Knicks, Rockets Need A Third -- And Possibly A Fourth -- Team To Pull Off Complicated Deal

By John Schmeelk
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Carmelo Anthony is still a Knick. On Wednesday, the Daily News reported that a trade was on “the 2-yard line.” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Knicks and Rockets had recruited a third team to join their trade but now they needed to find a fourth to absorb a contract from the third team.

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In the end, this is a math problem. Everyone has to get something of value in a trade like this to motivate all the partners involved. There have to be enough assets to go around. There also has to be an exorbitant amount of salary moving from team to team since Anthony has such as high salary, not to mention the trade kicker he might not choose to waive.

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The details have been sparse, so we’ll use a theoretical trade to show why this thing is so hard to put together. The Rockets want Anthony. Anthony makes $24.5 million, which could jump to near $30 million if he chooses to take his full trade kicker. Anthony could waive it to help facilitate a trade.

In order to get Anthony, the Rockets would have to send out salary within 25 percent of Anthony’s salary number. For example, if Anthony waives his trade kicker, the Rockets would have to send out salary somewhere between $18 million and $30 million. If Anthony doesn’t waive the kicker, the money would have to be between $23 million and $37 million.

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Power forward Ryan Anderson is the likeliest player departing the Rockets. He and Anthony would play the same role in the Rockets’ offense and Anderson makes $19.5 million, a salary match if Anthony waives his trade kicker. A combination of small forward Trevor Ariza ($7.4 million on his expiring deal) and shooting guard Eric Gordon ($13.5 million) would work from a financial perspective as well, but the Rockets would likely want to hold onto both those players. Anderson is the guy.

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The problem with Anderson is that he has three years and $61 million left on his contract. The Knicks don’t want him. He is a toxic asset. No one wants him at that number, so the Rockets will have to bribe someone to take him. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they already dealt away their 2018 first-round pick. If they waive the protections (top three protected) on that pick, the next year they can trade a pick in is 2020. Other than center Clint Capela, who they do not want to move, the Rockets don’t have any assets to attract teams.

Enter a team like the Portland Trail Blazers, who are well into luxury-tax territory ($134 million payroll) and would love to dump two of their contracts in exchange for taking one back in Anderson. Their main goal would be reducing their salary commitments long term. (This is just a theoretical trade to show why it is so hard to get something done. I have no idea if the Blazers are even involved in talks.)

Since the Knicks still haven’t received any compensation for moving Anthony, they would need to get something from the Trail Blazers. Small forward Moe Harkless would be interesting to the Knicks despite the three years and $30 million remaining on his contract. He is only 24 years old, which fits into the Knicks’ youth movement, and plays the same position as Anthony.

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Unfortunately, the Knicks would still have to assume at least another $10 million in salary to make the trade work. They would love to take an expiring contract in Ed Davis and someone like Noah Vonleh or Al-Farouq Aminu, but Portland won’t agree to it since that move would not help their future luxury tax issues. The Blazers would have to trade one of their other big-salary players for the trade to make sense for them:

• Meyers Leonard (25-year-old center): three years, $31 million remaining
• Allen Crabbe (25-year-old guard): three years, $56 million remaining
• Evan Turner (28-year-old forward): three years, $53 million remaining

The Knicks would likely be willing to take one long-term deal in Harkless, but taking any of the above contracts (if reports are correct) seems to be a nonstarter. The Knicks are right to resist that.

That’s why a fourth team is necessary in the trade. Someone needs to take one of the terrible Blazers contracts to make the trade sensible for them. But that’s not the only problem. Whoever the fourth team is, let’s say the Nets with their cap space, will need compensation to take on a big contract. The Rockets don’t have a pick before 2020 to trade, and the Knicks have no interest in moving a draft pick. Where is that extra asset coming from?

There’s also a matter of the Knicks, who would have to get another contract back for Anthony to make the trade work financially. They would also want another asset in the form of a young player or a draft pick to make the Anthony trade worthwhile. Where is that additional asset coming from? Portland can’t supply both of them.

See the problem? Having to build in so much salary to the trade to make it work, according to league rules, requires a lot of assets (picks and young players) to motivate teams to take the type of bad contracts that would have to be involved. Putting together such an intricate trade is extremely difficult and may prove to be impossible.

The Knicks will be tempted to reduce their demands and settle for no return, or take back some big contracts. They have to resist that impulse at all costs. A bad Anthony trade with the wrong return (players with big, long contracts) could further hurt the Knicks’ future path. They would be better off getting virtually nothing at all and just adding expiring contracts than to have to take back someone like Turner.

It feels like the Melo drama is close to coming to an end, but there are still a number of obstacles standing in the way. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s creativeness will help to put something together, and Knicks GM Steve Mills has to be stubborn in his demands. Then and only then might a Anthony trade that helps the Knicks actually happen.

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For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk