Happiness has become an offshore concept in the Big Apple, where the Knicks have lost nine straight and share last place in the Eastern Conference with the Milwaukee Bucks. Expectations that once soared are plummeting, as the hapless Knicks rummage through the wreckage of their season, looking for answers.
Time after time, their search has led them to one player: Shumpert.
When Tyson Chandler went down, the New York Daily News' Frank Isola reported that the Knicks were shopping Shumpert. And following a sideline shouting match with Carmelo Anthony, the New York Post's Marc Berman wrote that Shumpert may have earned a one-way ticket out of town.
All indications are that the Knicks will move on from Shumpert in some way. At this point, the move feels inevitable. Too many rumors have been floated. Something is brewing.
The jury on a potential trade is still out. Until we know what the move is and who the Knicks receive in return, all legwork is guesswork. We don't know if New York is better off without Shumpert.
But we do know that unless things change, Shumpert is better off without the drama-filled, baggage-carrying, conflict-toting Knicks.
Dirty Little Secrets
"Transparency" is not a word the Knicks know. Or preach. They prefer to work behind curtains, keeping media and fans immersed in dense darkness.
Privileged information isn't kept under wraps for long, though. Inevitably, the truth, or some version of it, always comes out. Intel is leaked, and dirty little secrets exposed. Not even the covert-happy Knicks are inoculated against the natural flow of information.
Over the offseason, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith revealed that Knicks owner James Dolan wanted Shumpert gone after he appeared in only one summer league game. Shump had just finished up a sophomore campaign, half of which he missed while rehabbing a torn ACL. That didn't matter. Play, Shump. Just play.
Later, Isola discovered that Shumpert underwent clandestine knee surgery during the offseason. More drama. More secrets.
Timing is everything, and it's understandable that the organization wasn't pleased about his procedure. But can Shumpert really blossom on a team that promotes "secret surgeries?" Or for an owner who clearly doesn't understand that even 20-somethings have physical limits?
The chances aren't great.
Can't the Knicks all just get along? Apparently, no. Not with Shumpert.
In the midst of New York's losing streak, rumors of a rift between head coach Mike Woodson and Shumpert have surfaced. Speculation gained so much traction that Woody was forced to address the issue publicly, which we know the Knicks hate doing, per Berman:
If I didn’t like him, I don’t think he’d be averaging 30 minutes on my ballclub. You got to look at that. I like everybody on our team. So that perception is bulls–t, if you ask me. If I didn’t think much of the man, he wouldn’t be playing. If I don’t think much of you, you’re not going to play.
True to his word, Shumpert has played. He's started all 16 of the Knicks' games and is averaging 29.7 minutes of action a night. When Isola told us the front office (aka Dolan) was pressuring Woodson to bench Shump in favor of Kenyon Martin, he demoted J.R. Smith instead. Hugs, chest bumps and secret handshakes all around, then.
With the Knicks, it's never that easy. Woodson has indeed shown hostility for Shumpert, benching him after his on-camera tiff with Anthony.
Shumpert's approach wasn't perfect, but there was merit to his cause.
The Knicks have become a defensive disaster. Watch the tape. No tape in particular, either. Watch anything. You'll see they're a mess without Chandler, switching on everything.
Switch-heavy defenses can be valuable strategies, but they're more complicated than man-to-man coverages. New York isn't built around defensive sages; it's reliant upon players who don't always grasp or even try to comprehend defensive schemes.
"They were pretty much scoring at will," Smith said of the Knicks defense against the New Orleans Pelicans, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley. "Especially my guy. I don't know what the hell I was doing on defense."
Shouldn't Woodson be excited that Shumpert is playing with the fire Smith isn't? That no one else is?
This is the same Woodson who, via Begley, said the Knicks aren't "taking pride in guarding the ball individually." He should be ecstatic that his lone two-way player—who improves the Knicks' sorry defense by six points per 100 possessions when on the floor, according to NBA.com (subscription required)—is taking action. Showing emotion.
You don't poke a raging bull, and you don't anger a superstar approaching free agency—I get it. But the Knicks need that kind of passion. Shumpert must not be punished for an outburst that, while imperfect, was totally justifiable.
If the Knicks, the 28th-place defensively ranked Knicks, cannot reward a still-developing Shumpert for exhibiting effort where the team generally exudes none, then there's no personal benefit to him calling New York home anymore.
Dysfunction at Every Turn
Shumpert has been criticized for his diligence, or lack thereof, on numerous occasions.
"Iman didn’t have much in his tank in the first quarter," Woodson said of his guard's performance in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, via Berman. "He was just out there. I’ll sit and talk to him and see where his head is at."
You mean Shumpert, the subject of incessant trade rumors, hasn't been playing well under duress? You don't say?
Effort should never waver, but we must understand that Shumpert's career-low PER (10.7) and 40.8 percent shooting go beyond engagement.
There are times when he appears disinterested. There, I said it. Mostly, I've seen a frustrated Shumpert. A pressing Shumpert. Confused Shumpert.
We're quick at telling him to play through scuttlebutt. Shump's a professional basketball player and hearsay comes with the territory. Deal with it.
But Shumpert is only 23. Courtesy of a lockout and ACL injury, this past training camp was his first full one. He's still new to all this, so we cannot expect him to power on like a veteran. Not when the support system clearly isn't there.
Aside from random attacks on his character and fourth-quarter benchings, the Knicks aren't placing faith in Shumpert as anything more than an inconvenient trade chip. According to Begley, they're actually trying to sell prospective suitors on his potential by criticizing his performance under Woodson:
According to league sources with knowledge of the team's talks with potential trade partners, president/GM Steve Mills' management team has also cited Mike Woodson's coaching as one reason for Shumpert's poor play.
"They're saying that Shumpert's a better player [than he's shown] but Woodson isn't using him right," one league source said.
The Knicks apparently think Shumpert is better than he's shown and are aware he's being misused, and they've done what? Shop him? Bravo. If there was an award for the most dysfunctional business model in the NBA, Dolan's Knicks would be repeat champs.
New York isn't currently an environment where a budding prospect can develop into anything more than a fragmented rendition of himself, sans any self-esteem. Right now, it's not a place where Shumpert can thrive or even hope to exist in harmony.
Put Up or Move On
For all his flaws, Shumpert doesn't deserve this. These Knicks. They're awful. Not just on the court but off it, where a malfunctioning front office is slowly diminishing the importance of a promising youngster.
This isn't to say Shumpert isn't partially at fault. The lack of emotional growth on his part is alarming. Displeasure on his behalf appears more likely to be voiced through temper tantrums than it does coherent conversation. That's all on him.
But the rest is on the Knicks, who haven't given Shumpert the respect or reassurance he needs to help their team.
"We had a miscommunication defensively," Shumpert said of his momentary beef with Anthony, per Begley.
The entire year, from the start until now, has seen the Knicks and Shumpert drift apart under the guise of one big miscommunication. Unless the Knicks can put their words into action and prove they want Shumpert to succeed, nothing will change. Fissures in their relationship will exist. Drama will continue to overshadow everything. Egos will be crushed.
Shumpert, so long as he's in orange and blue, will fail.