The Knicks' decision to trade Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to the Cleveland Cavaliers for almost nothing did make sense. The Knicks cleared an extra $6.4 million in cap room, got a second-round pick, and
maybe another young prospect in Lance Thomas.
However, I still feel the Knicks pulled the trigger on trading Shumpert far too soon.
Shumpert's pending restricted free agency was going to be complicated. The Knicks' decision to attach him to a trade just to get rid of J.R. seems to signal that they weren't going to re-sign him. However, Shumpert was also an asset, and was playing better when healthy than he was last season (when the Knicks were offered a first-rounder for him). Should the free agency cupboard prove bare this summer, they could've matched any offer he received.
Basically, the Knicks had more options for Shumpert than a second-rounder, and they've created another position of need to fill this summer.
As things stand, the Knicks will have around $25 million cap space next summer, all depending on how much the cap rises. By my estimate, the Knicks — if the roster stays intact the rest of the season — will need one or more players at pretty much every position. They only have five players under contract next season, and they could be looking to get rid of more.
Making matters more complicated, the Knicks want to use their cap space on a star or two to pair with Melo, and those cost a lot! There are several tiers of talented players set to become free agents this summer, and many of them will command eight figures on a new contract.
The Knicks have at least one draft pick and trade exceptions as means to fill some of those roster holes, but if they want to land a big-name player, or even two lower-tier players, they'll have to spend a lot of that cap space. It's tough to imagine fielding a deep roster while spending a lot on one or two players.
Enter Iman Shumpert. Again, his free agency would've been complicated. The Knicks could go over the cap to re-sign him, but only if they'd already landed their bigger fish. If a team offered Shumpert a contract on July 1, the Knicks would have three days to match or let him walk. If they matched before they signed any other big contracts, Shumpert's new deal would eat into the Knicks' cap space, thus keeping them from being able to throw lots of big offers around.
Recall the Chandler Parsons-Rockets-Mavs conundrum. The Mavericks offered Parsons a big ol' contract just to screw with the Rockets, knowing Houston had bigger ambitions to take care of first. The Rockets didn't want to match that early on and eat into their cap space, so they lost Parsons to the Mavericks.
I still think it would have been beneficial for the Knicks to hold onto Shumpert and see how his free agency played out. What if another team never came calling with a big contract, which is not unheard of? What if the Knicks landed a few free agent targets and then turned their attention to Shumpert, and gave him a reasonable deal that allowed them to go over the cap to bring him back? That's one less hole to fill. Despite the possibility of losing him for nothing, the Knicks still only got a 2019 second-round pick, which isn't all that beneficial for the Knicks now, anyway. They practically did lose him for nothing.
There's also the matter of Shumpert's skill set, which is unlike anything else the Knicks have. Whether you're high on his potential or have already given up, there's no denying that he can stretch the floor with some consistency, and he was the Knicks' best perimeter defender. The current Knicks roster is devoid of good perimeter defenders, and even if they keep Hardaway Jr. around, they'll need another wing who can defend and shoot at least a little bit.
There are players that could fill the void — Jimmy Butler (if the Knicks can pry him from Chicago), Wesley Matthews, Danny Green, etc. — but spending on any of those guys definitely eats up room, where as there was a chance New York could have exceeded the cap for Shumpert.
In an ideal world (which is almost never how the Knicks operate), New York would've kept Shump around until they got a better trade deal, or let him hit free agency to sit back see what happens. If all went well, the Knicks could have gone about their free agent business, then turned their sights to Shumpert.
People will disagree with me, I know, and find the extra cap room the Knicks got worthwhile. If they didn't trade Shumpert, too, Smith's $6.4 million would still be on the books, though if absolutely no trades presented themselves, the Knicks could have gone the Josh Smith-Pistons route, worst comes to worst.
The extra cap room may be worth it, but the Knicks are creating a long grocery list for this summer, and I doubt their ability to get everything they need.