New York Knicks Trading Iman Shumpert Would Be a Massive Mistake

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New York Knicks Trading Iman Shumpert Would Be a Massive Mistake
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Although the New York Knicks don't have any more cap space with which to sign additional reinforcements, there is still no constructive reason to trade Iman Shumpert now.

It's no surprise to see Shump on the block. New York dangled him in proposals for nearly all of the 2013-14 season, offering him to the Toronto Raptors for Kyle Lowry multiple times between December, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, and February, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley, and trying to swap him for an Oklahoma City Thunder first-round pick both at the deadline, per Begley, and before, via Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the draft.

The Knicks ultimately held onto Iman through all the uncertainty and dysfunction of the past year, and as Phil Jackson spends his summer rejiggering the roster to better suit the triangle offense, the tantalizing, disappointing swingman remains.

Even after bolstering the frontcourt by inking Jason Smith to the full mini-mid-level exception, the front office apparently still feels there are too many guards on the roster

Per another Begley piece, the Knicks are shopping Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Shane Larkin, with particular interest on reducing the number of shooting guards on the roster.

“They’re working on trying to make a move in the backcourt,” the NBA source familiar with the Knicks’ thinking said Sunday. 

The idea that the Knicks are trying to make a trade to balance the roster isn’t earth-shattering. President Phil Jackson and GM Steve Mills have mentioned the Knicks have a surplus in the backcourt, with Mills saying last week the Knicks are “heavy” at shooting guard. 

In addition to Shump and Smith, that group includes Tim Hardaway Jr., who Begley reports New York is not discussing in trade talks following a strong summer league showing, and Wayne Ellington, the only one of the four with experience running the triangle, having learned the system playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves under the tutelage of Kurt Rambis, now the lead assistant on Derek Fisher's staff.

Now let's consider Iman and Earl as trade pieces. We'll set aside Larkin, a 5'11" water bug who will not compete for any wing minutes and will provide the Knicks their only dose of quickness at point guard.

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Despite withering under Mike Woodson's criticism into an indecisive, mistake-prone mess on the offensive end, Shumpert is still a plus defender with lockdown ability, he's a year removed from hitting 40 percent of his threes and he is due just $2.6 million next season before hitting restricted free agency, according to Sham Sports.

Smith also hit a high-water mark two seasons ago, when he won the 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year award. That said, he is due just under $6 million next season and has a player option for $6.3 million in 2015-16; considering Earl's twin penchants for ill-advised shooting and absurd behavior, he's clearly the less movable of the two.

But, as Joe Flynn asked over at Posting and Toasting, why do Phil Jackson and Steve Mills feel this stable of 2-guards is overstuffed? By all indications, because Smith and Shumpert aren't capable of playing small forward—which Flynn considers a fallacy, the Knicks brass must put out of their minds:

The second, nearly-as-scary assumption is that J.R. and Shump are exclusively shooting guards -- meaning they can be paired together on the wing. Not only can they play together, they should...like, from the opening tip. The pairing of Shump and J.R. shared the court for a total of 833.6 minutes last season, and the Knicks averaged an impressive net rating of +10.0 points per 100 possessions.

Flynn's first, more frightening assumption is the doomsday scenario that the Knicks aren't viewing Melo as a small-ball power forward, but let's set that aside and trust he'll find his way back to that spot after two consecutive elite seasons.

With Hardaway/Smith at shooting guard and Anthony slotted at power forward, the only "true" small forward available would be rookie Cleanthony Early. That is, unless Shump steps up to the task.

At 6'5" and often chasing the opposition's speediest guard due to New York's defensive limitations, Shumpert might not look like the best candidate to play the three. Compare him to someone who more closely fits the prototype, however, and Shump's multi-positional bona fides become even more impressive.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

As our example, let's look at someone for whom New York could reasonably swap Shumpert straight up: DeMarre Carroll, a three-and-D small forward due $2.4 million next season who won't cost the Knicks anything following 2014-15.

Yes, at 28, Carroll is four years older than Shump, but the Atlanta Hawk is also 6'8" and coming off his best-ever campaign.

Atlanta's starting small forward shot 47 percent from the field and 36 on threes; his 268 attempts from deep were more than double his career total up to that point, and he upped his long-range percentage over 40 in the playoffs. After years as an energetic defensive replacement, his added shooting and some off-the-bounce play made him a useful two-way player.

In this hypothetical, the Hawks would get a higher-upside guy in hopes of fixing his shotShumpert hit just 33 percent of his treys last season—while the Knicks would land someone who could bring Shump's skill set to a position of need.

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

There are two problems with that line of thinking.

First off, it supposes that Carroll, a good defensive small forward, is much better equipped to guard his position than Shumpert is. Those three inches of height matter plenty, but Shump measures up better than you might expect.

His long arms help. Per DraftExpress, Shumpert complements his 6'5" frame with a 6'9.5" wingspan, only a half-inch shorter than Carroll's measurement when he was a prospect. Shump has the length to contain larger opponents and the reach to either swipe the ball from them or contest their shots.

He also has the strength to effectively body them. Listed at 220 pounds, Shumpert is actually heavier than Carroll by eight pounds. That weight limits some of his rebounding disadvantage playing up a position, allowing him to effectively jostle for his spot on the floor and not cede the interior without a fight.

Carroll has those three inches of height and one season's worth of more efficient scoring than Shumpert has ever offered, but maybe he's not the most ideal target for the Knicks after all. That's fine; he was a hypothetical, after all.

So if the Knicks can trade Iman Shumpert for a taller player who shoots significantly better, plays demonstrably more suffocating defense against small forwards and has a contract worth less than the mini-MLE next season that won't cut into New York's financial flexibility thereafter—do that, by all means.

The ESPN Trade Machine estimates the Knicks would improve by six wins if they made a move like that. But unless all the San Antonio Spurs' good will toward 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard suddenly vanishes without explanation, it's not happening.

Which leads us to the second problem: If New York can't deal Shumpert now for someone who will make the team better in the long run, why deal him at all?

With max cap space looming next summer, the Knicks will be playing to successfully execute the triangle next season, not to win a championship. If Fisher can help Shumpert develop some confidence spotting up and cutting off the ball as a wing, he can produce meaningfully for the Knicks.

And if that's the case, he deserves the chance to show he can contribute defensively with major minutes at the small forward spot. He has the physical goods; he just needs the opportunity to prove himself.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

By keeping Iman and placing their faith in him, all the Knicks have to lose are a few 2014-15 games—a minor risk in the long run.

It's also a loss they can cut midway through the season if they still feel dissatisfied with their shooting guard surplus, offering Shumpert as a three-and-D bench piece for a contender; that team would also get to control his restricted free agency in 2015, sweetening Shump as an asset and potentially keeping a late first-rounder in play as New York's return.

That's all the Knicks had been asking for, and after Shumpert's miserable 2013-14, his market value has never been lower. A trade would now constitute cutting bait at the least profitable time, which is not the precedent the Jackson regime wants to set when it comes to its young talent—and that's the best-case scenario.

The worst would be Shumpert blossoming in 2014-15 elsewhere when New York has no reason to eschew taking a flier on him. Any hopes of him becoming New York's Kawhi-esque face of the future were lost in the botched crossovers and panicked jumpers of last season, but he can still be a very productive three-and-D wing.

On June 26—the day of the 2014 draft, for which New York shopped so hard to get draft picksIman Shumpert turned 24 years old. Between his ACL tear in the 2011 playoffs and his tribulations since returning to the court, he has been through a lot in his short NBA career. But he's still so young; he has by no means peaked as a ballplayer, much less plateaued as a finished product.

If New York deals him before he gets to show what he can do in a new system, he will reach that peak—however lofty or modest—someplace else. That's bad asset management at the minimum, and it's ignorance of the talent he has to potentially carve himself out a key long-term role as a Knick.

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