New York could not afford to bring in and cement a championship roster.

Shumpert has the potential to be the key this season or next in that fashion but not necessarily for the long haul or on a different-looking Knicks roster of the future.

New York is not going to get similar value (and a seamless integration) on the trade block for a few years.

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There were trade rumors (facts) surrounding Shumpert in February, via Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski—and again this July, via the New York Daily News' Daniel O'Leary—rooted in James Dolan’s fits of discomfort.

All this trade talk on Shumpert is premature, and a move would possibly hurt the team more than help it.

Really, who are the Knicks going to get right now that’s better than Shumpert for $1.7 million to balance out the transaction?

Slim pickings, if any. It sounds like a senseless downgrade.

Later, in a couple of years, is when trade talk will be more appropriate.

Shumpert’s greatest value to this franchise might eventually be on the market, wrapped up in a package for a second man—a long-term or on-loan second superstar for an extended Anthony—but not yet.

For now, his value is as a contributing and improving member of this Knicks team.

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