Phil Jackson's reign with the New York Knicks has been relatively mistake-free.
Trade Pablo Prigioni, and it will be mistake-free no more.
Aside from the one-name coaching search New York staged prior to Derek Fisher's hire, Jackson has chugged along, delivering one surprise (draft picks!) after another (more draft picks!) after another (Jose Calderon!). Dealing Prigioni would be an unsettling and counterintuitive surprise, and yet, it remains a distinct possibility.
Marc Stein of ESPN.com first reported that the Knicks would consider moving Priggy Smalls primarily as a Wayne Ellington buffer. But it turns out there was no need to do that. The Knicks pawned Ellington off on the Sacramento Kings. Prigioni was safe.
Or maybe not, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola:
Hearing rumblings Knicks may still trade Prigioni. Say it ain't so Phil.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) August 6, 2014
First, a quick word: There is no guarantee the Knicks actually trade Prigioni, nor can such a move be depicted as a Jackson-defining transaction. Prigioni is a 37-year-old backup with only two years of NBA experience under his belt. Unloading him is not the equivalent of the Knicks' armageddon.
It's just a mistake.
For a team that clearly intends to run some version of Jackson's famed triangle offense—and began implementing it during Summer League play—it's a bigger-than-normal mistake.
Point guards approaching 40 who don't play for the Phoenix Suns—miss you, 2011-12 Steve Nash—are not offensive lifelines. Floor generals who play within the triangle, whomever they may be, are never offensive lifelines...and that's the point.
Part of the reason why the triangle is so hard to implement and borders on antiquated is the evolving importance of ball-dominant point guards. The triangle takes the rock out of point guards' hands by design. Teams don't want to do that when their point man is Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Lowry or John Wall, among many others.
Truthfully, teams won't want do displace most of their point guards from the ball, including lesser talents like Shane Larkin. The 1 position is for ball-brandishers who attack the paint and initiate drive-and-kicks and pick-and-rolls.
Triangle point men—like Fisher himself—are tasked with playing off the ball, hence New York's acquisition of Calderon, who finished as the third-most efficient off-ball scorer in the NBA while drilling 47.5 percent of his spot-up three-pointers last season, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
There's sense in carrying another point guard with a similar skill set. Especially when that point guard is already on the roster. And especially when said point guard isn't Larkin.
Prigioni can also excel off the ball. He ranked in the top 25 of standalone efficiency last season while connecting on 43.3 percent of his standstill treys.
Pope Prig's conservative shot selection can be maddening, but it's no doubt effective. He ranked sixth in true shooting percentage among all players who logged at least 15 minutes per game and made more than 15 appearances.
Results favor smaller sample sizes and less prominent offensive options, but still, anytime you can place yourself ahead of the uber-efficient Kevin Durant (seventh) while playing almost 1,300 total minutes, you're doing something right.
And one of the things Prig does right feels even more right for the triangle when you consider how he does it.
Points of initiation vary within this system, but one such ploy involves the floor general (Prig) deferring to a forward before hightailing it toward the strong-side corner. Many—perhaps most—triangle scenarios have guards spotted at or running to and from either corner.
Beyond the deep corners is where Prigioni was most effective last year. He banged in 47.1 percent of his corner threes overall—tops among Knicks who made more than 45 appearances—including an absurdly awesome 57.1 percent clip from the strong side.
Calderon isn't going to play 35-plus minutes a night. If he does, the Knicks are doing something wrong. They need his backup to emulate what he does by seamlessly fitting the triangle.
Where Larkin falls short, Prigioni does not. The Knicks can ill-afford to forfeit an offensive strength, however minor it's considered, when their defense figures to be "Oh my word, that's bad" terrible and they already lack one essential triangle staple: a pass-savvy big man.
Think of the kids, Phil—"the kids" being most Knicks fans.
In the two years since he arrived in New York, Prigioni has become the fan favorite of all fan favorites. He has developed a cult following, as Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway deftly describes:
You, common NBA fan who just so happened to run into this article through a series of off-handed clicks while eating a Cinnabon without a napkin, may be wondering what's the fuss. After all, Prigioni is a 37-year-old who has career averages of 3.7 points and 3.2 assists over 144 games. Looking strictly at the conventional statistics, Prigioni looks like another fungible veteran hanging on for his last couple paychecks.
Say such blasphemy around the Knicks fan in your life, though, and prepare for an expletive-laden tirade that strangely fixates on your mother.
This is not hyperbole.
Certain reactions to the possibility that Prigioni might be safe following Ellington's departure were passionate and powerful—and not the least bit misrepresentative of how Knicks fans feel.
"Well, we’ve heard the whispers the last 20-odd hours that Phil was trying to move a guard or two," KnickerBlogger.net's Robert Silverman wrote. "There was even talk that they might
burn all of civilization to the ground and then salt the earth so that nothing shall ever grow there again be willing to include St. Pablo of Prigioni."
"Recent reports had the Knicks entertaining the idea of packaging Pablo Prigioni in a deal with Ellington, so hopefully this trade means Prigs is here for the long run," Silverman's colleague, David Vertsberger, opined. "And by long run, I mean forever."
Then there were the reactions to Prigioni still being available:
vomiting RT @ESPNSteinLine: How 'bout a Knicks rumble? I'm told they're trying to find a new home for Pablo Prigioni— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) August 6, 2014
Prigioni proponents aren't blowing smoke. He's not a cornerstone, but he fits what the Knicks are trying to do offensively.
And when trading him would rattle a fanbase without yielding anything significant in return, why trade him at all?
Back to the non-mutinous side of this issue.
What do we know about the Knicks?
They're still flawed, Andrea Bargnani projects as one of their best defenders (so, they're still flawed) and, like Sporting News' Sean Deveney reminded us once Carmelo Anthony put pen to paper on a new deal, they're waiting for next summer, when the chance to go superstar-hunting presents itself.
Chasing superstars takes money, though—money the Knicks will have but won't necessarily be able to spend on a strong supporting cast. Prigioni—whose salary for 2015-16 is non-guaranteed, per ShamSports—fits the bill for affordable, complementary talent at $1.7 million. He's someone they can use beyond next season.
Should the Knicks consider trading Pablo Prigioni?
"We want to be more aggressive defensively," Jackson said of the Knicks in late June, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley. "We want to have a certain sense of offensive alacrity, getting up and down the court and challenging defenses to get back and protect the basket."
Trading Prigioni won't send the Knicks into a decade-long downward spiral. But trading him also won't solve anything. It won't yield them a high-impact player. It won't drastically elevate their immediate ceiling.
All it could do, at best, is help the Knicks offload one of their unsavory cap hits. And it might not even do that.
And when there's no obvious benefit to trading Prigioni, and no guarantee it doesn't make the Knicks even slightly worse, there's only one logical course of action: taking no action at all.