Why The Monster Cavs-Thunder-Knicks Trade That Stunned The NBA World Is A Steal For Cleveland

Iman Shumpert High-Top FadeElsa/Getty ImagesIman Shumpert heads from New York to Cleveland.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and New York Knicks swapped spare parts in a three-team trade that seemingly came out of nowhere on Monday night.

Here are the details:

  • Cavs get: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, 2015 first-round pick from OKC
  • Thunder get: Dion Waiters
  • Knicks get: 2019 second-round pick from Cleveland, Lance Thomas

There will surely be more impactful NBA trades with better players involved this season, but it’s going to be hard to top this one in terms of the sheer amount of stuff going on.

You have the team with the worst record (Knicks), the team with the most disappointing record (Cavs), and the team with the most heavily scrutinized trade history (Thunder). You also have two of the most maligned players in the league in Waiters and Smith.

It’s a wacky trade. It’s also a rational trade for everyone involved, especially the Cavs, who got a steal here.

The Cavaliers came into the year hoping Waiters would blossom into an above-average shooting guard next to LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. They wanted him to focus on his spot-up three-point shooting and defence. The problem: He didn’t want to do that, and said so

Waiters is having his worst year as a pro. He’s shooting 25% from three-point range, and his most notable contribution to the basketball world has been a succession of Vines that show him screaming for the ball:


There was also some weird off-court stuff going on with Waiters in Cleveland. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal reports that he had become a “head case,” and the trade market for him was almost nonexistent. According to Fox Sports’ Sam Amico, Waiters thinks he’s better than Irving and “was not happy with what he viewed as management’s favoritism toward Kyrie.”

So that’s what the Cavs gave up here — a struggling shooting guard who didn’t fit the role the team wanted him to play, and thought he was better than one of the team’s most important players. Obviously the Cavs would have loved if Waiters took a Jimmy Butler-esque leap under the careful tutelage of LeBron, but that wasn’t happening.

He has been a below average player. It’s impressive that they got multiple assets for him.

1. Shumpert doesn’t have the upside potential that Waiters theoretically had, but he’s the type of player that the Cavs originally wanted Waiters to be — a spot-up three-point shooter and an above average wing defender. He won’t have to create off the dribble or initiate the offence. He’s shooting a respectable 38.5% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers and he’s an intelligent cutter, which are basically the only two things he’ll be asked to do on offence in Cleveland. He also immediately becomes the team’s top defender against opposing guards.

2. First-round picks have become incredibly valuable in recent years, and the Cavs did well to get one out of OKC. Cleveland is still building this roster. The mistake that Miami made at the end of the LeBron era was giving away draft picks for veteran role players. The Cavs still don’t have a ton of draft picks in the next few years, but this OKC pick is a start.

3. J.R. Smith’s contract is the tax Cleveland had to pay to get Shumpert and the first-round pick. He’s owed $US6.4 million in 2015-16 — which is a lot for how badly he has played in the last two years. In some ways he’s an older version of Waiters. But here’s the thing: Smith won’t be playing the same role the Cavs wanted Waiters to play. That role — the “3 and D” guy — goes to Shumpert. Smith’s job is to come off the bench and score. The Cavs are 27th out of 30 NBA teams in points per game off the bench. For all his faults, Smith at least has a track record (albeit limited) of being an effective bench scorer when he’s motivated and playing on a good team.

Flipping Waiters for two guys who are going to get significant minutes and a future first-round pick is a really nice move for Cleveland.

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