By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
As the Knicks shop their “superstar” around the NBA, they are no doubt learning a hard truth: They won’t get what they think they deserve.
A bad trade of Carmelo Anthony could set the franchise back even farther than it is today. When you sit down and think about it, the reasons why aren’t hard to discern.
1. Anthony’s potential trade destinations are limited. There are only a few teams Anthony is expected to be amenable to be traded to: the Cavaliers, Clippers, maybe the Lakers, Celtics or Bulls. Anthony either wants to play in a big city, play with one of his friends, play for a championship contender or all three. Odds are that, even though a team like the Raptors are a legit challenger in the Eastern Conference, Anthony wouldn’t want to go there.
Knowing that Anthony has a very limited list of suitors due to his no-trade clause, these teams will be very hesitant to make a great offer until they have to (if they ever do). This thing is going to drag on until the Feb. 23 trade deadline, unless Knicks president Phil Jackson settles for pennies on the dollar.
The one thing Jackson was wise to do is not ask Anthony to waive his clause until he has a deal in place. The Knicks cannot appear desperate to make a trade, otherwise whatever small amount of leverage they have will completely disappear.
2. The fact that Anthony’s potential destinations are so limited makes moving his salary that much more difficult. He has just over $50 million remaining on his contract this year and next, with a nearly $28 million player option in 2018. (Don’t forget his 15 percent trade kicker.) The Knicks are going to have to get back salary in the neighborhood of the $25 million Anthony was owed this season in any trade.
With the likely landing spots for Anthony being mostly playoff or championship contenders, a team would have to send back big parts of its normal rotation in order to make a deal work. It’s a huge risk for an already very good team to upset its chemistry by adding a piece like Anthony.
The Cavaliers already won a championship with Kevin Love, so why move him for Anthony? The Clippers have made noise in the playoffs with their big three, so why move one for Anthony? They are all fair questions those teams have to ask themselves.
3. Anthony is older, and his best years are behind him. Anthony was never known for his defense, and it has gotten even worse. That can improve with a move to power forward, but the problem remains. How much do these teams worry about him being able to continue to play through myriad injuries and declining physical skills? He has lost foot speed, and is more dependent on his jump shot than ever before. He is no longer a top-10 NBA player, and the league knows it.
All these points underscore the mistake Jackson made by re-signing Anthony a few years ago, and granting him a no-trade clause. He painted the Knicks into a corner that will be hard to escape. Anthony would have been far easier to move last summer when teams had money under the cap they could have absorbed him into. This is far harder to do during the season.
The Clippers’ Blake Griffin can’t come to New York because he and Derrick Rose cannot be on the same team due to NBA salary cap rules. Los Angeles also is not moving Chris Paul or DeAndre Jordan, which leaves a bunch of older role players. The Clippers cannot trade a first-round pick until 2021. The Cavaliers already turned down an offer for Kevin Love, and they can’t trade a first-round pick until 2020. The Celtics won’t trade their pick from the Nets since it will be in the top 10, and they have no stars to send back for Anthony.
So what will the Knicks be looking at? Without Love, the Cavs are a no-go unless the Knicks want to revisit Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith or Channing Frye. The Clippers could send some combination of Jamal Crawford or J.J. Redick and a first-round pick a half-decade from now. The Celtics could send, at best, Avery Bradley and/or Marcus Smart and a protected first-round pick. Those are role players and lower value draft picks for a guy the Knicks married their franchise to. Owner James Dolan would lose his mind.
Apart from getting a star of equal value in return (unlikely), the Knicks should be looking for younger players under decent contracts and a future draft pick that could turn into something else good. Here’s the problem: Spare the Celtics, all the teams the Knicks are talking to don’t have those assets to trade.
In 2000, the Knicks set themselves down the road to ruin by trading Patrick Ewing for a bunch of overpaid, veteran role players who had longer contracts, preventing a rebuild. The Knicks need to not only avoid doing that again, but also get some kind of future asset in return for Anthony. This trade could just as easily short-circuit a rebuild as speed it up.
This would have been far easier to do three years ago when the Knicks could have signed and traded Anthony when he was a free agent and still in his prime. Shockingly, New York did not take the future into consideration and signed Anthony anyway. Since then, this current situation has been inevitable, and now the organization will pay for it as it struggles to find a landing spot for its star. It won’t be easy.
The Knicks would be far better off waiting until the summer when teams have some cap space to use on Anthony. The organization might also consider moving on from Jackson at that point and letting the incoming general manager take the team in the direction he wants. It’s hard to argue the Knicks wouldn’t get more in return if they waited.
But then again, the Knicks have never been a team known for its patience.
For all things Knicks and the world of sports, please follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk