Iman Shumpert has returned to Madison Square Garden many times since the Knicks traded him in the middle of his fourth season slightly less than five years ago, but the question begged to be asked. Will it be different to visit MSG wearing the uniform of the crosstown rival Nets on Sunday evening?
“Shump” offered a smile followed by a firm, “No.” He’s in his ninth NBA season and will be making only his fifth appearance with the Nets since joining them in a tenuous situation in the extra roster spot they received for the remainder of Wilson Chandler’s suspension for performance enhancing drug use. Shumpert understands exactly where his priorities lie.
“At this point, I’m just playing as a professional,” Shumpert said after his best game as a Net with eight points, seven rebounds and a huge impact at the defensive end in a win Friday night over the Kings, one of two teams he played for last season. “Even tonight, I wanted to wake up and be like, ‘I’m playing my old team. Everybody pass to me.’
“But we’re trying to win, we’re trying to build something. It’s not about me.’ I’ve given up myself in this equation a long time ago. I’m just trying to play basketball the right way. When you do that, good things happen.”
The Nets called upon Shumpert when Kyrie Irving (right shoulder impingement) went on the injury list. Coach Kenny Atkinson who was Shumpert’s position coach when the Knicks drafted him in 2011, knew the Nets needed depth at guard without Irving, who has been ruled out for the next three games, including trips to Cleveland on Monday and Boston on Wednesday, and Caris LeVert (thumb surgery).
The Nets have won three of the four games since Shumpert joined the team, and in the past two games, they held their opponents to less than 100 points for the first two times this season. Perimeter defense was critical against the Kings, who made just four of 26 three-pointers, and Shumpert looked comfortable.
“I actually haven’t gotten all the way comfortable,” Shumpert said. “Right now, what you’re seeing is just a group of guys that is looking out for me. It’s actually helped us a lot with our chemistry just me coming and not really knowing [the system]. It’s forcing guys like Joe Harris to put me in a spot because I’m the type of person who responds to that.
“It’s helping our communication, it’s helping us grow . . . I don’t think this is a group of guys that were naturally talkative. I’m naturally pretty talkative myself, so I add communication, I add energy defensively.”
Veteran wing Garrett Temple, who is in his first season with the Nets after joining them in free agency, said they understand tough defense must become part of their identity. Temple made it clear he believes Shumpert can be part of the long-term solution.
“No question,” Temple said. “Shumpert has been big since he’s been here, defending, causing havoc, doing the things he’s always done in this league. He can guard four positions on the court. We needed him as of late, and we’re going to continue to need him throughout the season.”
For now, Shumpert simply is grateful for the opportunity with the Nets, but when the time comes to decide whether to drop him, Chandler or another player from the roster, he obviously hopes for a permanent role. Chandler's suspension has 10 more games to run.
“Kenny has known me since I came into the league,” Shumpert said. “He knows what I bring, he knows the intensity I have, he knows how much I want to win. My job is to play as hard as I can and make the decision tough on him.”