Jeff Teague Trade Would Be Wrong Move for New York Knicks

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Jeff Teague Trade Would Be Wrong Move for New York Knicks
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Jeff Teague isn't the answer for the struggling and listless New York Knicks.

In fairness to Teague, no one player is. Not Rajon Rondo, not Kyle Lowry, not Carmelo Anthony's clone. Maybe Batman—his utility belt has, like, everything—but that's it.

Since the Knicks are the Knicks, and are frantically searching for an upgrade at point guard over Raymond Felton, ESPN's Marc Stein says the Atlanta Hawks' floor general has become a person of interest:

To be fair, every point guard with a pulse and stamina that exceeds levels of anemia is bound to be a person of interest. 

In addition to Teague, Stein has also indicated that the Knicks have yet to give up on acquiring Rondo from the Boston Celtics:

Because Rondo and Teague clearly aren't enough, Stein is also hearing that the Knicks remain interested in trading for the Toronto Raptors' Lowry—in a three-team deal that could actually include Teague:

With the NBA trade deadline three days away, the Knicks continue to try to engage the Raptors in an attempt to acquire point guard Kyle Lowry, according to league sources.

The Knicks are offering packages including Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih, sources say. They have been reluctant to include sharpshooting rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. or a future first-round draft pick in any deal. One of those two pieces is believed to be a prerequisite for Toronto to consider giving up Lowry.

[...]

League sources say a scenario in which Teague ends up in Toronto, Shumpert goes to Atlanta and Lowry winds up in New York has been discussed. Another scenario could have Teague ending up in New York. The conversations are believed to be preliminary.

Every point guard that the Knicks decide to "target" between now and the Feb. 20 deadline will be secondary to Rondo, a longstanding endeavor likely to prove fruitless before 2015 free agency. Though Rondo isn't believed to be untouchable, the Knicks don't have enough tangible assets or future draft picks to whet Celtics general manager Danny Ainge's appetite.

Lowry presents similar obstacles. He was one of the biggest All-Star snubs and the Raptors appear perfectly content with letting his contract come off their books this summer in pursuit of an immediate playoff push.

That makes Teague the most realistic option of the three, and likely anyone else the Knicks target. But just because he's obtainable doesn't mean he's worth obtaining.

 

More Money, More Problems

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

At only 25, one would assume Teague demands more value than New York can offer in return, but Grantland's Zach Lowe previously brought word that Hawks general manager Danny Ferry wasn't "in love" with the point guard's contract. The Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat also reports that Atlanta has been "aggressively" shopping him ahead of Thursday's deadline.

While a realistic target, Teague isn't what the Knicks need, and the New York Post's Marc Berman says they're expected to pass on acquiring his services—which is good. Great, even.

Teague is owed $8 million annually through 2016-17, meaning he would significantly cut into the Knicks' highly touted and anticipated cap space for summer 2015. For a starting point guard, that seems like a reasonable price to pay and generally it would be—just not for New York.

The Knicks don't have any players under guaranteed contracts for 2015-16 at the moment. J.R. Smith and Felton have player options totaling roughly $10.3 million, the Knicks have a team option worth $1.3 million on Tim Hardaway Jr. and Pablo Prigioni's $1.7 million salary isn't guaranteed. Altogether, that makes up approximately $13.3 million in salary.

And we're not done.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Bringing Teague in adversely impacts New York's financial outlook.

We're going to assume Iman Shumpert—who is eligible for an extension this summer—won't be around, since 1) the Knicks seem about as attached to him as most of us are to lettuce and 2) he would be part of any Teague trade. So we won't count his $3.7 million qualifying offer against the cap.

But we do have to consider Anthony, who will become a free agent this summer. We're also going to assume the Knicks retain him, since, you know, per Berman, he waxed loyalty to New York all throughout All-Star weekend.

"I told people all the time, if it takes me taking a paycut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying: 'Take my money and let’s build something strong over here,' " he said.

Anthony's words are an encouraging sign for the Knicks, who have willingly tied their fate to him and him alone. Retaining him, though, is going to take money, and lots of it. Doesn't matter if he takes a pay cut. If he's earning less than $20 million heading into 2014-15, we should all be shocked.

Add his $20 million—a lowball salary for sure—to that $13.3 million from before and Teague's $8 million, and the Knicks' salary commitments will be at $41.3 million or higher in summer 2015, before factoring in cap holds, draft picks and any other transactions they make.

Next season's salary cap is projected to check in at $62.1 million, per ESPN's Larry Coon, so we can expect it to be slightly higher for 2015-16. That $20 million worth of space isn't enough to chase superstars when we're both underselling the Knicks' salary commitments and not even delving into various holds that will come into play.

Their financial outlook could improve substantially if Felton and Smith both explore free agency or are traded by then, but that's a gargantuan-sized "if." The way Felton is playing now, he's about as likely to pass up a near $4 million payday as Smith is to be named MVP.

This alone should be a deal-breaker. All along, the plan has been for the Knicks to strike gold in 2015 free agency. ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported in December that the Knicks believe they can land one or two of Roy Hibbert, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love and Rondo. Let's not forget that LeBron James could be available as well if he decides to opt in for one more year with the Miami Heat this summer.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Are the Knicks prepared to sacrifice pursuit of Rondo or James or another star for Teague?

Acquiring Teague would likely destroy any hope the Knicks have of signing one of the aforementioned players, let alone two. Are they to pass on that opportunity for a guy like Teague? Are they prepared to bid adieu to their deep-seated desire for Rondo in favor of an immediate, less glamorous upgrade at point guard?

 

Not Enough

Is Teague even an upgrade over Felton?

Initial returns suggest he is, but the gap between Teague and Felton isn't very wide. It barely even exists:

Felton vs. Teague
Player PTS FG% 3P% REBS ASTS STLS Off. Rtg. Def. Rtg. 2013-14 Salary
Felton 10.4 40.7 30.4 2.8 5.9 1.0 101 111 $3,637,073
Teague 15.6 41.2 25.6 2.6 7.2 1.2 102 108 $8,000,000

Via Basketball-Reference and ShamSports.

Teague's stats are clearly superior, and I'll be the last one to ever (ever) defend Felton, but the former is earning more than twice as much as the latter without the per-game numbers to justify it.

There's no guarantee Teague is an upgrade over Felton or even close to what New York needs. Having only played four-plus seasons, is he the floor general capable of remedying a flawed offensive dynamic? Probably not.

What the Knicks need is someone who runs plays, distributes and delegates like 36-year-old Prigioni, only younger. When he's on the floor, Anthony, the most vital cog in New York's machine, has direction. The onus isn't on him to create for himself. The Knicks need someone like that, and Teague isn't him.

David Goldman/Associated Press
The Knicks need someone like Rondo, who they can't get, as opposed to Teague, who they shouldn't get.

For what the Knicks can offer—spare parts, basically—the point guard they need may not be out there, and the thought of standing pat while outside the Eastern Conference's playoff picture is harrowing and seemingly inexcusable.

Change for sake of change isn't always good, though—especially in this case.

It doesn't reflect highly on Teague that the Hawks, a top-five playoff team out East, are prepared to unload their starting point guard, nor does it bode well for New York.

Is Jeff Teague a good fit for the Knicks?

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The Knicks have big plans beyond this season, and however whimsical their approach to the future is, it's not worth compromising for someone like Teague.

"They should want to have us competing at a championship level just for the sake of the fans of New York and the organization, what it stands for, the history of the organization," Anthony said of the Knicks' front office, via Berman. "They should want to be in those talks when they’re talking about whose the best team."

Breaking into those talks is going to be difficult, but restoring hope and faith in New York's direction starts with restraint, which, in this case, means walking away from a player who won't enliven a future already on life support.

 

*Salary information courtesy of ShamSports.


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