ICYMI last night, what with the Knicks lighting yet another dumpster fire to heat Madison Square Garden against the Celtics yesterday, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! broke news of a trade between the Toronto Raptors and the Sacramento Kings, wherein Toronto sent the overpriced Rudy Gay, along with two throw-in players, to Sacramento for Grevis Vazquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons. (You might recall that earlier in the season, ESPN’s Marc Stein had reported that Sacramento was having internal discussions on whether or not to pursue Knicks’ shooting guard Iman Shumpert.)
Rumor has it that point guard Kyle Lowry might be the next piece to be moved by Toronto General Manager Masai Uriji — it’s been speculated that the Knicks could pursue Lowry, who would be an upgrade over the struggling Raymond Felton. The seven player Gay trade has obviously shifted the landscape, so it’s worth wondering how the move might affect the Knicks.
In acquiring Gay, Sacramento has likely divested itself of any valuable trade pieces going forward. Remember, in late November they acquired Derrick Williams from Minnesota in exchange for Luc Mbah a Moute. They’ll now build around a core of Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams and Isaiah Thomas, but the cupboards are pretty barren after that. As to the Knicks, it’s hard to see anything left on the Kings’ roster that the Knicks would want and would realistically be able to get, especially for Shumpert. Unless, of course, the Knicks take a hatchet to their foot and do something crazy — like trade for Travis Outlaw — you can count Sacramento out as a potential suitor for Shumpert.
Toronto, on the other hand, is now an intriguing team. They’ve got a lot of young talent and the always impressive Ujiri Factor. The ex-Denver general manager is a wizard at getting opposing franchises to do what he wants — he’s twice tricked
Dolan the Knicks into giving up unnecessary assets for players. Now, by dealing Gay, who most considered absolutely untradeable, Ujiri has rid himself of one of the NBA’s worst contracts. Logically, with Andrea Bargnani and Gay gone, Lowry sure seems likely to be the next Raptor domino to fall.
Lowry makes $6.2M this season, the final year of his contract. From the Knicks’ standpoint, there aren’t a lot of trade combinations that would allow them to acquire him, and any deal would likely have to include Felton because the salaries must match and New York is over the cap. Trading J.R. Smith would work under the cap, but the Knicks probably don’t want to deal him and Ujiri isn’t going to lock himself into that kind of long-term contract. The problem with trading Felton, of course, is that most NBA executives won’t ignore the point guard’s tenure in Portland. After being traded to the Blazers by the Nuggets, Felton pouted and got fat(ter). He was lousy on the court and a pain in the ass off it. Ray has since made it very clear that he loves playing in New York City. Additionally, Felton is a very average NBA player. Then again, Ujiri is a wizard and he’d probably flip Felton somewhere else for far more than he’s worth.
If we assume that Toronto is willing to take on Felton in a trade, the Knicks have two other assets that may be intriguing tothe Raptors: Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. Felton and Shumpert for Lowry would salary wise, but Felton and Hardaway for Shumpert would require that an additional contract be included.
As has been reported elsewhere, Shumpert remains the most likely candidate for a trade and he probably has the most trade value of the three we’ve discussed. If the Knicks are still intent on trading him, it does seem like they have yet to find a deal they like. All indications are that the Knicks really like Tim Hardaway and want to develop him, which is all well and good, but the Knicks already have the 28-year-old version of Hardaway in Smith. The two guards are eerily similar players, and logic would dictate that Smith should be more expendable than Shumpert. But that’s logic. The Knicks don’t do logic.
It remains to be seen, however, whether or not Toronto would even have interest in these scenarios. Lowry is a good player and his expiring contract is desirable. He’ll have plenty of suitors around the league. Shumpert is a potentially valuable piece for the Knicks, mostly due to their lack of good wing defenders, but he’s hardly a blue chipper. His defense hasn’t been great this year and he’s yet to develop much of an offensive game outside of good spot-up shooting. For teams coveting youth and affordability, though, Iman remains an attractive piece.
If the Knicks still see themselves as contenders — they aren’t — then trading for Lowry makes sense. He’s an upgrade over any of their current point guards, especially on defense, and by swapping out Felton’s deal for an expiring, they’d improve their cap standing in each of the next three off-seasons, including the oh-so-important 2015 free agency period. That said, I truly believe that blowing up the current team and rebuilding for the future is the way for the Knicks to go. Lowry would be an upgrade, but he hardly makes them a contender. Trading Shumpert would be a mistake. New York needs to hoard young talent, not deal it away for short term fixes. Shumpert will be a useful player for a lot of years in this league, even if it isn’t with New York. You don’t deal young players with upside in exchange for a present-day band-aid. Actually, I should clarify; smart teams don’t do things like that.
The 5-14 Knicks haven’t proven themselves to be very smart, though.
I was under the impression that the Knicks would not be able to keep Lowry at the end of the season, but have since realized that to be untrue. They would get his bird rights in a trade, meaning they could re-sign him even though they’re over the cap. In this case, I change my mind about my final paragraph. I still believe that building long term is the way to go, but they can do that with Lowry. They’re clearly trying to move Shumpert and I feel like the ship has sailed in regards to them keeping him. Trading Raymond Felton and Shumpert for Lowry would be a clear win for the Knicks. Lowry is significantly better than any of the point guards currently on the roster. They probably wouldn’t have to break the bank to re-sign him either. If they do re-sign him and decide they want to deal him later on in the process, he’ll have plenty of suitors around the league. The situation becomes much more difficult if New York decides to throw in picks and or Tim Hardaway Jr. Lowry is good, but I’m not sure he’s good enough to justify that kind of haul. When you consider the Knicks dearth of future picks and young talent, then he definitely isn’t worth all that.
Trading with Toronto is always worrisome if you’re a Knick fan. The Knicks feel desperate and Ujiri is good at swindling dumb teams into dumb trades. Trading for Lowry is a risk. There’s no guarantee that he re-ups at the end of the year. If he walks, the trade would be a clear loser for the Knicks, although not as much so when you consider that they’d rid themselves of Felton’s contract and mediocre play. Trading Shumpert for a short-term fix is the risk they’re taking here. Even with Lowry, the Knicks won’t contend this season. With him long term, they’d be able to. Their ceiling would be higher than it ever was with Felton at the helm. This deal is all about value and what New York has to give up to get Lowry.