The New York Knicks cannot win...even when they win.
The team and its fans should have been able to take some measure of joy in Wednesday's 98-91 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans—a rare win indeed for this snake-bitten club. They should have been able to marvel properly at the heroics of star forward Carmelo Anthony, who put the team on his back down the stretch and simply would not be denied the much-needed win.
But these are the Knicks, and when it comes to this franchise, nothing is ever that simple. After the game, most of the talk focused instead on the third-quarter injury suffered by third-year forward Iman Shumpert, who crumpled to the floor, untouched, with what appeared to be a knee injury.
Regardless of the severity of the injury, this likely puts an end to any potential major moves New York could make before Thursday's deadline. Shumpert was one of the trading chips left on a Knicks team nearly devoid of young talent and future draft picks. If New York was going to make a team-altering deal at the deadline, Shumpert would almost certainly have needed to be involved.
Is this a bad thing? For a team on the verge of contention, with a front office savvy enough to execute a proper trade, it would probably would be...but the Knicks are neither of those things. In truth, all this does is give New York's incompetent front office less of a chance to sink the team even further into the abyss in the futile quest for a quick fix.
What Happens to Shumpert Now?
After the game was over, the Knicks announced that Shumpert would not be joining the team for the conclusion of its road trip, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:
So Shumpert won't make the trip to Orlando or Atlanta. Will undergo further evaluation for his left knee injury back home in NY.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 20, 2014
Shumpert eventually limped into the locker room himself and made a few statements:
Shumpert: "Just frustrated. Just frustrated. Injury after injury."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 20, 2014
Shumpert said the injury definitely isn't his ACL.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 20, 2014
If he indeed avoided an ACL injury, it would be good news for both him and the Knicks. Shumpert tore the ACL in that same knee during the 2012 playoffs. One such tear is difficult enough to rehab, but a second tear in two years could seriously jeopardize Shumpert's future.
Even if the injury isn't as serious as first feared, the Knicks' starting small forward could be out for some time. Per Herring, head coach Mike Woodson has already announced that J.R. Smith will likely start in Shumpert's place, and that Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace might finally see some playing time.
Will the Knicks really miss Shumpert, who is averaging 6.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists this season on just 37.7 percent shooting? As bad as he has been this season, the answer is probably yes.
Though Shumpert has clearly regressed, he still provides value to the team when he's on the court with his defense and rebounding. He may not be a great defender, but he is better than every other New York wing.
On Feb. 17, Herring explored why Shumpert should continue to start over sweet-shooting rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.:
Even with Shumpert pressing badly on offense, the Knicks' starting five has outscored opponents by 20.5 points per 100 possessions this season, the most in the NBA for any five-man lineup that's played at least 100 minutes together. The Knicks run into problems when they break up the starting crew as the game progresses.
On the defensive end, Hardaway is a liability. Whatever offensive skills he flaunts, opposing shooting guards are outscoring him by 5.3 points per 48 minutes on the season.
Now the Knicks will be forced to break up their most effective five-man lineup, and they cannot afford any slippage at the moment.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Knicks came into Wednesday with a 14.8 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Charlotte Bobcats also won on Wednesday night, which leaves New York 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot. Shumpert's injury likely pushes them even closer to an early vacation.
Get Rid of the Coach, Not the Player
In one of this season's stranger ironies, Iman Shumpert assured himself of playing future games with the New York Knicks by injuring himself.
The rumor mill was ablaze on Wednesday with talk that both Shumpert and point guard Raymond Felton would soon be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
ESPN's Marc Stein and Ian Begley were reporting that, though the Knicks were more interested in acquiring point guard Darren Collison and rookie shooting guard Reggie Bullock, Felton and Shumpert could be included in a package for Collison and former Knick Matt Barnes.
Collison has a player option for the 2014-15 season, meaning he could opt out, forcing the capped-out Knicks to either extend him, find an extremely cheap replacement on the free-agent market or trade for yet another point guard.
Grantland's Zach Lowe didn't consider Collison to be worth the effort:
The Knicks need to understand that as bad as Felton as been, Collison is not an upgrade worth giving up literally any asset.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 19, 2014
And the Knicks would also be stuck with Barnes, a player who turns 34 next month and is in the middle of the worst season of his professional career.
The fact that the Knicks even entertained such an offer shows how desperate they are. This is a franchise that makes terrible decisions even when it has most of the leverage in a negotiation (see: the Carmelo Anthony trade). There's no telling how badly the Knicks can mess up a trade in their current collective emotional state.
But now the Clippers have justifiably changed their minds about any in-season trade, per ESPN's Arash Markazi:
The Clippers like Iman Shumpert a lot but they're not trading for another injured wing. He left tonight's game with a sprained left knee.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) February 20, 2014
And that is a good thing. The Knicks will have a chance to reevaluate the Shumpert situation in the offseason, when there won't be nearly as much immediate pressure.
Before they trade him, the Knicks would do well to give Shumpert a chance to play under a new coach. Mike Woodson has cast a shroud of incompetence over this entire team, but it seems that Shumpert, in particular, has been affected.
The coach and player have a notoriously frosty relationship. Marc Berman of the New York Post documented Woodson's disdain for the third-year player in a November article, but he also noted that Shumpert had left a positive impression on his first NBA coach (Mike D'Antoni) and GM (Donnie Walsh).
Clearly, Los Angeles was intrigued by Shumpert, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Clippers general manager and coach Doc Rivers has been determined to upgrade athleticism on the wings and sees Shumpert as a player who can complement JJ Redick and Jared Dudley.
What does it say when a respected, title-winning coach like Rivers—who saw Shumpert play often during his time coaching the Boston Celtics—seems to view him as a fit for a contending team?
What it says is that the Knicks should spend less time trying to get rid of their talent and more time getting rid of the people who are supposed to be developing said talent.
The Knicks may have dodged a bullet with Iman Shumpert's injury. If they were smart, they would take this time to find a coach who can get the best out of his players, instead of using them to deflect blame off himself.
But when was the last time the Knicks did anything smart?
* All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.