Everyone gets passing grade in Dion Waiters trade
The Cavaliers needed a perimeter defender and spot-up shooter. They still need a big man, but more on that in a minute.
The Thunder needed a explosive scoring threat and occasional distributor alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Knicks? Well, they needed to gut the roster and start thinking about next year.
Each team got what it needed in Monday’s three-team deal — which landed Dion Waiters in Oklahoma City, Iman Shumpert and J.R Smith in Cleveland, and a whole lot of nothing in New York.
The Cavs tried a lot of different things with Waiters in his two-plus seasons. They brought him off the bench. They started him at shooting guard. They brought him off the bench. On and on it went.
It was three Cavs coaches in three seasons for Waiters, and the question was always the same: What, exactly, do the Cavs do with the guy?
Waiters just started to be coaxed into defending. Most folks will tell you that was more the doing of LeBron James than coach David Blatt. But whatever. As talented as Waiters is, as explosive as he can be, he too often freelanced. He sometimes flat-out hijacked the offense. He sometimes refused to bend his knees, shuffle his feet and stay between his man and the basket.
It wasn’t working. And perhaps no one is to blame. Or perhaps everyone is at fault. Either way, it makes no difference for the Cavs anymore.
For the Cavs, the key to this deal was Shumpert. He’s just 24-years old — a mere year older than Waiters. His specialty is defending the perimeter. Honest. It’s what Shumpert does best. He possesses length and motivation and intelligence at that end of the floor. And think about this: He’s averaging 9.3 points, compared to 10.5 for Waiters.
So Shumpert isn’t known for his offense. But he contributes about as the same as Waiters in terms of scoring.
Then there’s Smith. Yes, he’s had his issues. He’s been a knucklehead. He’s made more obvious mistakes than most. They’ve been the kind of mistakes that land you in hot water on Twitter — but nowhere else. Most feel he’ll be a different player, with a different attitude, next to LeBron James.
If it happens, the Cavs get a guy who spot up and bury jumpers. That’s not something they would get from Waiters. They get a guy who can dunk on you in traffic. They get a guy who is a constant threat from the perimeter and plays with an edge.
Two seasons ago, Smith was Sixth Man of the Year. He can fill it up. And unlike Waiters, he’s just fine with coming off the bench.
Finally, the Cavs received a protected first-round pick in the trade. If it falls to No. 19 or below, it’s belongs to the Cavs. They can trade it, too — and most around the league believe that’s exactly what the Cavs will try to do.
Their next mission is to get an interior defender. It will likely be someone who plays 12-15 minutes a night, someone who makes opposing guards think twice about driving the basket, and someone who uses four or five of his six fouls.
The Cavs have time to find that person. It’s likely to happen between this very moment and the mid-February trading deadline.
So give the Cavs an "A."
The Thunder are excited for Waiters. They gave up virtually nothing to get him: The aforementioned first-round pick, and swingman Lance Thomas (to the Knicks).
Waiters can be a poor man’s James Harden with the Thunder. He could come off the bench, backing up Westbrook and playing some shooting guard. He can distribute and spring to the basket for electric scores. He can be an exciting and productive player playing alongside Durant.
Waiters won’t be pressured to be a lockdown defender or a spot-up shooter or a guy who leads in the locker room. He can just be himself. He can just play his game.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks has been looking for a guy to fill Harden’s role since Harden bolted for the Rockets. And perhaps that’s the Thunder’s selling point. Perhaps they will say, "Hey, look, Dion. We turned James Harden into a max-contract guy. It might be in your best interest to be locked in and involved."
Waiters seems angry and a little hurt about the trade. He is looking at this as a chance to prove his critics wrong. Being in a winning program, around pros like Durant, Serge Ibaka and others certainly won’t hurt.
So give the Thunder an "A."
The Knicks waived Samuel Dalembert and the three players they received in the deal (Thomas, and Lou Amundson and Alex Kirk from the Cavs).
They will now have about $28 million in salary-cap space and a lottery pick this summer. Considering where they were before this trade, that’s some serious magic worked by team president Phil Jackson.
The Knicks aren’t going anywhere this season, they admitted it, and now they can finally see some light at the end of this extreme darkness.
So give the Knicks an "A" — although Carmelo Anthony probably feels more like it’s an "F." The team with which he signed a huge deal over the summer is now rebuilding. Carmelo might want to ask Kobe Bryant how that is working out with the Lakers.