James Dolan Is Playing Hardball With The Raptors

By John Schmeelk
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Let’s make no mistake, the Knicks need Kyle Lowry. He fits everything they need. He is an above average NBA point guard that can hit the open three fairly well (36%), penetrate and dish, and most importantly defend opposing point guards much better than anyone currently on the Knicks roster.

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Defensively, he would be such an upgrade over Ray Felton it is laughable to even compare the two. As bad as the Knicks rim protection is without Tyson Chandler, their ability to stop opposing point guard penetration has been just as embarrassing for the last two seasons. As someone put it on Twitter yesterday, he is the player Felton thinks he is, and should be: a bulldog (minus the Felton physique). Lowry solves a lot of the team’s problems, probably get them into the playoffs and potentially win them the Atlantic Divison.

Here’s the issue: Lowry is a free agent after this season. If the Knicks want to re-sign him long-term it will probably cost them around eight million dollars a season, give or take. That type of contract will make it nearly impossible for the Knicks to bring in another max player in the 2015 offseason if Carmelo Anthony signs a max extension this summer. The question must also be asked at this point: how likely is that to happen with all this losing? To project contracts now with an offseason two years away has inherent problems of unpredictability with It but e’ll try our best here.

I don’t think anyone has a huge problem with dealing Felton or Metta World Peace (though I like his defense and would hate to lose it) but it looks like the trade will have to contain one of the following: Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr., or a 2018 first round pick. The mere concept of trading away future assets to help a 6-13 team should make all Knicks fans pause. It reeks of desperation to win now, and delivering a token move to keep Carmelo Anthony here in the offseason. How good does Kyle Lowry really make this team? Championship caliber? Certainly not. Good enough to be considered the third or fourth best team in the Conference destined for a second round playoff defeat? Maybe.

For that type of upside I am not willing to move Tim Hardaway Jr. He has already proven he is a NBA caliber player, excelling in catch and shoot situations. He also finishes at the basket extremely well. There’s still plenty of work to do but he is already a rotation player. He is also the Knicks property for many years at a very low cost. His development will be key in making sure there are enough good players around the Knicks two hypothetical max players in 2015. You can’t move him.

Likewise, I would not move the Knicks draft pick in 2018. The value of draft picks are high in the NBA landscape of trades, and acquiring young and cheap talent. There is no way to know where the Knicks will be in 2018, but whether trying to rebuild or contend, having a draft pick to either trade or select a player is very valuable. It’s bad enough the team already dealt their picks in 2014 and 2016. They can’t keep doing that and limit their flexibility in future years for minor improvement now. I was lukewarm on the Bargnani trade, but hated trading the 2016 draft pick because it was an asset. How useful would that pick be now getting a player like Lowry, who would be a much bigger upgrade than Bargnani?

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That leaves Iman Shumpert. I would honestly consider trading him in this deal for a couple years. For one, he is a free agent in the summer of 2015 as well, and his future contract, much like Lowry’s, could cut into the team’s cap flexibility. The Knicks control him for one more year than they would Lowry, but for two years less than they do Tim Hardaway Jr. Shumpert’s development has also been disappointing, taking a step back this year instead of a step forward. His offensive game, spare an improved three point shot, has not developed at all. Let’s not forget a surgically repaired knee. His defense is still as much potential as it is production, with many rookie-ish mistakes and over-aggressiveness that often put him in foul trouble. Best case scenario, Shumpert develops into a Lowry type at SG. I think Shumpert is going to be an excellent roleplayer in this league for a long time, but as every game passes without a breakout performance, the chance of him becoming an All-Star fades more and more.

You get a better player in Lowry, but you lose a year of control in comparison to Shumpert. I think that’s a move I can live it. I wouldn’t be psyched about it, but it would be a fairly even trade and would make the team far better in the present. Lowry also fills a much bigger need at PG, with Hardaway Jr. and JR Smith both locked up for multiple years to play the two. You are paying Peter to pay Paul in losing one backcourt defender for another, but the Knicks point guard defense has been so terrible I think it worth the cost of admission.

I do like that James Dolan is being very leery of a trade involving any future assets, and is apparently playing hardball at the moment. No reason to just give in to Toronto’s demands, much like he did in the Carmelo Anthony trade. But are the Knicks really in the position to deal any future asset to help a six win team in December? In the end, that’s a question the Knicks front office needs to answer. How valuable is a better 2014 regular season record compared to helping the team in two or three years? Unfortunately, I think we all know the answer to that question.

You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything on the Knicks, Giants and New York sports.

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