Smith, Shumpert Deal Could Be A Winner If Jackson Spends Newfound Cap Space Wisely

By John Schmeelk
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It is the season of New Year’s resolutions and it appears Phil Jackson decided to embark on a cleansing of his own.

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On Monday night, the Knicks president decided to unload some of the vestiges of the former Glen Grunwald-Mike Woodson regime, trading away Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith for millions in additional cap space this summer. Jackson wants a clean slate, and a clean slate he shall have. We won’t know if this is a good trade until we see how he uses the cash.

The net result was trading Shumpert to get rid of Smith’s $6.5 million player option for next season, Shumpert’s $3.9 million dollar cap hold and acquiring a second-round pick. The trade also got the Knicks two trade exceptions and saved James Dolan some luxury tax money (upwards of $20 million, if reports are accurate), but fans care little about the Cablevision vault. Samuel Dalembert was also released as part of the transaction.

It seems like an uneven trade for the Knicks, but when you evaluate it, it was one Jackson had to make. The team gained significant cap space for players that either weren’t wanted on the roster next year (Smith), or were unlikely to be back (Shumpert).

Members of the Shumpert fan club have already stated their displeasure, but it’s hard to think he could have still netted the Knicks a first-round pick or something else of significant value. He only has a half-season left on his current contract, is a restricted free agent after the season, hasn’t improved offensively (under 41 percent shooting, and under 35 percent from beyond the arc) and is hurt once again. There were reports the Knicks could have gotten a first-rounder for him last year, a trade I was in favor of, but that train has left the station and isn’t coming back. I really don’t think New York could have gotten anything more valuable than dumping Smith’s cap space for him.

To show how Shumpert’s value has fallen, even defensively, ESPN Stats and Info tweeted last night that of the 201 players to defend 200 or more plays so far this season, Shumpert ranks 192nd in points-per-play allowed. If that metric is accurate, and defensive ones should always be taken with a grain of salt, he is one of the 10 worst defensive players in basketball. I don’t think he has fallen off that far, but he never became the defensive stopper fans expected him to be. And he still can’t score.

Another argument of trade detractors is that the Knicks could have simply revoked Shumpert’s rights, saving them his cap hold. There was also a chance Smith might not have picked up his player option, though that seems extremely unlikely right now. Even in that hypothetical scenario, the Knicks lose both players and get nothing for them. At least in the current situation, the Knicks get a second-round pick.

After last night’s trade the Knicks now have just under $30 million of cap space if you account for cap holds. It could be even more depending on where the cap is set next season. That’s enough for a max player and a significant second piece, or more likely, three very effective tier-two or -three players to put with Carmelo Anthony and whomever the Knicks pick in the first round of the draft. It’s a decent plan if Jackson pulls it off properly.

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The Knicks could screw it all up by signing the wrong players, but Jackson is giving himself the opportunity to build a team the way he wants. He has freedom.

Jackson and coach Derek Fisher have seen enough to know that Smith is not a fit here, and he is likely considered addition by subtraction. As bad as this season has been, Fisher and Jackson are trying to build a culture that Smith could never be a part of, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. (It is only a matter of time before Smith drives LeBron James to the point of insanity.) Those are intangible things people don’t take seriously anymore but people in the industry believe in it.

So what’s next for the Knicks?

Jackson will probably try to deal Calderon and one of the trade exceptions for an expiring contract to free up even more cap space if they can find a taker. Besides that, the only other plan is losing. The Knicks will lose, and lose more, and lose again. They now have the worst record in the NBA and will pray for the first overall pick in the draft.

You might hate all the losing now, but Knicks fans will “tank” them later. I’m here all night. Unfortunately, so are the Knicks.

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

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