As you've heard, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks pulled off a three-team trade involving six players in all last night, in what largely amounts to some deck chair shuffling for a pair of contenders and a salary dump for the tanking Knicks.
In the deal the Cavs acquired wings J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks, the Thunder landed Dion Waiters from Cleveland and New York got forward Lance Thomas from the Thunder and center Alex Kirk and forward Lou Amundson from the Cavs, as well as what will likely be a pair of second-round picks in 2017.
Let's start with what the trade means for the Thunder, since they're the clear and present danger for the Spurs. I kind of understand what General Manager Sam Presti was thinking with the move, in that Waiters still has another year left on his rookie deal after this one, so he gives them cost control and flexibility in 2015-2016, which is vital for them since A) they will likely lose too-expensive Reggie Jackson to free agency B) their skinflint owner wants to stay below the luxury tax if possible and C) they need to save every penny for Kevin Durant's pending free agency.
I can see how the deal might help the Thunder in the future, in that Waiters will be Jackson's replacement (albeit a slight downgrade in all likelihood), though it's difficult to imagine him moving the needle for the present. Waiters has struggled mightily in a reserve role for the Cavs, shooting a career-worst .404 and .256 from downtown, despite getting more open looks than he ever has. In fact, as Grantland's Zach Lowe has noted, Waiters has been a disaster on catch-and-shoots, averaging 35.7 percent on twos and 25.4 on threes, per the league's Sports VU tracking data. And it's not just some bizarre LeBron James-influenced anomaly either, Waiters was just as bad at that last season too. Catching and shooting is just not his thing.
Waiters is putting up a career-worst 12.1 PER and a -4.7 net rating, the worst of any Cavs regular except for rookie Joe Harris. Defensively only Harris and Irving have been worse, the latter slightly so. Though he flashed obvious talents his first two seasons, Waiters has never been very good and I don't see how taking him from one environment where he clearly flopped as the fourth or fifth best guy on a team with expectations to another situation where he'll be the fifth or sixth best guy on a team with expectations will help him any. He might just be one of those guys whose destiny is to put up empty numbers on crummy teams like a Corey Maggette.
The Thunder already have Jackson and Anthony Morrow, a very dangerous three-point specialist, plus young wings Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson and Perry Jones. Jackson has proven his playoff mettle and even though he's undersized, he's fearless and a competitor and can get to the rim. His backcourt partnership with Russell Westbrook hasn't always been smooth, but nobody will get along with Russ 100 percent of the time.
Roberson is an offensive liability, but he's the only wing on the roster who can remotely defend anybody. Morrow is his antithesis. Lamb can have moments of brilliance but is mostly a ghost and clueless defensively. Jones has the most to offer of any of them, but he's more of a stretch four or Durant's backup. In acquiring Waiters the Thunder might be signaling they're tired of waiting for Lamb to develop and are convinced Roberson will hurt them too much offensively to play, but I don't see how Waiters is a better solution than the Roberson/Morrow platoon. His defense is closer to the Morrow end of the spectrum while his shooting is closer to the Roberson end. That's a bad mix.
When you add his limitations Waiters' well-documented personality conflicts with the brass and his teammates in Cleveland and how he chafed at having a reduced role, how will his mood improve in OKC? It's not like they're going to feature him and give him more shots and minutes than he was used to. He'll be even below Jackson in the pecking order, and guys like Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka take a larger percentage of the team's shots than James, Irving and Love did in Cleveland. I just don't see how this makes them a better team at all, but they're plenty good enough already.
The Cavs to me come out far better. Waiters had to go there and Shumpert and Smith they get two guys who were desperate to get out of New York and should at least try in a new town where winning is possible and be more accepting of lesser roles. That's not to say that either guy is ready or able to be Mr. Perfect Teammate, but escaping a 5-win team has to be a boost to anyone's morale.
Shumpert has always been a wildly overrated player, a product of playing in New York and being able to walk and chew bubble gum at the same time, and his defensive reputation is particularly overblown, especially of late.
Cavaliers likely got Iman Shumpert for his defense, but he ranks 192nd (out of 201) in points per play allowed (min. 200 plays defended)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 6, 2015
His defensive rating was worse than Amar'e Stoudemire's, though not quite as atrocious as Smith's, Jose Calderon's or even Carmelo Anthony's, for what it's worth. He's always been somewhat of a disastrous shooter for his position and he's currently out with a dislocated left shoulder, but on the positive side Shumpert brings some decent length, the ability to make the next pass from good-to-great, the occasional spot of secondary play making and at least the ability to defend, if not necessarily the inclination all the time.
I think his biggest issue is he just shut it down mentally because he wanted to get out of New York and his effort level and concentration will be better in Cleveland, in a situation where he'll know from the beginning that if he doesn't play hard, he won't play. He'll have to earn his minutes there, which is big for a guy like him who needs that accountability. At the worst he'll be more of a live body than the calcified Shawn Marion.
As for Smith, he's the wild card in the deal that will ultimately swing it one way or the other for the Cavs. I don't necessarily buy into the popular notion that his contract was a disaster for New York because they were only paying him a bit more than six million a year. You don't get stars for that type of money, typically. It was the Knicks fans/journalists' fault for expecting second-banana production out of a guy with a fifth-banana/sixth man salary. I'd argue that as bad as he was, he gave them decent value.
Smith is an enigma to be sure, a wildly talented but mercurial guy who is capable of scoring 30 any night and a better passer than he gets credit for being, but someone who doesn't have a remote interest in defending. Basically he's Jamal Crawford, but with worse P.R. and has never played with the right teammates, especially at point guard. James and Irving will get him tons of open shots, much better looks than he's typically gotten and free him of the burden of having to create for himself. Smith is liable of catching fire on the given night and can provide a boost to the Cavs sagging bench. At the worst, he'll be an upgrade over Harris. Also, unlike Waiters, he'll be more willing to accept a bench role, even though he'll grouse here and there. Playing with James mollifies a lot of would-be-troublemakers in ways that Anthony has never been able to.
It could still be a disaster of course, and Smith might talk and act his way out of Cleveland in a week, but I'm guessing he'll be a good soldier in the short term and perhaps even an asset. The Cavs are still a big man or two away from real contention, but I can't fault them for this deal at all.
As for the Knicks, they're doing the smart thing shedding salaries and getting rid of cancers and malcontents. In addition to Smith and Shumpert they're set to waive Samuel Dalembert and have made it known that Jose Calderon and most anyone else not surnamed "Anthony" is expendable. It's always a long shot that they'll be able to attract anyone worthwhile in free agency, even with all the cap room in the world, but there's no harm in dumping guys who aren't a part of your future and giving their minutes to youngsters. The Knicks actually have their first round pick this year, so the more ping pong balls for them, the better. They're the only clear winners in this trade and they're getting nothing, which tells you all you need to know about the players involved.