- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- In so many ways Sunday, Iman Shumpert was a living, breathing advertisement for expendable parts. He practically wore a "trade me" sign on his back while spending 21 minutes giving his New York Knicks next to nothing against a Western Conference opponent that demanded so much more.
Two lousy points, one lousy rebound and no lousy assists didn't add up on a day when Carmelo Anthony needed a helping hand to beat a Los Angeles Clippers team willing to give him his 42 points. The Knicks put two men in double figures (Raymond Felton had 20) while the Clippers spread the wealth among four and watched as Chris Paul, the star Shumpert was asked to turn into Cliff Paul, did whatever he damn well pleased.
"Just another matchup," Shumpert said after Paul was done collecting 25 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals.
The kid's got a lot to learn about matchups, about life, about returning from a devastating knee injury -- even about the NBA's dress code. At his locker, just as he was about to turn and face the gathering microphones and cameras, a Knicks official advised Shumpert to remove his ski cap and avoid the violation and fine it might inspire.
Shumpert did as he was told, combed his flattened Kid 'n Play haircut up toward the ceiling and turned to make a concession to the obvious.
"It's definitely frustrating to have to jump back in the middle of the season," he said. "In your mind, you don't think it's going to be hard at all. When your mind and your body's in two different places, it's a little hard."
Or as hard as it looked during the Clippers' 102-88 victory in the Garden, where Melomania took a hit from a team playing its seventh consecutive game a long way from home, a team that had lost eight of its past 11 -- most of them without the hobbled Paul -- before looking fresher for the early East Coast start than the Knicks did.
The Clippers' defense might've caused a Knick or three to long for the 3-point accuracy of Phoenix's Jared Dudley -- the 40-percenter from long range identified in a Yahoo! Sports report as the one the Suns have dangled in talks with Jim Dolan's less-than-terribly-interested front-office guys, with a possible draft-pick sweetener tossed in.
Of course the Knicks would be positively mad to trade the 22-year-old Shumpert, who offers four things -- youth, athleticism, a talent for defense and a reasonable wage -- they keep in short supply. Dudley is a nice player on a bad team, and this is what smart basketball minds often say about bad teams:
Somebody has to score the points for them.
Only, the argument against moving Shumpert for a non-difference-maker who might help a bit on the side of the ball (offense) where the Knicks generally don't need the help, is more about Shumpert than it is Jared Dudley, or another shooter like him.
In the long run, said a source familiar with the thinking of Knicks management, "putting Dudley in the same sentence with Shumpert is insulting to Shumpert. You see it in every sport, where teams drag in New York to increase the value of a player they want to move.
"Once he gets back and healthy, Shumpert is going to be a real player in this league for a long time. Young players, if you look around the league, do eventually grow up. The Knicks usually don't have the patience to develop anyone, but Shumpert's one guy they should develop."
The Knicks put 10 bodies on the floor Sunday, and Shumpert was the only one who would count as homegrown. He was a steal as the 17th pick of the 2011 draft, at least until he blew out his knee in the first-round playoff series against Miami, costing the Knicks any shot of staging an upset for the ages.
Now he's a shadow of his rookie self, as any sophomore returning from a shredded ACL and meniscus in his left knee is likely to be. Shumpert is a liability on offense and a defender who's been stripped of his bounce -- if not his will -- making him a temporary bad fit for the oldest team in the league, a team locked in win-now mode.
But Shumpert should be a much better and stronger player by the start of the postseason, where he'll cover the opponents' most dangerous perimeter star. If the Knicks can't guard backcourt quickness and the high pick-and-roll with a recovering Shumpert, how, exactly, are they supposed to stop anyone without him?
"Shump, he ain't going anywhere," Anthony said in the locker room. "He ain't got to worry about that. The Knicks shouldn't even be in trade talks."
On his way to the Garden exits, Anthony expanded on his comments to ESPNNewYork.com.
"He's a big key," he said of Shumpert. "We need him. We need to get him back to 100 percent. He's working, and the minutes he's been playing have been very productive for us on the defensive end.
"We don't need to make no moves. No, we're good."
Asked if the current roster is good enough to win it all, Anthony said through a smile, "What are we going to go get? I don't know what we're going to go get for him."
No, he certainly doesn't think Dudley represents a trade worth making.
"He's still a rookie," Mike Woodson said, "that's trying to figure out this league, and I like him from a defensive standpoint."
Woodson didn't sound like a coach anxious to send the former Georgia Tech star packing, though he acknowledged that one Dolan phone call could change everything. If the owner decides he wants to do the deal, Woodson said, "you do the deal."
The coach told a cute story about his daughter, a Georgia Tech volleyball player, calling him and saying, "Daddy, you can't trade him." Before the Clippers game, Woodson assured reporters, "Iman's going to be right here with me."
But then the Knicks were outrebounded, outshot, outpassed, out-everythinged by the Clippers, whose reserves scored 33 more points than their counterparts. Through it all, Shumpert looked like one of the worst players on the floor.
"It's a little hard," he said of the early hours of his comeback, "but I'm just going to keep working. I'm getting adjusted to it."
Woodson told his guard to ignore the trade talk, to understand that pre-deadline discussions have long been a part of NBA life. "I don't really care," Shumpert said. "I've just got to play ball. I can't control it, anyway ... Sooner or later, I'll get back to where I was and I'll get better."
The Knicks say they had their financial reasons to cut loose another 20-something guard with promise, Jeremy Lin. There are no financial reasons here. Shumpert is scheduled to make $1.79 million next season before the Knicks decide on a $2.76 million team option after that. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Dudley has nearly $13 million coming his way through 2016.
So keeping Shumpert is about dollars and common sense. Sooner rather than later, the kid is going to be all right.
11hMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo
4dIan O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer