First, let me be clear: I'm higher on Shumpert than you. Trust me. Not that I overvalue him as a trade piece, per se. I, as everyone should, know the Knicks cannot flip Shumpert for Rajon Rondo. The salaries don't match for one, and Shumpert isn't that dignified a player yet.
Shumpert, who is still recovering from clandestine knee surgery over the summer, has struggled to start the season. And that's being kind. Ebbing athleticism has left the Knicks with a subdued version of the high-flyer they drafted in 2011.
Prone to comatose performances and averaging just 7.4 points per game on 40 percent shooting, Shumpert isn't Shumpert. The highlight-worthy put-backs and transition dunks aren't there. The player who Carmelo Anthony figured for stardom isn't there.
But in Shumpert, the Knicks have an asset. Their most valuable asset, actually.
When he's on the floor, their defense improves by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com (subscription required). Though offensively challenged at the moment, his three-point explosion in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers last May was a useful indication of his potential on that end of the floor.
The Knicks know this. They understand that, barring a healthy Tyson Chandler suddenly capable of drilling jump shots, Shumpert is their only two-way player. And so, as reported by the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, they've shopped him, dangling him in hopes of landing someone, anyone, who can fill an area of need.
New York can ill afford to deal Shump for just anyone or on a whim, though. There has to be a worthy reason—an end that justifies the collateral damage.
Then, and only then, will moving Shumpert make sense for the future of this team.
Getting 'Melo His Star
After losing seven of their first 10 games, the Knicks have made an unnecessary project out of keeping Anthony. If free agency were to start right now, their sales pitch would comprise of a short-changed conversation with two promising points.
"You see Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski's report on our plan to chase Kevin Love in 2015?" general manager Steve Mills would say first. "Well, it's true."
"What else you got?" 'Melo might ask.
"About $129 million worth of reasons why losing here won't be in vain," owner James Dolan would chime in.
Then, silence. Digesting everything he's heard, 'Melo could decide to re-sign with the Knicks. Or he could bolt for the Los Angeles Lakers, sacrificing tens of millions of dollars in the name of playing next to Kobe Bryant.
All things considered, Anthony isn't going anywhere. He wants to retire in New York. The prospect of ending a four-decade championship drought and being immortalized in New York City lore is too enticing to pass up.
We think. Every case we build about 'Melo staying in New York must be followed by "we think." Anthony has said all the right things, and on the court, he's doing all the right things. More rebounding, consistent scoring, better passing (seriously)—he's doing it all.
But the Knicks aren't giving him any additional reasons to stay. None that extend beyond his well-documented loyalty, anyway. Most notably, they haven't procured that second star for him to run with.
Amar'e Stoudemire was supposed to be the 1B to 'Melo's 1A, but that hasn't panned out. Chandler toes the line of a star but is neither healthy enough nor offensively gifted enough to satisfy this requirement.
And the Andrea Bargnani experiment isn't going well. The Knicks are being outscored by 11.7 points per 100 possessions when both players are on the floor—the second-worst team mark of any two-man combo that has logged at least 100 minutes of court time together.
Recognizing their need for another star, the New York Post's Marc Berman reported that 'Melo asked the Knicks to get one. Cash strapped and thin on movable assets, the Knicks gave him Bargs, who simply hasn't been enough.
If the Knicks can package Shumpert as part of blockbuster trade for another star—a real star—then they have to. They have no choice. Obviously.
Well before they officially started chasing Rondo, Berman wrote that Anthony wanted them to. On some level, he must be anxious. Worried. Fearful.
Landing another star—not just Rondo—with Shumpert's rookie deal as the centerpiece is a long shot. But this is the value the Knicks must place on him, for fear of compromising their currently shaky hold on 'Melo.
If Not A Star, Then An Almost-Star Point Guard
Enough with these "the Knicks need" a center diatribes. They don't. What they need is a healthy Chandler. Adding another big man to the roster won't fit what this team is built to do—spread the floor.
Small ball helped the Knicks pull 54 victories last season. With Anthony at the 4 wreaking havoc on unsuspecting defenders, New York was successful.
This year, the Knicks have been awful. Atrocious. Rotten. Traditional starting fives have been forced upon them, and it's been ugly.
Through New York's first 13 games, they're 0-7 when Anthony starts at small forward. They're 3-3 when he starts at the 4.
Sensing a pattern here?
Smaller lineups pave the way for big things. There's a reason Anthony wanted to target Rondo, after all—the Knicks need a legitimate starting point guard.
Already, they've started three different floor generals. Plagued by injuries, Raymond Felton has been more underwhelming than usual. Beno Udrih has provided offensive sparks in spurts, but he doesn't direct the offense like a true commander should. And Pablo Prigioni is still afraid to shoot.
These Knicks need a point guard more than anything. Anthony said as much following their loss to the Washington Wizards, questioning Mike Woodson's decision to run with Shumpert and J.R. Smith to close out instead of a point man, via ESPN New York's Ian Begley:
I don't know. You got to ask Woody that. I'm not searching. We're not searching. But as a coach, I understand that could be a tough situation, to try and figure out what's the best lineups, who can play, who can't play. It can be a tough situation for him.
If the Knicks are going to move Shumpert, and Lady Luck refuses to drop a star into their lap, it better be for a capable floor general. Rondo-level players are too ambitious. Think Kyle Lowry or Greivis Vasquez. Not them specifically (though they would certainly work), but players who fall into the same distributional tier.
Anything less, and a Shumpert trade is unacceptable.
Tangible talent can be overrated.
Should the market for Shumpert be lukewarm on immediate returns, the Knicks can seek one more course of action—a salary dump.
Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling did a beautiful job of outlining a potential trade that the Knicks could make with the Boston Celtics. No, it didn't net them Rondo, but it did the next best thing by ridding the Knicks of Stoudemire's contract:
In that scenario, according to the source, the Knicks would acquire power forward/center Kris Humphries and small forward Gerald Wallace, while the Celtics would lose two massive salaries for one, Stoudemire, who the Celtics would have to retain only until 2015 (Wallace is through 2016). The Celtics also plan on "stinking in 2014-15 anyway," according to the source close to the team, so Stoudemire's financial presence wouldn't necessarily hurt them as they have plenty of salary-cap flexibility and can continue to add roster pieces.
Bang. The contract once thought immovable can apparently be moved. But I'm going to take this one step further.
There are other teams like the Celtics—those that plan on stinking in 2014-15, too. If the Knicks can attach STAT's deal to Shumpert with another team, one that won't send a Gerald Wallace back in return, things get interesting.
"Crash" hinders New York's cap flexibility in 2014-15. His contract runs through 2015-16, and while it wouldn't necessarily prevent the Knicks from becoming serious free-agent players, his annual salary of roughly $10 million isn't going to help.
Finding a team willing to send back expiring deals instead would be the goal. The dream. Expiring pacts in exchange for STAT (and Shump) could put the Knicks under the luxury-tax threshold for 2014-15, even with 'Melo on the books, thus allowing them to complete sign-and-trades where possible.
This also puts the Knicks a few other salary dumps away from opening up cap space this summer.
Their all-inclusive salary total could exceed $91 million next season. Subtract STAT's deal from the books—in favor of contracts that come off the ledger this summer—and the Knicks are suddenly at roughly $68 million. Find a team willing to absorb Bargs' expiring deal this summer, along with teams willing to take Smith and Felton's reasonable salaries, and the Knicks are looking at more than $10 million of cap room.
We're getting ahead of ourselves, of course. There's no guarantee the Knicks would be able or willing to dump so many salaries. But, unlike now, it would be a realistic option.
Unlike other scenarios Isola entertained—Kenneth Faried and Jason Thompson—it would make sense. Make moving Shumpert worthwhile.
Make it so trading Shumpert wouldn't be a gross misuse of invaluable talent.
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