Phil Jackson's presence hasn't had the impact on the Knicks that many expected, but he was able to do something on Monday that few thought was possible: He moved J.R. Smith.
The enigmatic shooting guard with the checkered past was traded to Cleveland along with Iman Shumpert in a three-team deal in which the Oklahoma City Thunder obtained Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters and a protected first-round pick.
The Knicks got three players back -- two will be waived -- and a 2019 second-round pick from Cleveland. In a separate move, the Knicks waived center Samuel Dalembert, which saved them $2 million.
The trade was a straight salary dump and the start of a housecleaning for the Knicks. Jackson, the Knicks' president, is clearing the decks for this summer and looking at this as addition by subtraction.
By dealing Smith, whom they had been trying to move since early in the season, the Knicks opened an additional $6.4 million for free agency. That is the amount of Smith's player option for next season, and he is expected to pick it up.
They now have only four players under contract for next season: Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cleanthony Early. Pablo Prigioni has a partial guarantee.
The Knicks hope to be major players in free agency, but their miserable season -- they fell to 5-32 with Monday night's 105-83 loss to Memphis, their 12th straight defeat and 22nd in 23 games -- could deter marquee free agents from signing with them.
"As our journey moves through this season, we will search for the type of players that fit the style we hope to exhibit for our fans," Jackson said in a statement. "Our desire is to improve our ability to compete. In addition, these transactions improve our flexibility to the current roster and the salary cap for future seasons."
The Knicks received Brooklyn native Lance Thomas from Oklahoma City and Lou Amundson and Alex Kirk from Cleveland. Only Thomas, a 6-8 forward who was averaging 5.1 points for the Thunder, is expected to remain with the Knicks.
They also will receive two trade exceptions -- roughly $6 million for Smith and $2.5 million for Shumpert. They can use them in trades for players making those salaries.
Derek Fisher said the Knicks will try to fill their two open roster spots. "I don't think this in any way signals the end of our transition process," he said.
"I think our front office will continue to look at what we can do to replace a couple of these guys, but also how we're going to build our roster going forward in the short term and the long term. I think Phil is continuing to look at how we transition as we change the culture of the New York Knicks."
The Knicks pulled Smith and Dalembert about a half-hour before the start of Monday night's loss to the Grizzlies, leaving them with nine available players. Shumpert was sidelined with a shoulder injury. The Knicks also were missing Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, all of whom are injured.
Smith was a big part of the Knicks' 54-win team two seasons ago. He averaged 18.1 points and was named Sixth Man of the Year.
He fell out of favor with the organization last season after a series of incidents, including being suspended for violating the league's anti-drug policy and tweeting about "betrayal" after the Knicks waived his brother Chris. He also was benched twice and fined by the league for untying opponents' sneakers.
Smith, who has been hampered by a left foot injury, is averaging 10.9 points in 24 games this season.
The Knicks discussed moving Shumpert the past three seasons. Even if they hadn't dealt him, he wasn't expected back next season. They declined to extend his rookie contract by the Oct. 31 cutoff, so Shumpert will be a restricted free agent this summer. He averaged 9.3 points in 24 games.
Dalembert, acquired from Dallas in the Tyson Chandler trade in June, also was on his way out. His contract became guaranteed Friday. Because they couldn't trade him, they waived him. They had to do it by Wednesday because it takes 48 hours to clear waivers.
The Knicks thought Dalembert would anchor their interior defense, but like the Knicks' season, it hasn't panned out the way they had hoped. Dalembert lost his starting job to Cole Aldrich and is averaging 4.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 17 minutes.
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