Who Won the Cavaliers, Knicks, and Thunder Three-Team Trade?
Major in-season trades don’t happen too often in the NBA, and it’s telling that both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers would pull the trigger on the one from last night –- Dion Waiters to the Thunder; Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to the Cavaliers; and Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, and Lance Thomas to the New York Knicks.
Waiters was in the infamous LeBron James letter from this past summer, and seemed like he would be a vital piece moving forward for them. However, the well-documented slow start for the Cavs has seemingly forced management to make a trade.
In preparation for this article, I asked the numberFire projection guru, Keith Goldner, to give an updated projections for each team for the rest of the season. The result: no change in wins or losses for any of the three teams. As shocking as this trade was last night, it may not end up meaning much in the long run, it seems. However, let’s still break down each side of the deal and some possible implications.
The Cavaliers seem like the clear winners here, as they not only gained two superior players in Smith and Shumpert, but also managed to get a future first-round pick from Oklahoma City. Waiters is rated the second-worst (98 out of 99) shooting guard in the league in terms of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) with a -0.84 mark. Real Plus-Minus (RPM) agrees with his poor play, as he is a negative both offensively and defensively and a -4.10 RPM overall.
To be fair, Smith hasn’t been much better this season, posting a -2.81 RPM and -0.17 WAR, but a lot of that can probably be attributed to the organizational mess the Knicks are right now –- just a season ago, Smith was the 13th-best shooting guard in terms of WAR (4.82) and 18th in RPM (1.07). He also wasn’t the main target for the Cavs -– they were likely aiming for Shumpert and had to take Smith’s contract to make the deal worth it for the Knicks.
Shumpert has been a good player in his four seasons in the league. Not great like people thought he could be at this point a year ago, but a solid wing defender and three-point shooter. And he doesn’t need to be a shot creator in Cleveland with LeBron and Kyrie Irving on the court –- all he needs to do is play defense and hit an open shot when it’s passed to him. He’s shooting .348 from the three-point line this season, which is about league-average. Considering Waiters was shooting .256, league-average would be a huge improvement for the Cavs.
The first-round pick is important as well. They have Memphis’ first-round pick that may or may not be conveyed this summer, so they have some assets that could be leveraged towards getting that rim-protecting center they so desperately covet. They’ve wanted Timofey Mozgov for a while, and while Denver hasn’t been willing to deal him for a first-rounder, with their rookie center Jusuf Nurkic's play of late, they might be more willing to move Mozgov for another future asset.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder received the controversial Dion Waiters in the trade and had to send a first-round pick to do it –- the same first-round pick that they supposedly dangled for Iman Shumpert just last season. It seems a steep price for Waiters, who still hasn’t proven to be an even average NBA player. Could they afford to take a gamble on a talent who was picked top-four in the draft at one point? Sure, they have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, so they’re still contenders and their first-round pick will probably be a late one anyway.
However, Waiters has statistically been a net-negative in every facet of the game. The argument is that Waiters taking 10 to 15 minutes a game away from Perry Jones or another one of their average wing players couldn't hurt, but it actually might. As said above, playing Waiters for any length of time was detrimental to the Cavs. It may very well be the same story for the Thunder.
New York Knicks
According to ESPN's Kevin Pelton, the Knicks will save approximately $20 million from this deal and will have about $27 million in cap space at the end of the year. While on the surface giving up Iman Shumpert for pretty much a second-round pick seems silly when they were just offered a first-rounder for him last year, but money talks. A first-rounder is valuable, but it isn’t twenty-million-dollars valuable.
A quick glance at their remaining roster hurts the eyes, but the Knicks are fine with that the rest of this year it seems. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire aren’t in any rush to play heavy minutes for a bad team, and they’re definitely in future-mode after last night. They have their first-round pick this year – and it will likely be a good one – and as noted above, significant cap space. Things might be ugly for the rest of the year in New York, but they’ve put themselves in a situation to have their fortune change in just a couple of months.