By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks are in rebuilding mode.
That’s a fact, whether Carmelo Anthony is a long-term part of the franchise or not.
Fans seem to have fallen into the trap of believing that Anthony’s potential departure is robbing the Knicks of something over the next couple of years. The fact of the matter is that even with Melo, the Knicks are — at best — a middling team next year.
There’s no chance of a championship. There are no quick fixes here. Phil Jackson wants to build this team in his image, and it will take some time.
Year two is another story. With Anthony and maybe the addition of another superstar, the Knicks should be able to be players in what could still be a weak Eastern Conference. But even the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took a full season to gel in Miami. To think the Knicks will be championship-ready in 2015 is asking a lot. The team will be better, but still building.
Once 2016 arrives, the Knicks will have one, two, maybe three players left on their roster from the 2013-2014 season: Tim Hardaway Jr., J.R. Smith (if he exercises his player option) and perhaps Iman Shumpert (if the Knicks choose to re-sign him next offseason).
The Knicks also have a rookie coach that is going to need at least a year, likely more, to learn on the job what it takes to be a championship-caliber coach. It took Doc Rivers years. Why wouldn’t it be the same for Derek Fisher? The Knicks’ best window to win a title will be in years three, four and five of this process.
Do you know what that is called? A rebuild. The entire roster is going to turn over in a couple years. It’s just a matter of whether Anthony is going to be part of it or not. There’s a way forward either way.
The way without him might even be better.
What few people have spoke about during Anthony’s foray into free agency? His age. He isn’t 27 anymore. He’s 30, with a ton of basketball under his belt. He ended the last two seasons with shoulder injuries. How long will he be in his prime? Most guys that play primarily on the perimeter begin declining between the ages of 32 and 34. Those would be the final three years of a potential five-year contract he signs with the Knicks, their best window to win a title. It will also be the years he makes the most money, as much as almost $30 million in year five.
In his prime, while making a far lower percentage of his team’s salary cap, Anthony has only gotten out of the first round once. Why would the Knicks think they can do better with a declining Anthony, who would be making even more money than he was before, which will limit the supporting cast Jackson can put around him? If done perfectly, the Knicks could still compete for a title. But it will exceedingly difficult.
The players potentially available in 2015 aren’t great fits with Anthony either, who’s best as a stretch four. Kevin Love will likely be dealt and signed long-term before then. LaMarcus Aldridge has stated he wants to re-sign with Portland and would move Anthony to the three. Rajon Rondo is not a good fit for the triangle. Arron Afflalo, Marc Gasol and a restricted Klay Thompson would be the best fits, and none of those would likely be good enough to put the Knicks over the top. With few assets to trade, the Knicks would be reliant on the free-agent market to get a player.
If Anthony decides he wants to go to Chicago, the Knicks could play serious hard ball with the Bulls. This is no typical sign-and-trade, since the Bulls would not be able to acquire Anthony by signing him outright. (I’m assuming Anthony would be unwilling to take a serious pay cut, and that Chicago wouldn’t be able to free up space on their own.) With the Bulls’ past unwillingness to spend into serious luxury tax territory, Carlos Boozer would have to come to the Knicks. Jackson would eventually agree to take Boozer, but only if the Knicks get back Jimmy Butler, the first-round pick the Bulls own that came from the Kings, and perhaps even another future pick or Nikola Mirotic. The Knicks could also force the Bulls to take Smith for Mike Dunleavy.
Obviously, the Knicks wouldn’t get all those assets back, but a fair deal could be reached.
The Knicks would be terrible in 2015, putting their draft pick in the top five. They could get the Kings’ pick in 2015 or 2016 if it is outside the top 10. They would then have nearly their full cap space to build the team as Jackson sees fit. There wouldn’t be a need to fit pieces around Melo. Jackson would have complete freedom to bring in the best players possible. The Knicks would also have more assets to make trades to acquire players in nontraditional ways, which wouldn’t be as easy to do if Anthony re-signs for max money.
Rebuilding a team is all about compiling assets, and a sign-and-trade with the Bulls would do just that. Much like if Anthony stayed, the Knicks could compete in the East in 2015, and try to make a title run in 2016. The rebuild would be no longer without Anthony than with him, spare having to endure a terrible 2014-15 season. But at the very least, that would turn into a high lottery pick.
I like the Knicks’ chances of winning a title between 2015 and 2018 in the sign-and-trade scenario more than if Anthony stays for the max.
This year, it would actually be better for the Knicks if the superstar decides not to choose them. Quite the change from past years, and for once it could work to New York’s advantage.
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