Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Dion Waiters was introduced as a starter on Monday.
Problem was, he was getting traded. He did not start and reserve big men were seen hugging head coach David Blatt good-bye. It was a strange sight, but it foreshadowed a very intriguing trade on a few levels.
The main stars in our play are: Waiters, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Phil Jackson, the Cavs, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant and somehow, some way, LeBron James.
The Cavs acquired Smith and Shumpert from the Knicks and received a conditional first-round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder. They gave up Waiters, Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk and a 2019 second-round pick.
Waiters was doomed from arrival in Cleveland. He never fit in, battled with Kyrie Irving and became a poster boy for those who hate high-volume and ineffective shooters.
This season did nothing to improve the situation. Waiters started at the beginning of the season, then was relegated to the bench, a situation he did not love. He was the "fourth banana" if such a phrase existed about how a pecking order related to fruit. Waiters was behind James, Irving and Kevin Love, another situation that probably didn't bring a smile to Waiters' face.
What Cleveland needed from that fourth guy was a shooter who could play defense, or, one or the other exceptionally well, preferably off the bench. Waiters fit none of that criteria. He almost literally offered no value to the Cavaliers. Moving him broke few hearts in the Cavs' organization.
Shumpert is a nice fit in Cleveland. He's a better career 3-point shooter than Waiters (34.3 percent to 32.8) and of course is better defensively. I say "of course" because everyone in your phone book is a better defender than Waiters. Shumpert had a big-time defender rep, which is not quite there anymore. He's still solid though, just not on that upper tier with Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala ... pretty much any Warriors wing.
Shumpert is also inexpensive. He's playing on his rookie contract with no extension in place. He's free as a bird after the season, so if it doesn't work, no hard feelings.
Smith is the rub. He's the cost of business. To get Shumpert, the Cavs had to take Smith, who is still a potential nightmare off the court and some times on. He's a high-volume shooter with a propensity to do dumb things at dumb times. Smith is not a good defender, but he can still score.
The problem with Smith, aside from the bizarre behavior, and shot-happy nights, is his salary. He signed a three-year deal after his 2013 Sixth Man of the Year season, but the third year is a player option. His favor has fallen so precipitously in the league, he'll almost assuredly pick up his own option. Smith won't get anywhere near the almost $6.4 million his third year offers on the open market.
That's a financial albatross that could keep Cleveland from making moves in the offseason. Although, for having three All-NBA performers, the Cavs are in decent shape with the coin. Brendan Haywood has a very strange, movable contract.
The odd thing about this trade from the Cavs' perspective is, it's almost like they got everything they wanted Waiters to be in these two former Knicks. They thought Waiters could defend and Shumpert can. They thought he could be a perimeter threat, Shumpert is a better one. They then thought he could be an explosive bench scorer, Smith can be.
Plus, a protected first-round pick (protected through 18 in 2015, then through 15 in 2016 and 17), is always nice. First-round picks are like uncashed lottery tickets in today's NBA.
All in all, a solid trade, although Smith's antics may need to be checked. And, the Cavs did improve their pathetic depth, but did nothing to improve their biggest weakness - an interior defender. They still have time.
NEW YORK KNICKS
The Knicks acquired Amundson, Kirk and a 2019 second-round pick from the Cavs, and forward Lance Thomas from the Thunder. They gave up Shumpert and Smith.
This is a 100 percent salary dump and addition by subtraction-type trade. They are waiving Amundson and Kirk, but do plan to keep Thomas.
In jettisoning themselves of Smith, the Knicks shed his option for next season, freeing up $6.4 million. The Knicks were going to pay luxury tax, but this trade means Mr. Dolan will pay substantially less of it.
Plus, they rid themselves of Smith, the person. He may not be a bad guy, but he's a goofball who does things that hurt the team, be it untying an opponent's sneakers or smoking weed. Smith has talent and he's almost as important as Carmelo Anthony was to the Atlantic Division championship team of two seasons ago.
But, he's not worth the aggravation. He's just not and coupled with his salary hamstrings, Phil Jackson should get a lot of credit for getting Smith out of New York. I wasn't sure it could be done.
And trading Smith, and releasing Samuel Dalembert as reports indicate, show Jackson's most important moves to date -- Jackson is shedding this organization of all problem people:
Tyson Chandler - Dallas Maverick (Although I never believed he was a problem.)
Raymond Felton - Dallas Maverick
Smith - Cleveland Cavalier
Dalembert - who cares?
In less than a year, Jackson rid his team of problems financially and personality-wise. He got nothing for Shumpert, which hurts because the Knicks probably could've had Kenneth Faried for him a year ago, but the Knicks didn't care about Shumpert. If they did, they'd have offered him a contract extension.
This trade frees up time for Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Cleanthony Early, who I loved in the second round, but hasn't found much time. Develop youth.
Also, let's be honest about the Knicks. Season's over. Melo is going to shut it down soon. (Predicted at the office it would have been Monday. Settled for a big trade.) The Knicks' lottery status keeps improving. That's fine for them at the moment.
Plus, expectations, however preposterously over-inflated they might have been in Knicks' world, are shut down. That'll help head coach Derek Fisher, who has appeared a little over his head. There's almost no pressure on Fisher now, which is good considering his performance to date has elicited "Fire Fisher" chants from Woody Allen, Taylor Swift and everyone in the Garden.
Jackson will take about $30 million in cap space to the sweltering heat of a New York summer. He'll be in the best position to try and lure Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, or Kevin Love. That's assuming those last two don't go through with the formality of re-signing.
That's very impressive work by the Zen Master.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Thunder acquired Waiters. They gave up a protected first-round pick to the Cavs, and Thomas to the Knicks.
This is the murkiest one for me to understand.
If the Thunder don't make another move before the deadline, this makes little sense. In OKC's backcourt, there is Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb. Where does Waiters fit in there? Lamb barely plays as is. Roberson is a stud defender. Morrow is a great shooter.
How does Waiters crack the lineup, already being so far behind in learning the systems? I'm not sure he does ... unless ...
The Thunder trade Jackson.
Until about a half hour into various reports, it seemed like Jackson was going to New York. He's a free agent at the end of the season, so the plan might be to trade him, or for Waiters to replace Jackson next season.
Waiters is viewed as a combo-type of guard in the vein of Jackson, although Waiters is nowhere near as good running an offense. Jackson could get them a decent haul, although not a fortune with his summer status.
The Waiters acquisition also flies in the face, to some degree, of how the Thunder operates. His deal puts them over the luxury tax line and Oklahoma City never pays the luxury tax. The Thunder's small-market, girl next door type of feel is what's held them back from being able to pay someone like James Harden in seasons past.
Now, they're all of a sudden a financial powerhouse capable of absorbing a few million in the pursuit of a title? And, the one that puts them over the top is someone who may not be able to meaningfully crack the rotation until the ides of March?
That doesn't make sense. That indicates GM Sam Presti will make a move prior to the deadline. The Thunder also trade someone they don't feel like they can sign. Think Harden. Think Jeff Green.
So, if the intention is to use Waiters in the Jackson role, it's dicey. I've never considered him a point guard. But, Waiters can score. He'd fill that role for sure.
Assuming Oklahoma City keeps the pick this year, if the Thunder are as good as assumed next season, they lose maybe the 26th pick in the draft. Is that worth it for someone three years removed from being the fourth pick in the draft? It's certainly a good value move, even if Waiters was taken too high.
Maybe Waiters is misunderstood. Maybe no one could get through to him properly. Maybe he just hated Irving that much. The onus is now on Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Scott Brooks.
"We're gonna make him feel wanted. I don't think he felt that the last couple years," Durant said after Monday's loss to the Golden State Warriors. "He's gonna fit in well. He's gonna get comfortable real quick. It's on the leaders - Russell, myself, Nick (Collison) - to make him feel at home and feel special and let him play his game."
Maybe, the Thunder will have better luck. Even if it doesn't work, the price tag wasn't punitive enough to pass.