From a distance, it’s easy to imagine that the trade that sent Iman Shumpert from the Knicks to the Cavaliers worked out very well for the swingman. He became a regular contributor to a team that went to the NBA Finals that season, won it all the next and is in first place this season.
Of course, considering the dysfunction Shumpert left behind, he wouldn’t necessarily have had to have joined a top squad to have felt like he was liberated. Or, as he put it in a recent interview, the trade “kind of grabbed me out of hell.”
The 26-year-old Shumpert was among several NBA players describing the experience of being traded in midseason to the website HoopsHype. In January 2015, and with the Knicks en route to the worst season in franchise history, he and J.R. Smith were moved to Cleveland in a three-team swap that included the Thunder.
Shumpert said that part of the “deflating feeling” over his final few games with the Knicks was that he was injured and couldn’t help get his team “out of the hole.” He added, “I felt bitter that I had to leave on such a bad note.”
“Then, shortly after we walk in and we get to playing with the Cavs, we go on a long winning streak,” Shumpert told HoopsHype. “I kept thinking back to my old teammates like, ‘Damn, I was hurt and we were losing. Now I come here and I’m playing well and the energy is great.’
“I just felt like they kind of grabbed me out of hell. And every game was being showcased on TV and we’re winning. It was just crazy. I was happy, but I felt bad too.”
Since Shumpert left New York, the team’s fortunes have improved, but not by much. The Knicks used the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft to take a rising star in Kristaps Porzingis, and they have had the benefit of Carmelo Anthony’s services, but they went just 32-50 last season, and after a promising start this season, they have slumped to 27-41 and are well on their way to another appearance in the draft lottery.
In addition, the Knicks continue to create negative headlines away from the court, including Charles Oakley’s ugly feud with team owner James Dolan, team President Phil Jackson’s attempts to trade Anthony, only to be stymied by the no-trade clause he’d given the forward, and Derrick Rose’s unexplained absence.
Of settling in with the Cavs, Shumpert said that “having so many veterans helped, especially with the professionalism.” On the other hand, a lack of professionalism was essentially what Jackson cited in explaining why he made that trade.
In a 2015 interview with ESPN, Jackson said that Smith “had been exhibiting some delinquent behavior” and Shumpert was “regressing.” Jackson added, “I like Shump, but he has a very loud, big personality. It was difficult for most of the other guys to deal with, especially if things don’t go well for him or the team.”
Things have been going much better in Cleveland for Shumpert and his team, which he credited to its superior culture. “There’s really no in-between times or joking around or room for errors,” he said to HoopsHype. “Everyone pretty much has their head on straight and [is focused]. Then, after practice, guys have to go home to their families. When guys come in, it’s to get their work done and there’s a level of seriousness.
“I was definitely ready to win, I was ready for that [kind of atmosphere]. You can do that with a younger team too — I’m not saying you have to have an older team [to be focused and win] — but there was definitely a difference in the culture when I came here.”