By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks did a lot of work this offseason.
They added four veteran free agents that should be mainstays in their rotation. There are eight players on their summer league roster that could be options to join the roster at some point this season. The team drafted two players in the first round, a five-year collegiate point guard that should be able to help right away in Jerian Grant, and a 19-year-old big man with unlimited upside in Kristaps Porzingis.
The team will improve on their franchise worst 17-65 record from last season. If everything goes right, they could be in the conversation for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. If Porzingis develops in three years, the Knicks could have another star that will allow them to compete for more than just a playoff spot.
But what happens this upcoming season, and for the next three after that is still completely dependent on Carmelo Anthony.
No one besides Melo really knows how he feels about the Knicks’ moves this offseason. My guess it is somewhere between the angry player that Stephen A. Smith and others reported felt hoodwinked by Phil Jackson and the guy who put on Instagram that Porzingis was a steal.
The bottom line is simple: Last year Anthony signed a five-year, near-max deal that will keep him in New York for the rest of his highly productive NBA years. Unless, of course, Melo changes his mind.
Anthony has said many times that it is his goal to win an NBA championship. That’s definitely not going to happen this season or next. The Knicks might not even make the playoffs during that time. If Porzingis develops and the Knicks add a couple of great free agents the next two offseasons when the cap blows up, they might have a chance in 2017-18. At that point , Melo will be 33 and have two years left on his contract. How good of a player he will be over the final two years of his contract is something that’s debatable but no one knows for sure. What can’t be debated is that Anthony is coming off serious knee surgery and his window for remaining a superstar and being good enough to be the best player on a title team is closing.
The Knicks are trying to build a team responsibly, and there is not going to be a quick fix walking through the door. Is Anthony going to be willing to go through a painful rebuilding process as his physical talent and scoring prowess slowly erodes away due to age? Is he going to be okay with winning 70-80 games over the next two seasons and fighting tooth and nail for the right to get swept by the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs?
There’s a great chance that when everyone flips their calendars to 2016 in six months, the Knicks will be multiple games under .500. There might not be another 15-point scorer on the roster besides Anthony. He might be carrying the entire offensive load while Porzingis is still getting his legs, and Arron Afflalo tries to rebound from a bad season.
Anthony controls his own destiny. He has a no-trade clause and will be a Knick for as long as he wants to be. The moment he wants out, all he will need to do is tell the team he is willing to be traded. It will be in the team’s best interest to wait until he is healthy coming off knee surgery, and then acquiesce to his request. A logical time for this to happen is sometime in 2016 before the All-Star break, assuming Anthony looks strong and healthy to start the season.
It is very likely that the Knicks won’t be ready to contend for a title again until after Anthony is in serious decline or his contract expires. It is in both Anthony’s and the team’s best interest to make this move sooner rather than later so the Knicks can maximize what they get back in a trade, and and so the perennial All-Star doesn’t waste any more of his prime years playing for a team that can’t realistically contend for a title.
With the salary cap going up the next couple seasons, Anthony’s contract, though still prohibitive, is not an albatross. With a couple prime years left, the Knicks could still get serious value for him. They would require a 2016 first-round pick, which they are lacking, and then other young players on rookie contracts — salary to make the trade doable — and lots and lots of future draft picks. That trade, along with Porzingis and Grant, would be the foundation of their rebuilding process.
The trade would place Anthony on a potential contender, and the Knicks would get future pieces that could mature along with Porzingis, along with picks to further secure the future, and clear off the roster all significant contracts for the next two offseasons when countless NBA players will be free agents and the cap increases exponentially. The next two seasons would be really rough, but it would go a long way toward setting up the Knicks as a team that could compete for a decade starting in 2017, provided they make the right decisions with their cap space and draft picks. That’s a big if.
Two teams that could be early candidates as potential Melo landing spots are Dallas, which just got spurned by DeAndre Jordan but still has Dirk Nowitzki, and Portland, which lost its star in LaMarcus Aldridge but still has Damian Lillard. Both those teams, though in the Western Conference, have more talent than the Knicks. Their assets might not interest the Knicks, but they both have stars that Anthony could play with right away.
When push comes to shove, maybe Anthony will decide it is more important for him to fulfill his commitment to the Knicks than win on a significant level. If that’s the case he could be here another four years. In my opinion, his request to be traded is a matter of when, not if. He won’t be able to take all the losing. It is inevitable. Once he proves he is healthy, the sooner it happens, the better for both the Knicks and Anthony. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, but it is going to. Some things just weren’t meant to work, and it looks like the Anthony-Knicks marriage might fall into the category.
— The NBA needs to do a better job setting its cap number earlier. It was just announced Thursday it is a couple million more than expected, which means the Knicks have an extra $3 million or so to spend. Getting one player for $3 million doesn’t mean a whole lot, but they could have combined that money with the five million they paid Derrick Williams and gotten a much better player for $8 million. Throw in Kyle O’Quinn’s money and they could have afforded a $12 million player in addition to Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez.
— DeAndre Jordan reneging on his deal with the Mavs was fine under the letter of the law, but it showed a severe lack of ethics on Jordan’s part. A man is only as good as his word, DeAndre, remember that.
— Smart move by the Knicks bringing back Lance Thomas. He defends, acts like a pro, plays a position of need at small forward and is a good locker room guy. He is the perfect filler at the end of roster.
Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk