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Phil Jackson Begins Revamping Knicks Roster

Phil Jackson has started the process of revamping the New York Knicks, pulling off his first significant move on Thursday.

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The Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks have officially agreed to a deal. Here are the particulars: Dallas sends point guard Jose Calderon, center Samuel Dalembert, point guard Shane Larkin and guard Wayne Ellington, along with the 34th and 51st picks in Thursday’s draft, to the Knicks in exchange for center Tyson Chandler and point guard Raymond Felton.

Mark Cuban has openly admitted he regretted letting Tyson Chandler skip town the summer after the Mavs won the 2011 NBA championship. Well, now Cuban has his prized defensive-minded, game-changer back in Dallas. The Mavs took the eventual world champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games during their tightly contested first-round matchup this past postseason, which was something neither the OKC Thunder nor the Miami HEAT could claim. Clearly the Mavs feel they can make another realistic run at a title while Dirk Nowitzki is still near the top of his game.

From a Knicks perspective, the ultimate objective of the deal is less clear and thus far more intriguing.

The Knicks’ short- and long-term future is up in the air right now, as the organization awaits a decision from free agent Carmelo Anthony. The common thinking in and around New York was that the franchise would head in one of two directions once ‘Melo made up his mind.

If Anthony re-signed with the Knicks, Phil Jackson would do everything possible to maximize ‘Melo’s prime. This would mean attempting to immediately improve the roster (at the expense of future cap space) and ideally having the Knicks return to top of the Eastern Conference as soon as next season.

Conversely, if Anthony signed elsewhere, Jackson and the Knicks front office would commit to a full-scale rebuilding process. This rebuild would include allowing the many cumbersome expiring contracts to wash off the books after this season (or them trading for picks/assets that didn’t impinge upon the crucial 2015 cap space) and “tanking” the 2014-15 season, as a poor record would likely result in a high lottery pick.

However, with Anthony’s future still unknown, we still don’t know which direction the Knicks are headed.

On paper, it looks like the Knicks got the better end of this deal. Chandler played incredibly well during his first season in New York, becoming the first Knick ever to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. He was arguably the Knicks’ most valuable player that first season. However, as his health deteriorated, so did his production. It seemed he was nursing an injury down the stretch of each season, and wasn’t able to peak during the postseason. Still, Chandler is a proven winner and relentless worker. No one who has watched him play would bet against him bouncing back in a big way for the Mavs next season.

Felton had obviously worn out his welcome in New York. His legal issues in the courtroom aside, Felton was a disappointment on the court on the court as well. In addition, he was set to earn $3.95 million during the 2015-16 season. Moving Felton, and his contract, was clearly a priority for Jackson.

In Calderon, the Knicks get a massive upgrade at the point guard position. Despite creeping towards his mid-30s,  Calderon is still an above-average NBA playmaker. He possesses an impressively high basketball IQ and is a solid facilitator on offense. He started 81 games for the Mavs last season, dishing out 4.7 assists and scoring 11.4 points per game. He’s never been a great defender, and that is especially true now that he’s a bit older. However, Calderon has long been, and remains, one of the NBA’s elite sharpshooters. His calling card is his efficiency. In 2012-13, he led the NBA in three-point accuracy, shooting a scorching 46.1 percent from behind the arc. He also hit 90 percent of his free-throw attempts. This is not an anomaly for Calderon. In fact, he is one of just two active NBA players shooting over 47 percent from the floor, 87 percent from the charity stripe and 41 percent from behind the three-point arc for their career. Steve Nash is the only member of that exclusive club.

The downside of adding Calderon is his onerous contract. Whereas Felton had two years and 7.7 million left on his contract, Calderon has three years and 22.2 million in guaranteed money left on his deal. He will earn $7.4 million in 2015-16 and $7.7 million in 2016-17. That’s a major investment in 34/35 year old point guard.

Dalembert has had an up-and-down NBA life. He’s shown flashes of enticing talent, but hasn’t been able to produce on a reliable or consistent basis. At 33 years old, we’ve likely seen the best Sammy D has to offer. Dalembert’s 2014-15 contract is only partially guaranteed, so it’s possible New York may cut him. However, Chandler’s absence leaves the Knicks with a hole in the middle, so Jackson may ask Dalembert to hold down the fort for the time being.

Larkin is the X-Factor in the deal. He is an undersized (listed at 5’11), but wildly athletic point guard. (Prior to last year’s draft, he set an NBA combine record with a 44-inch vertical leap.) Larkin was selected 18th overall in the 2013 draft after a sterling career at the University of Miami, but broke his ankle during summer league play. His rookie campaign never really got off the ground. He appeared in 48 games, averaging just over 10 minutes per contest. Larkin is lighting quick, and provides the Knicks with something they have lacked and desperately needed – a point guard capable of penetrating into the paint and disrupting defenses. We shall see what he contributes when/if given an increased role with the Knicks.

The other valuable commodity the Knicks acquired were two second-round draft picks. The 2014 draft has been heralded as one of the deepest drafts in recent NBA history, which makes the 34th and 51st overall picks more desirable than one might think. There is a real chance there are still some quality young prospects on the board at the top of the second round. In addition, unlike first-round selections, second-round picks do not have guaranteed salaries attached to them, which makes them appetizing to teams concerned about cap space this summer. And with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony on the open market, cap space is at premium for many franchises.

It’s no secret that Jackson has been angling to acquire a pick in the 20s. These two second-rounder’s may help him seal a deal.

The final question in Knicks fans minds is whether trade makes it more or less likely that Anthony re-signs with New York. At this point, we just don’t know. The Knicks improved at point guard (a desperate need), but at the expense of their best defensive player. And while they added valuable draft picks that helps their long-term health, they also took on Calderon’s contract, which eats into their 2015 cap space.

Furthermore, we can only speculate as to whether this was simply the first in a slew of moves by Jackson to revamp the roster. We’ll get an our answer soon enough, as the draft take place on Thursday night, and free agency begin on July 1st.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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