Trade Candidate: Jose Calderon

The Knicks believed that they had solved a number of their issues with one trade this past summer. That’s when newly appointed team president Phil Jackson dealt Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, and two 2014 second round draft picks. But as was stated in a proverb that the poet Robert Burns first wrote and that John Steinbeck later made popular, the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.

NBA: New York Knicks at Dallas MavericksNew York’s Achilles’ heel during the 2013/14 campaign was its point guard play, or to be specific, a complete lack of production from the group it threw out on the floor to facilitate the offense. The Knicks as a team averaged a meager 20.0 assists per game, which was good for the third lowest total in the league. Felton was one of the worst starting point guards in the league statistically, and his off the court issues involving the possession of a handgun certainly didn’t help raise his stock around the league and with the team.

With Jackson needing to live up to whatever promises that he may have made to Carmelo Anthony in order to get him to re-sign with the Knicks, the Zen Master must have figured adding a more competent ball distributor in Calderon was a good place to begin. While I was certainly a fan of the team cutting ties with Felton, I will point out that he actually had a higher assist per game average during the 2013/14 campaign (5.7) than Calderon did (4.7) with the Mavs that same season.

But Calderon was also brought in to help spread the floor with his outside shooting, something that Felton didn’t provide for the Knicks. Also, with the team switching to the triangle offense, the change in scheme was supposed to remove part of the need for a point guard to rack up gaudy assist totals in order to be successful. The Spaniard is also known as a good teammate, and was looked at as a player who could help provide veteran leadership, something that the Knicks sorely missed with the retirement of Jason Kidd and the departure of Kenyon Martin.

Unfortunately for the Knicks and their fans, Calderon has not produced at the level that the team had hoped for when it acquired him. In 30 appearances this season, Calderon has averaged 9.3 points, his lowest total since the 2006/07 season, a career-low 4.3 assists, and he’s shooting a career-worst 39.9% from the field. He has looked a step slow on both ends of the court, and it’s unclear if age is finally catching up with him, if Calderon’s apathetic due to New York’s lost season, or if he’s still hampered by the calf injury that he suffered during the preseason.

With the Knicks seemingly in full on tank-mode for the remainder of the season, a veteran point guard like Calderon is an expendable piece. Jackson would probably love to clear the remaining two years on Calderon’s contract off of the team’s books to provide the franchise with additional flexibility. New York has been reported to be actively shopping Calderon along with some of the other remaining veterans on its squad. The Spaniard is making $7,097,191 this season, due to make $7,402,812 in 2015/16, and owed $7,708,427 for 2016/17. Those numbers don’t necessarily make Calderon untradeable, but the trick for Jackson will be finding a deal for players with expiring contracts so that he can maximize New York’s cap space to pursue free agents over the next two summers.

Despite Calderon’s lack of production this season and not quite desirable contract, there still should be a market for his services, though it is highly unlikely that he would bring the Knicks much of a return on his own. Unless Calderon is packaged with other players and draft picks, any deal would become more of a salary dump than a franchise changing transaction. But dealing players in return for little more than future cap space is something that seems to fit with the current Knicks philosophy, so there shouldn’t be an issue there.

While no teams have been specifically reported to be interested in acquiring Calderon, here are a few franchises that could be potential fits for a deal. It should be noted that these are purely my speculation, and not based off of any published reports:

  1. Oklahoma City: The Thunder could use a veteran like Calderon to add backcourt depth, especially with the team’s injury history. The acquisition of Dion Waiters, who can play the point if required to, lessens the Thunder’s need at this position. But if OKC decides that it has little chance or desire to re-sign Reggie Jackson, then GM Sam Presti could decide to unload him, though the Knicks probably don’t have enough in addition to Calderon to offer for a talent such as Jackson to close a deal without getting a third team involved.
  2. Chicago: The Bulls appear to be set for the moment at point guard, with Derrick Rose working his way back into form, and Aaron Brooks providing solid production as a backup. But these are the Bulls, who are seemingly always dealing with injuries, especially late in the season. Calderon would provide extra insurance in the event of another injury to Rose or Kirk Hinrich, but fitting his salary in would be quite a challenge.
  3. Boston: The Celtics have reportedly let teams know that they would be willing to take on cap-eating contracts, and they could use more depth at point guard in the wake of the Rajon Rondo trade. This would make Boston a logical trade partner, but the Knicks lack the draft picks that the Celtics would likely require in order to take on a contract such as Calderon’s. But if president of basketball operations Danny Ainge decides that rookie Marcus Smart isn’t ready to lead the team, a trade for Calderon could become a very real possibility.
  4. Philadelphia: The Sixers have become the salary cap dumping ground for the league, and with the team not sold on the long-term viability of Michael Carter-Williams, Calderon would seem like a potential fit. Couple that with Tony Wroten‘s injury, and it’s clear that the Sixers have a definite need at the one spot. But with Philly GM Sam Hinkie determined to collect every second round draft pick between now and 2020, the Knicks would have an issue scratching that itch for the Sixers. It’s possible that Jackson could flip Pablo Prigioni for a second-rounder, as he is reportedly seeking to do. But it’s not clear if that would be enough to get Hinkie to bite on two more seasons of being committed to Calderon.
  5. Cleveland: The Cavaliers have a definite need for a stronger backup at the point. Matthew Dellavedova is a nice player, but if Kyrie Irving is injured, Dellavedova’s not likely to inspire confidence in a deep playoff run as a starter. Cleveland may not be too keen on taking on the final two years of Calderon’s deal, but with the franchise in win-now mode, it’s a deal it would likely consider pulling the trigger on.
  6. Miami: The Heat would be a longshot here, but the team has a definite need for an upgrade at the point guard spot. Miami is in an odd position, with the team needing to rebuild after LeBron James‘ departure while having a veteran-laden roster. Calderon could step right in and provide an immediate upgrade, but the length of his deal could scare the team off from pursuing a trade with the Knicks.
  7. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers could absolutely use a player like Calderon, and would be able to deal the expiring contract of Steve Nash as part of a package to obtain him. Los Angeles is still likely entertaining thoughts of inking Rondo this offseason, though that is far from a done deal, especially since Rondo appears to be settling in nicely in Dallas. With Kobe Bryant in the waning years of his career, Calderon could be seen by GM Mitch Kupchak as a player who could bolster the roster and allow him to concentrate on adding much needed frontcourt talent this offseason.

While Calderon’s trade value has taken a definite hit since the beginning of the season, he’s a player who still could help a number of teams. I also believe that a change of scenery, and the chance at playing for a playoff team, could revitalize his play. Calderon is one of the Knicks’ most tradeable of assets currently, though his contract length will be a hurdle that Jackson will need to overcome in order to remove Calderon from the team’s balance sheet. The veteran point guard is likely to be the subject of numerous rumors leading up to the deadline, and if he still remains a Knick beyond that date, it’s because Jackson couldn’t find a taker, and not because he was unwilling to part with Calderon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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