By John Schmeelk
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Is Carmelo Anthony staying put?
When the Knicks hired Scott Perry as general manager last weekend, they put a pause on the Anthony trade negotiations. Some theorized they were going to try to get Melo to be more agreeable to staying put. Others thought they would try to get him to expand his trade list.
In truth, if reports are correct, it looks like the pause happened because there simply wasn’t a good offer on the table.
Things change quickly in the NBA. Less than a month ago and for most of the past year, Phil Jackson was desperate to move Anthony. But due to the veteran forward’s reluctance to waive his no-trade clause the Knicks were forced to keep him. Now Anthony wants to get moved to the Rockets and the Knicks can’t craft a deal to make it happen.
Last week I wrote about how hard it would be for the Knicks to move Anthony due to the big salaries of underachieving players and the future assets that would have to be involved for the trade to make sense for all parties involved. If reports are correct that the Blazers no longer want to help facilitate an Anthony trade to the Rockets, it’s now even harder. The Knicks and Rockets appear to have failed to figure out a way to get anyone to accept Ryan Anderson, a player Houston must move to make the trade work on its end.
The Knicks could easily move Melo if they were willing to take on Anderson’s contract, but they have wisely declined that option. Perhaps if Houston would pony up enough assets in young players and draft picks New York might be swayed, but the Rockets do not have an excess of those, nor has Houston GM Daryl Morey ever been someone to mortgage the future. Finding those assets is nearly as hard as moving Anderson to a different team.
When a report says a deal has been worked out “except they have to figure out a team to take Anderson” that really means the Rockets are nowhere near a deal. It’s almost the equivalent of saying “The Knicks have a deal, but they just need to find someone to take Joakim Noah.” Moving a toxic contract like that is the hard part. Until that is figured out nothing will be close to getting done.
A trade to the Blazers would be much easier for the Knicks to complete, but despite pleas from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum there has been no indication from Anthony that he would accept such a deal. Until that changes, discussing Portland is a waste of time.
This process could stretch all the way into the fall, so the Knicks should be prepared for a world where they can’t figure out a trade that makes sense. Plan B is for Anthony to play at least the start of the season with the Knicks. They can then continue to try to move Anthony until the trade deadline, in the hope of eventually landing future assets.
Anthony’s presence may take some shots away from Kristaps Porzingis, but he is well liked in the locker room and shouldn’t turn into a malcontent. Despite Melo’s current desire for a trade, he cannot decline to play for the Knicks in 2017-18. He can veto trades, but he cannot force one. If he refuses to play he won’t get paid. In other words, he’ll be out there.
The other option for Melo is something Steve Mills said he would not consider doing: a buyout. It was the right public statement for Mills to make, but if Anthony is willing to waive the fifth year of his deal, a buyout isn’t a terrible last resort. The Knicks would get no assets for Anthony, but his cap space would be cleared next summer. If Melo declines in the immediate future, the Knicks can offer a similar option if they can’t move him by the deadline. The Knicks can’t afford to admit this publicly, because the quality of the trade offers would turn very poor. Believe it or not, getting nothing for Anthony is better than a bad return.
Cap space isn’t as valuable as finding more future assets, however, which is why a trade remains the better option. The Knicks are not in win-now mode, making financial flexibility far less valuable. They correctly want to focus on developing young players instead. Adding to the existing group or acquiring future draft picks is the goal of any trade. Buying out Anthony for the full of his contract or using the stretch provision on him should not be a consideration under any circumstance.
Potentially, the worst part of Anthony being on the team next season is that the Knicks might win too many games and hurt their draft position in the 2018 lottery. Getting the best pick possible is important for the Knicks to add to their young and improving core of players. Anthony stripped the Knicks of players on the way in, and the franchise would like to avoid him hurting the future on the way out.
There is still no perfect scenario with Anthony, save for finding a trade that gets the Knicks some future assets while not forcing them to add any big contracts. Currently, at least, that trade doesn’t seem to exist. Perhaps Perry can figure something out. More than likely the Knicks are going to have to try to continue to make the best of a bad situation with their aging franchise player.
- There’s a group of Knicks fans that get upset and don’t believe reporters when they say Phil Jackson hurt Anthony’s trade value. There’s some logic to their arguments that teams are familiar enough with Anthony to know his strengths and weaknesses without Jackson having to say what he dislikes about his game. They forget, however, the power of leverage. What hurt Anthony’s value wasn’t necessarily the revelations about his weaknesses on the court (though they certainly didn’t help), but rather Jackson’s destruction of any leverage the Knicks had. He made it clear he was desperate to move Anthony at any cost, and would even eventually be willing to buy him out (perhaps resulting in Jackson’s own ouster). When another franchise knows a player will soon be available for nothing on the open market, why trade for him? The Knicks would have lost all negotiation power to get even a decent deal. That, more than anything else, hurt the Knicks’ ability to get a good return for Anthony. That’s why Mills and Perry are now so insistent they would be willing to have Melo back on the team, even if they don’t really want him.
- The Knicks are still in the market for a veteran point guard, but the options are dwindling. Trey Burke and Tyler Ennis are youngers guys that are still out there. Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Jennings, and Aaron Brooks are the vets. It’s ugly. By default, Frank Ntilikina might get some very valuable experience because there aren’t any pure point guards on the roster right now. At this point, just rolling out Ntilikina and Ron Baker might be the way to go.
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