The one-year anniversary of the giant trade that sent J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers has passed, and Phil Jackson didn't decide to deal away half the team again to commemorate it. Yet, what machinations might he have in mind before the trade deadline next month?
The rumor mill hasn't churned out many genuine rumors yet.
Forget about that colossal three-team deal your family was talking about during Christmas—the one that would bring Dwight Howard to New York. It was the brainchild of SB Nation's Kevin Barrios, not something being discussed by NBA executives. So put it out of your mind or go read About.com's Kristian Winfield's explanation on why it would have been a bad idea anyway.
The little we have heard from the front office is talk that it wants more out of the backcourt, but—as usual—the team won't pay much for it. What might the Knicks get, and who in blue and orange might swap jerseys?
On Dec. 19, ESPN.com 's Ian Begley wrote that "it doesn’t appear that the club is on the verge of making a significant move to address" its failures to score in transition and off drives.
"But," wrote Begley, "some members of the front office recently expressed interest in obtaining a young scoring guard or a shooter to improve the backcourt, sources said. Though, one source cautioned, the Knicks don’t plan, at this point, to make a move that would have an impact on their future cap flexibility."
Then Begley reported on Jan. 1:
Detroit's Brandon Jennings is on the Knicks' radar, but the club wasn’t impressed with what they saw from Jennings during Detroit’s loss to the Knicks on Tuesday [Dec. 29], according to sources familiar with their thinking.
However, Jennings was playing his first game in nearly 11 months after rupturing his left Achilles, though. So the organization's opinion of Jennings can certainly change if he returns to form.
Whether New York wants Jennings or not, Pistons head coach and president Stan Van Gundy might not be willing to deal him. From Rod Beard of the Detroit News:
“I’ve said all along: our plan right now is that Brandon can help us make a playoff push. If something changes in the next five weeks, we’ll look at it,” Van Gundy reiterated Monday [Jan. 4]. “Right now, he’s a very good player who can help us and that’s the only way we’re looking at it.”
Despite what Van Gundy says, Braden Shackelford of Piston Powered wrote: "The Knicks have assets to make a deal happen, like a replacement for Jennings in Jose Calderon, a backup shooting guard in Arron Afflalo, and an affordable and suitable option off the bench in Kyle O’Quinn—all of which would be very enticing to the Pistons."
If Jennings isn't a fit, there are other inexpensive, second-string point guards. This is speculation, but the Oklahoma City Thunder's D.J. Augustin ($3 million, expiring) and the Chicago Bulls' Aaron Brooks ($2.25 million, expiring) might get the call, if Phil Jackson doesn't think their hands are too tiny.
Do the Knicks have anyone who could convince OKC or Chi-town to part with its speedy point guards, though?
The Thunder "have yet to find a three-and-D role player on the wing to finish games alongside Kevin Durant," wrote ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton.
The Bulls, who have been missing Mike Dunleavy, are "very determined to add a talented wing player" and have put Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah on the trading block, according to Adrian Wojnarowski on his new podcast The Vertical, via SB Nation's Blog A Bull.
(The Bulls are so dysfunctional right now, though, that if Robin Lopez creates a diversion by attacking the Bulls mascot, Derek Fisher could sneak out the back door with Brooks, Noah, Gibson, Pau Gasol, Derrick Rose and anyone else who isn't named Jimmy Butler.)
With all this in mind, who faces the highest risk of being traded in New York?
Highest Risk: Jose Calderon and Kyle O'Quinn
Last year, the Knicks would have loved to trade away Jose Calderon for a song (not even a good song), but his horrible play and multiple injuries kept buyers far away.
This season, though, Calderon is playing quite well. He looks like the sweet-shooting veteran he was billed as, and the starting lineup has looked smooth in this latest three-win streak.
So why shouldn't the Knicks just keep him?
They might. Yet, despite Calderon's improvement, he's a half-court player and a jump shooter who doesn't quite suit the faster-paced offense the team is looking for.
The Knicks are dead last in fast-break points and dead last in points in the paint. If they want more transition hoops and driving layups, they'll look to move Calderon.
They'll also be ready to move Kyle O'Quinn. MSG Networks' Alan Hahn summed it up perfectly during the Knicks' 98-90 win over the Miami Heat Wednesday:
The pace of the #Knicks offense is so much slower with O'Quinn our there. He's not giving much on defense, either.— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) January 7, 2016
This is troubling, considering that Quinn was sold to New York as a hustle player who would bring extra defensive intensity. He does make some exciting plays on offense, which might make him a good fit for another team. Yet for a squad that is trying to solidify the defense and pick up the pace, he just doesn't have enough athleticism to keep up.
A one-to-one Calderon-for-Jennings swap is legal if the Knicks warm to Jennings and the Pistons really would find such a thing "very enticing," as Shackelford said.
An O'Quinn-for-Jennings trade, though, would cost the Knicks another player. Jennings has an expiring $8.34 million contract in Detroit, but O'Quinn won't earn more than $4.25 million for the next three seasons, so the Knicks would have to pony up someone like Derrick Williams or a handful of smaller contracts to make up the difference.
Or they could call the Bulls' bluff and see just how desperate Chicago is to blow up the team. Straight swaps of Calderon and O'Quinn for Brooks and Gibson, or for Brooks and Noah, are legal. Maybe not desirable but certainly legal.
It's unlikely that Chicago would go for this, unless it wants to unload Noah's $13.4 million contract to clear space for the "talented wing" it apparently wants (since the Bulls don't seem to want Noah anymore when he becomes a free agent this season). Wouldn't it be entertaining to ask, though, and see if the dysfunctional Bulls are as eager for change as they claim?
Watching Their Backs: Arron Afflalo and Lance Thomas
With teams like the Thunder and the Bulls yearning for talented wing players, Arron Afflalo's name is certainly going to be bandied about by others.
A franchise that is trying to bolster its bench before a big playoff push may be interested in Lance Thomas. He's having a career year, can play multiple positions and is a steal with a $1.63 million expiring contract.
Both Afflalo and Thomas are probably too valuable for the front office to part with them for just any bargain-basement guard. Thomas also has a one-year Bird restriction, which means the Knicks can't trade him unless he gives his approval. Nevertheless, their names will come up, and New York might be tempted to pull the trigger.
Expendable: Sasha Vujacic and Kevin Seraphin
Players with small contracts and minimal playing time are always at risk of being tossed into a deal just to make it legal. If the Knicks are offering up an inexpensive player for a pricier one, they'll need to throw in something like Seraphin's $2.8 million contract or Vujacic's $947,276 in order to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement.
Other players with small contracts are at risk, too.
Yet, Lou Amundson has a one-year Bird restriction, so the Knicks can't trade him unless he gives his approval. Cleanthony Early's timetable to return after being shot in the knee is unclear, so opposing teams may stay away from him. Langston Galloway and Jerian Grant are in the regular rotation these days, so their positions are a bit safer, despite their small salaries.
Chances are that Jackson will go the cheap route with guards, like he has in the past, and start signing players to 10-day contracts. So get ready, Knicks fans—the next Alexey Shved or Ricky Ledo may be stumbling his way into your hearts soon.