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Schmeelk: Jackson’s First Trade Indicates New Path For Knicks

Jose Calderon (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jose Calderon (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
» More Columns

Phil Jackson was very patient and took his time selecting the man who would be the first head coach of his Knicks.

After what seemed like months of deliberation, he wound up with Derek Fisher. It did not take that long for him to shake up a roster that severely underachieved in 2013-2014. The team gained future assets, improved at point guard and added flexibility to make it easier for improvement in the future. It was a huge win for Jackson and the Knicks.

Here’s the bottom line for the Knicks in this trade. They lost two assets. The first was Tyson Chandler, a player in decline the last two years who has an expiring contract and was unlikely to return to the Knicks in 2015-2016. The other asset they lost was about $5 million in cap space next offseason when the Knicks want to make noise in free agency. Losing free-agent money for next summer is certainly not a good thing, but it is worth the price of what they got back in the deal.

The team immediately improved offensively at the point-guard position. Jose Calderon can run a team, shoots well and fits in Jackson’s offense. Shane Larkin was a first-round pick last year and was the guy many Knicks fans were hoping would drop to them when they took Tim Hardaway, Jr. He is undersized and can get to the basket, and will have a chance to improve in the Knicks’ summer league, which will likely be coached byFisher. With Pablo Prigioni still on the team, they are set at point guard for the next couple of seasons.

Calderon is already 33, and he has $22 million left on his deal over the next three years. But he looks like a bargain compared to the option that Ray Felton could have exercised on his contract ($4 million in 2015-2016). The fact that the Knicks found a team to dump Felton on is a win unto itself.

The 34th pick in this year’s draft is nearly of first-round value without a long guaranteed contract in an extremely deep draft. The Knicks could get a rotation player with that selection if they pick the right guy. The 51st is another asset the Knicks can use to package in another trade or move around in the draft. It’s another win for the Knicks and Jackson in this deal.

At its core, this trade is the opposite of every past Knicks trade in recent memory. That’s a good thing, by the way.

Usually they are the team getting the best player in the trade (in this case Chandler), taking on a bad player (Felton) to get him, while at the same time trading away young talent (Larkin) and future assets (two 2014 second rounders) just for kicks. Simply based off his first move, Jackson appears more interested in building something rather than going for the quick fix.  This isn’t a “turn around the franchise” trade, but it is an important trade that helps build the team’s foundation moving forward.

Acquiring assets like Larkin and two second-round picks gives the Knicks a ton of flexibility to be even more active on draft night and make more deals this offseason. These are assets other teams may want, something the Knicks were in very short supply of.  If Carmelo Anthony decides to leave, the team is now reasonably set up to build for the future in a responsible way. Before this trade, the team was in a huge hole in terms of young players and assets. They aren’t quite at even yet, but they are getting closer.

Maybe the most telling thing about this trade is that it probably makes it more likely that Anthony walks. The Knicks did give up the best player in this trade, and someone who Anthony definitely believed would be a big part of his future with the Knicks. It has been reported that Anthony told Knicks management in exit interviews that he trusted Chandler the most of all his teammates.  If Anthony believes this is the start of a rebuild — something Melo was verbal about trying to stay away from in Denver — he will leave New York faster than you can blink an eye.

But Jackson doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he is moving forward in building the best team possible, whether it is with Anthony or not. With Melo’s future in the air, he has no other choice but to take that course. Jackson is worrying about the future and stockpiling assets, so when a good potential trade does come along he has the pieces to make a deal happen. This is a philosophy the Knicks haven’t had in a very long time.

Jackson’s first move as Knicks GM is a good one because he got back more assets and value than he sent out the door. It’s also a great signal of how he intends to build this team into a title contender in the near future. That’s something Knicks fans should be excited about, whether that future is with or without Anthony.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

- The crazy rumor rocking the Internet is the reported Rockets plan to sign either LeBron James or Anthony outright, and then sign-and-trade for the other by making James Harden a part of the deal. It seems outlandish, but with the Omer Asik trade concluded last night (going to Charlotte for a conditional pick), all the Rockets need to do is shed Jeremy Lin’s contract (easier said than done) and they can afford a max player.

That money could theoretically go to James. If the Knicks are, at some point, given the chance to get Harden in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, they need to jump at it. He doesn’t play defense and has other flaws, but he is younger than Anthony and under a better contract. This would be a fantastic end result for the Knicks.

- In terms of the draft, the Knicks select far too late to really predict who they are going to pick with any certainty. I would guess they go with an intelligent player who will help run the triangle or a more rugged player to help make up for the loss of Chandler.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, NBA, Giants and the world of sports.

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