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The Fascinating Knicks-Thunder-Cavs Three Way Trade

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In a trade that shut down Twitter, the Cavaliers acquired a couple of wing pieces and moved on from a former lottery pick while the Thunder hope to find a final piece to put them into the Finals. Meanwhile, the Knicks are tanking and waiting for summer.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Trade

The New York Knicks traded JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who in turn gave up Dion Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks got a 2nd round pick from the Cavs as well as Lance Thomas, Alex Kirk, and Lou Amundson. The Cavs also got a protected 1st round pick from the Thunder.

This trade is interesting in several ways, as it shows the way these teams view upside, off the court issues, on court fit, and cap space.

The Cavaliers

On a team with three All-NBA players (depending on how you view Kyrie Irving), Dion Waiters was the most controversial. He was the 4th overall pick in 2012, a remarkably strong draft class with many impact players. He was a reach pick over players such as Thomas Robinson and Harrison Barnes, and while neither of those players probably cause huge regrets, the Cavs missed on greatness in Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond. While none of this has to do with Dion as a player specifically, it does set the context for his career and setting on the Cavs roster.

As a top draft pick with considerable talent, he was viewed as a cornerstone of the franchise, and was specifically mentioned in LeBron's "Coming back to Cleveland" letter. And make no mistake, Dion Waiters has a lot of talent. He is explosive off the dribble, and when he gets hot, he is very hard to stop. Unfortunately, he also thinks he is the best player in the NBA, and so he refused to play in a team concept or defer to far superior players to himself. His shot selection is atrocious and his defense not much better. While he still has potential to turn around, the Cavs want to win now, and had soured enough on Waiters to move on. This is also partially an issue of chemistry as well: Waiters and Irving never really got along, and he didn't seem to have much spark with anyone on the team but backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Dion also refused to be merely a spot up shooter as Coach David Blatt wanted, and now he is gone.

In return, the Cavs are getting JR Smith, basically an older and better version of Waiters on a more expensive contract, and Iman Shumpert, a stereotypical 3 and D talent. Smith has posted better shooting efficiency than Waiters for most of his career and is certainly at least his equal as a bench scorer. He is aging and lost some athleticism, but is still a more effective player. Smith is a career 37% 3 point shooter, while Waiters is shooting 26% from deep this season. Shumpert is an overrated defender, but he is a huge improvement on Waiters in that regard, and is a much better fit in the starting lineup as he is willing to spot up for 3s and make frequent cuts to the basket. In regards to both talent and fit it seems like an upgrade for the Cavs, but Smith could always self-implode, and Shumpert is quite injury prone and inconsistent.

Trade Grade: B+

The Thunder

On the surface, this trade looks fantastic for the Thunder. Dion is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is or as much as his talent suggests, but he is still a rotation caliber player, and the Thunder are only giving up their 14th man in Lance Thomas and a late round protected 1st rounder. Look a little deeper, however, and the picture isn't quite so rosy.

For one thing, Waiters is not likely to "fit" any better on the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are by any measure two of the best players in the NBA, and have the ball in their hands a lot. This means Waiters is going to be doing a lot of spotting up when playing with them, which is exactly what he refused to do in Cleveland. Even when he isn't playing with the starters, Waiters will be paired with Reggie Jackson, who is equally as ball dominant. While it is possible that they form a shot jack happy backcourt and become best friends, it seems more likely that they will resent each other and quarrel over shots. This is bad, especially since Jackson is a better player than Waiters as of right now. Waiters is also a pretty bad defender, unlike current SG starter Andre Roberson, and the Thunder pride themselves on defense.

The Thunder took a lot of heat (and rightfully so) for trading James Harden a couple years ago, and a similar (if lesser) situation seems to be developing with Jackson, who is going to want a big contract after this year. The Waiters trade is a not-so-subtle acknowledgment that Jackson is probably not in the Thunder's future plans, and could even be an indication that Jackson will get traded somewhere else this season. While that is just a possibility, the Thunder will have to spend money on non Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka players someday, and Jackson is a solid fit as 6th man. Waiters, as mentioned, is not as good a player and is signed for another year, so unless he really stinks it up this season, he will be filling Jackson's spot next season, which is a downgrade.

However, there is a chance that Waiters will fall into line in a new situation with dominant teammates such as Durant and Westbrook, who seem to be more forceful personalities in the locker room than LeBron ever was. Getting away from Kyrie Irving might also help his demeanor, as will playing for a true title contender. Scott Brooks is no Popovich, but he is better than any coach (outside of Blatt possibly) Dion has had in the NBA, and is much beloved by his players. If Dion fulfills some of his potential, he could be a very nice piece for the Thunder this year and possibly in the future. However, there is the risk that he causes locker room tension and his ball hogging harms the on court product as well.

Trade Grade: B-

The Knicks

The Knicks are perhaps the biggest winner from this trade, which is unusual because they received no impact players in the deal. Lance Thomas might be kept, but Amundson and Kirk will get cut (they were on the Cavs previously, and rarely played), and a 2nd round pick in 2019 is nice but a throwaway piece.

However, Smith had a player option for next year worth 6.7 million dollars, a lot of money for a player of his caliber, especially since he isn't a fit on the current Knicks roster. Shumpert was going to be a restricted free agent, but his cap hold is now also gone. The Knicks did this trade entirely for the purpose of clearing cap space, and also made themselves an even worse team in the process, which means the tank for a top 3 pick is fully on.

While Smith's personality will be missed by (some) fans and possibly his teammates, he simply didn't fill a role on this years Knicks team. Useful veterans are not needed on 5-31 teams, and his antics were disapproved of by Phil Jackson, who desires a clean locker room slate for next year.

Iman Shumpert is a different story. He was only the third Knicks draft pick in two decades to stay into his fourth year (hat tip to Posting and Toasting), which means he was much beloved by fans. Helping this was his colorful sideline attire, use of a high flattop as his haircut of choice, and highlight reel dunks. He was unfortunately consistently inconsistent, mixing stretches of elite 3 and D wing production (2012 and 2013 playoffs) with long weeks of terrible shooting and mediocre defense. He is still young and could click on a more functional and talented team with a set role, but his time with the Knicks seemed destined to be ending.

The Knicks are now seemingly locked into a top 3 draft pick, which means they will have an excellent prospect (this draft class is loaded) to pair with Carmelo Anthony as well as some other interesting youngsters (Tim Hardaway Jr and Cleanthony Early) in preparation for their summer meetings with free agents. With a lot of cap room and only one bad contract (Jose Calderon), the Knicks will be enticing to potential top players, especially since they are in the weaker Eastern Conference, where making a 6 or 7 seed is remarkably easy. They will have enough space for both a max contract and two quality mid-level players, which would enough to vault them back into the Eastern Conference finals race for 2016. Depending on who they get with their pick and what they are able to land over the summer, the Knicks could come out of this one on top. Phil Jackson's new motto should be: Summer is coming!

Trade Grade: A-

Check out Fear the SwordPosting and Toasting, and Welcome to Loud City to get the Cav, Knick, and Thunder fan's perspective respectively.