Phil Jackson may turn out to be a lousy executive. But make no mistake, the move he made Monday night – sending Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to the Cavaliers as part of a three-team blockbuster in exchange for what amounts to … well, nothing of physical value – won't be considered one of his “bad” moves when all is said and done.
On Monday morning, the 2014-15 New York Knicks were arguably the team with the least amount of assets and "flexibility" in the NBA. (Hell, the 76ers at least have two or three young, promising players.) Monday night, they mercifully had some wiggle-room.
The Knicks have a star scorer in Carmelo Anthony, but his injuries and “supporting cast” in no way would allow for New York to sniff the postseason this season, let alone compete for an NBA title.
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Jackson is obviously stating with this move that 2014-15 is a lost season. What Jackson's ultimate plan may be is one in which he attempts to replicate what the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs and what the 2006-07 Boston Celtics did before winning championships – shelve an injured star, tank for a high draft pick, keep your financial options open, and pray for the best.
David Robinson played just six games for the Spurs in the 1996-97 season. Two years later, they won the title. Paul Pierce played just 47 games for the 2006-07 Celtics. A year later, they won the title.
Anthony, at 30-years-old, is at the same stage that Robinson and Pierce were in their respective careers when the Spurs and Celtics decided to briefly blow it up in an attempt to get better. Even Anthony's biggest critics would concede that he belongs in the same conversation as Robinson and Pierce when it comes to ability. In hindsight, it's easy to say that Robinson and Pierce are “winners.” But at the crossroads in their careers, things were far from pretty for the two franchise cornerstones.
Despite the titles won by the mid-2000s Pistons and the Spurs this past year, the NBA remains – by and large - a league in which stars succeed. If you have a star, you're one step ahead of the game. The Knicks needed more flexibility in order to build around Carmelo. This was the first step. A bold, smart step by Jackson.
What's the deal?
The Knicks, Cavs and Thunder orchestrated a six-player trade Monday night. Dion Waiters heads to Oklahoma City, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpter head to Cleveland and Alex Kirk, Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas come to New York (albeit briefly). The Knicks are expected to waive the incoming players. The Knicks also get a second round pick from the Cavs.
The Knicks also waived Samuel Dalembert Monday.
"These transactions improve our flexibility to the current roster and the salary cap for future seasons," Knicks team president Phil Jackson said in a statement, via ESPN.