It's unclear how the New York Knicks will approach the upcoming trade deadline, but knowing their history, what's undeniable is that they can't afford another deal where they get inferior value for what they're offering.
As strange as it sounds—given all he's been through this season—holding onto troubled guard J.R. Smith would be in the Knicks' best interests with that in mind.
There's no denying that he has had a horrible season. He entered the year coming off a suspension and the worst injury of his career, has continued to have his maturity questioned and is producing at a career-low level across the board.
But that's exactly why the Knicks shouldn't trade him.
As frustrating as he has been throughout his career, we all know he's capable of much better than we've seen from him this season—his Sixth Man of the Year campaign in 2012-13 proved as much.
Letting go of him now would mean trading low, which is something the Knicks can't afford to do. Even if he never repeats his success from last year, a return to even just his career averages for an extended period would be enough to raise his value.
Back in September, I wrote that New York should absolutely have Smith on the trading block this season, with the potential emergence of Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. (along with the dual-point guard lineup) making him expendable.
While Hardaway has been one of the best rookies in the league, Shumpert has struggled on the whole this season and is still a major injury concern moving forward, after having a second knee surgery in just three years over the summer, according to the NY Daily News.
Although most Knicks fans won't want to admit it, there's no guarantee that Shumpert will reach his potential in the NBA. He has declined steadily since his rookie season, save a few standout performances.
Another problem with my initial Smith trade idea is that it was based on two major assumptions—that he would bounce back after a poor playoff performance and that a team would be desperate enough for scoring that it would part with assets to take him and his baggage.
The former hasn't happened, and when you look around the league, there isn't a huge market for a player like Smith. A team like the Memphis Grizzlies could potentially use some bench scoring to make a playoff push in the second half, but outside of that, there aren't many realistic destinations for Smith, even if he had been performing all year.
It's also worth pointing out that he has actually started to turn the corner in recent weeks, coinciding with the Knicks going through one of their best stretches of the season. Through his last 10 games, the guard is averaging 18.1 points on 47 percent shooting, matching his scoring average from last season with added efficiency.
If the Knicks plan to eventually trade him, it would be worth waiting until his value rises; and if they want to keep him, there's no doubt that he can contribute to a second-half comeback at his current level of production.
With hindsight, Smith's new deal was arguably a mistake, but a three-year, $18 million contract was never going to cripple a big-market franchise like the Knicks. At his worst (which we've seen this season) he isn't worth $6 million per year, but at his best, he's worth more, which makes it a fair deal from that perspective.
The argument for trading him is understandable. New York has a pair of young shooting guards in line to replace him already, and the willingness to cut ties with one of last year's key players would send a message to the Knicks that their play has been unacceptable this season.
Ultimately, though, after all they've done in the James Dolan era, it's about time the Knicks took it back to basics—thinking in terms of only the value of what they are giving away and getting in return.
Getting worse to prove a point is not in their best interests.
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