By John Schmeelk
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The great saga is over. Carmelo Anthony is no longer a Knick. The return could have been a lot worse. It also could have been better. For a Knicks franchise in rebuilding mode that was desperate to move on from Anthony and was hindered by his no-trade clause, it’s a modest win.
Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and the Bulls’ 2018 second-round pick was all the Oklahoma City Thunder had to relinquish to get Anthony. The Knicks get a failed lottery pick in McDermott, a one-dimensional big man who can score in Kanter and what should be a draft pick that lands between the 31st and 35th selections next year.
Is it pennies on the dollar? No, but it may be nickels or dimes on the dollar. The Thunder made their team significantly better, and the Knicks will surely win fewer games than they would have with Anthony. Ideally, New York would have received a young, controllable player on a rookie deal and a mid- to late first-round pick as well as gotten cap relief for Anthony. If Kanter exercises his 2018-19 option, the Knicks might get none of the three.
In the end, that is the great disappointment. The Knicks should have gotten at least a first-round pick or a young, controllable player, but they failed on both counts. Kanter makes $20.57 million this year and could opt in for $18.6 million next year. His contract is identical to Antony in terms of length (depending if he opts out), while McDermott is in the final year of his rookie contract. Any cap relief could be minimal. The draft pick the Knicks received is in the second round where the chance of finding a real player is small.
The return is disappointing. The assets they get back have a decent chance of making nearly no positive long-term impact if Kanter and McDermott leave in free agency next summer and the draft pick doesn’t work out. It does little to propel the Knicks’ rebuilding effort, unless they can turn around and trade Kanter for a draft pick or young player who is a better fit with the Knicks roster — they have too many offensive-oriented big men. It doesn’t hinder the Knicks’ rebuilding effort, either, which could have happened if they had taken back Ryan Anderson contract in an Anthony deal with Houston.
There were reports late last week that Anthony might eventually agree to be traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, but there is no way to be sure that he would have. The Knicks might have been able to get Mo Harkless, Meyers Leonard and a first-round pick from Portland for Anthony, but, again, that is speculative. To maximize their return, the Knicks could have been even more patient (stubborn?) with Anthony, and tried to force his hand into approving a trade to Portland.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski most recently reported that Anthony ultimately did not want to go to the Pacific Northwest. The other reported deals on the table for Anthony were either Anderson, or a combination of Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye had they struck a deal with the Cavaliers. The one they took was better.
The Knicks decided it was more important that they start fresh this season. There’s a legitimate possibility Anthony’s mere presence might have hindered the Knicks’ efforts to move into the future with their young core. Teams have to be cognizant of the affect circumstances like theAnthony saga can have on a young roster.
It could be argued that the team could have afforded to let Anthony come to camp and even play a couple of months without any real, long-term negative impact on the rebuilding effort. The argument is that it would be worth the risk for potentially getting better future assets in return for Anthony. The Knicks thought differently, and even though there is a drawback, it’s an understandable position.
The Knicks gave up a lot when they acquired Anthony in the winter of 2011. The last chance the Knicks had to get something real in return was when he hit free agency in the summer of 2014. He was only one year removed from leading the Knicks to 54 wins and getting them to the second round of the playoffs. He was just 30 years old, and there were few indications he was declining. Teams like the Rockets or Bulls might have surrendered real assets to acquire his rights. Once then-team president Phil Jackson and the Knicks re-signed him to his mega contract and gave him a no-trade clause, the chances of getting anything close to what they gave up for him became close to zero. The die was cast.
That decision forced the Knicks to trade him with a virtual hand tied behind their backs. Other than the no-trade clause, Anthony has also aged, dealt with injuries and shown serious regression with his play. His defense has continued to deteriorate. His athleticism doesn’t allow him to get to the basket and finish with consistency anymore. He is primarily a catch-and-shoot and mid-range player who defends poorly.
Upset Knicks fans have to understand that Anthony is no longer seen as a superstar around the league. Combine that fact with his contract and no-trade clause, and the Knicks were never going to get close to equal value in return. Knicks fans might not like it, but those were the facts on the ground that the front office had to deal with.
That’s why this trade wasn’t a disaster. It wasn’t close to a coup, either.
The Knicks now move forward without Anthony and with a young team that has two goals: develop its youngsters and get as good of a draft pick as possible next year.
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