With Carmelo Anthony locked up for the next few years, and several other contributors on their way to New York via a recent trade with Dallas, it may appear that the Knicks' roster is settled for the coming 2014-15 season. But the team still has a long way to go.
"We have to do some roster management there," team president Phil Jackson acknowledged earlier this month, saying the team had too many guards and not enough frontcourt depth.
"Roster management" could very well mean making another trade to balance out the team. But if that's the case, who and what should the Knicks be looking to deal?
The answer to that question changes depending on whom you ask. But there is reason to believe that unloading one guard in particular, Tim Hardaway Jr., makes the most sense, even if he is the young player the Knicks are perhaps most reluctant to give up.
Yes, Hardaway showed impressive flashes during his rookie season, and at times looked like the team's second-best scorer. His ability to get out in transition and finish at the rim is special for a player of his experience level, and he appears to be the kind of shooter who can excel alongside Anthony because of the spacing he'll provide his teammates.
In fact, multiple reports have labeled Hardaway as being nearly "untouchable" as a potential trade chip, but that would be a dubious stance given the numerous flaws he showed in his rookie season.
If the Knicks really intend to build a two-way roster, with better defense, fewer holes and more versatility, they would be wise to explore what they can get in return for Hardaway.
This isn't to say that Hardaway has less talent or upside than other Knicks reportedly on the trading block. If anything, he probably has the highest trade value of anyone outside of Anthony, thanks entirely to his scoring ability.
There is a chance the Knicks could make good use of that ability with their new triangle system. But even if the 22-year-old improves his defense and rebounding, he may still be too deficient to make a tangible difference outside of scoring points.
Despite his prototypical height and bounding athleticism, Hardaway grabbed just 3.8% of available rebounds while on the court last season, the second-lowest percentage in NBA history among guards standing 6-foot-6 or taller, according to Basketball-Reference. And his struggles on defense were arguably the worst on the team last season, though they seem to stem more from his slender frame than from his effort.
While the triangle system could conceivably improve Hardaway's passing—his 5.8% assist percentage also ranked near the bottom of the NBA history books among guards—his lack of distribution isn't ideal for team that employs Anthony as its primary scorer.
Consider that Anthony shot 47% overall and a blistering 45% from three-point range last season on possessions where the Knicks passed the ball four times or more, according to SportVU player-tracking technology. This may help to explain why Anthony suffered a bigger shooting-percentage drop-off with Hardaway on the floor than with any other teammate, according to NBA.com.
Most Knicks fans—who get to see draft picks develop before their eyes about as often as they see comets soar across the sky—would oppose trading Hardaway. He's shown a good work ethic, and plays with the kind of energy that the Madison Square Garden crowd always appreciates. Without question, both the front office and many fans would prefer that Andrea Bargnani or Amar'e Stoudemire be dealt. Both are injury-prone and make enormous salaries.
But it would be somewhat foolish to jettison either player at the moment if it means giving up an additional asset, like Hardaway, to get the other team to participate in the trade, especially when New York could probably get a decent return by waiting until the February trade deadline.
If the Knicks opted to divorce themselves from J.R. Smith instead, it would surprise no one. And given how vital Iman Shumpert's defense is to a team that often behaves like a turnstile, the Knicks could decide it makes sense to move the 24-year-old now, before his contract is up and he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
But if Jackson and the Knicks are finally looking to build a complete, two-way roster, rather than one that prioritizes offense over everything else, then exploring what they can get for Hardaway makes the most sense.