It was reported yesterday that the New York Knicks‘ brass are open to trade talks involving Shane Larkin, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, according to ESPN New York. Why would a team in the process of rebuilding be willing to trade such great young assets in Shumpert and Larkin, and a great isolation player and spot-up shooter like Smith?
It is probably because of financial reasons. Smith has a shady past in terms behavior both on the off the court, along with an onerous contract to go with it; so, trading him for an expiring contract would help clear needed cap space for next summer’s free agency bonanza. But is this the best option for the team?
President Phil Jackson has been making numerous moves to improve his roster and make the team more competitive for next season. But after an early trade with the Dallas Mavericks, he ended up with a heavy backcourt and is now offering some of his guards on the market. I understand the process of preparing for the next free agency class while trying not to tank next season, but some moves should be avoided, and trading Smith is one of them.
Listen, I like Shumpert’s game as much as anybody else, but he did not live up to the expectations at the offensive end of the floor. He defends like a pro, but is not a reliable piece for the triangle offense, where every player is supposed to be a good shooter. Larkin is a great asset in terms of his youth and quickness, but he is still too raw for the NBA. The fact that he is 5-foot-11 does not help either.
So what about Smith? Here is where I have to disagree with Jackson. Even though Smith has a long list of cons, his pros speak louder. He is not just a good, but a great shooter. He creates his own shot very easily, something essential from a two-guard playing the triangle (see Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant) inherited from years of isolation/pick-and-roll offensive systems.
He handles the ball pretty well, has shown during the dismal 2013-14 season that he can be a great passer. Plus, he is already showing that he wants to get better in terms of behavior.
The Knicks need him badly during the process of learning the new offensive system, and would be worse off if he went away. After numerous roster changes, the team’s frontcourt seems to be working to where Jackson wants them to be, but the backcourt cannot be neglected.
The Knicks could be better off getting rid of Larkin and Shumpert at this point, but in the end, having Smith for one more year and betting on his talent and ability to change would be their best option. Who knows, maybe Smith himself can even opt out of his last year of contract next summer and help the team acquire the second big name they are aiming for in order to push for the championship.
He could re-do his contract and still be part of the Knicks going forward. I just don’t think a player with so much talent and experience should be traded just for the sake of getting rid of a bad contract.