While the Midwest was (finally) being covered in snow, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and New York Knicks teamed up for a stunning and head scratching 3-team trade on Monday night.
Cleveland sent Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City and Alex Kirk (non-guaranteed), Lou Amundson (non-guaranteed), and their 2019 second round pick to New York; New York sent J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland; Oklahoma City sent Lance Thomas (non-guaranteed) to New York and a protected first round pick to Cleveland.
The pick protection looks like this…
Protection on OKC first rounder to Cavs: top 18 protected this year, top 15 protected in '16 and '17 then becomes 2 second round picks.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) January 6, 2015
New York Knicks
It’s been noted elsewhere, but straight salary dump for the Knicks who are now looking at roughly $27 million in cap space next summer. That’s about $10 million more than before the trade if Smith accepts his player option. He most likely will unless he makes a big splash in Cleveland.
They didn’t get much in return, a lottery ticket from the Cavaliers in a second round pick, but they didn’t give up much of true value to them. They were negotiating from a place of weakness and Smith and Shumpert, while quality players, are not game changers for their franchise.
Shumpert and Smith offer more value to Cleveland than they did to New York and the Knicks were terrible with them, they won’t get much worse, despite the fact that they’ll be hoping they become the worst in the league at this point.
The most intriguing part of this trade is the Cavaliers. I see what they’re doing, but it seems very risky. They traded a quality young shooting guard with high upside for two players with limited upside. We know what Smith is in the NBA and Shumpert seems unlikely to make a major jump a la Jimmy Butler.
However, when you jump into the shot charts, it becomes clear what the Cavaliers did. They sent away a player that wanted/needed the ball and couldn’t shoot from three, for two players with average/above average three-point shooting that don’t need the ball in their hands.
Cleveland mortgaged the future, increasing the risk that LeBron James will leave if this stunt doesn’t work out, to get players that fit their complimentary role much better.
Smith is shooting 35.6% from deep while Shumpert is at 34.8%, a far cry from Waiters shooting 25.6%. The Cavs will likely look to Shumpert as a defensive stopper type player in the starting lineup that can hit some threes as the fourth option while Smith takes over the bench unit and goes wild. The team can combine them both for some extra shooting late in games with Love at center.
Cleveland is not done making deals yet. One of these players may still be involved in a trade to get a better center,1 or the Cavs might just pick up Samuel Dalembert after he is waived by the Knicks.2
Cries of cheating will go out, it will be hard to prove, but not impossible for the NBA to step in. They did say that Kevin Garnett couldn’t be traded to the Clippers in a tandem move with Doc Rivers because it would be a pseudo player/coach trade, which is not allowed.
Oklahoma City Thunder
This trade will not help Oklahoma City from three and they’re already fifth worst in the league as a team.
There is a lot of red on that shot chart. Waiters is a player that wants the ball, and is going to miss a lot of shots. But, what did the Thunder give up for such an intriguing, young talent? A protected, almost definitely 25 or higher, first round pick.
They now have a player that allows them to worry less about splitting up the Durant/Westbrook minutes to cover up for a fairly deficient bench unit. The Thunder are shooting 42.1% with their bench unit, good for 23rd in the league.3
Not to mention that Waiters is still just 23 years old. While he won’t be as good as him, maybe they’re trying to atone for the James Harden debacle…in some small way.
It’s surprising to some because the Thunder are now in the luxury tax,4 but any team can afford to pay the luxury tax once, especially if they are only in the tax by about $3.3 million. Even the poor Thunder can afford a one time only, $5 million tax bill.
Oklahoma City won’t find themselves near the repeater tax or even near the tax again after this trade because of Kendrick Perkins expiring $9.15 million contract. They’ll be back under the tax but still have Waiters with enough to sign a backup big next offseason to replace Perkins.
If there is anyone that can rein in Smith, it is James. The Cavaliers got what they wanted, two players that truly fit the role of a roleplayer shooting guard. Someone that won’t take many shots as a starter but will be expected to hit open ones from deep.
The Thunder got a long-term prospect that just might stick around and be able to help build with Durant and Westbrook, especially if he can develop that three-point shot. He’ll be an asset either way and was well worth the first round pick risk. The Thunder were not going to get a prospect as intriguing as Waiters with a pick as late as they’d be likely picking.
The Knicks…well they cut salary and got worse in the process. They’re going for Okafor.
I think the Thunder won this trade and my heart thinks it’s by a large margin. But my mind thinks we may be overvaluing Waiters, especially in the here and now. The Cavaliers will likely improve because of this trade and by splitting the $1 of Waiters into maybe two $0.4 assets in Smith and Shumpert, they have more flexibility in trades for a center.5
The Thunder “win”, if that’s a thing, but don’t count out the Cavs on this trade just yet, despite what your heart tells you about the rich and tasteless factor of J.R. Smith.
Mozgov from Denver has been mentioned ↩
Dalembert to the Cavs will raise some eyebrows as a wink wink, nudge nudge type deal. ↩
To quickly note, if they didn’t waive anyone, they still would have been in the luxury tax by a scant $200,000 ↩
Waiters was too valuable for the type of center they’re likely looking to trade for ↩