Those fiscally irresponsible New York Knicks are playing with infernos.
Not fire; infernos. They're gambling with Carmelo Anthony's future, gradually devising a plan that, if executed properly, demands patience for an ambiguous return. Enforced unsuccessfully, it could revert their roster back to the Stone Age.
What kind of a plan is that? A dangerous one.
Sooner than you think, Anthony can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. And he's going to become a free agent.
“I want to be a free agent,” he told The New York Observer's Rafi Kohan in October.
July seems like forever away, but it's coming. When it does, the Knicks will likely hedge all their bets on 'Melo, using one plan.
One uncontrollably precarious plan.
Cold fall and winter months—shut up, West Coasters—got you down? Fear not; July is coming.
Once it does, Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler previously wrote that the Knicks plan to sell 'Melo on 2015. Then, one year from this July, the Knicks will have cap space and allow 'Melo to handpick his teammates from a modest batch of free agents.
Among those prospective targets is Kevin Love, who will be eligible to hit free agency by declining a player option for 2015-16. Assuming he does, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski says the Knicks will pounce:
Almost assuredly, Love will exercise his early termination option in two years and take a strong look at where the free-agent landscape stands with the T'wolves. He could re-sign a longer, richer deal with Minnesota, or chase big-market platforms in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and perhaps elsewhere.
The Knicks are buried in salary-cap hell through 2014, awaiting Amar'e Stoudemire ($23.4 million), Tyson Chandler ($14.3 million) and Andrea Bargnani ($12 million) to expire. The Knicks are sold on Love in 2015, sources tell Yahoo Sports, and they've already begun devising a strategy to lure him when the time comes.
"Wait until next summer," the Knicks will tell a 30-year-old Anthony this July. "Just you wait. Big things are going to happen. Just you wait, just you wait."
Wait? Like he hasn't waited enough? That word is taboo around New York, for reasons that extend well beyond its inhabitants' impatience.
Anthony has been waiting since 2011, when he first arrived in New York. All the power the Knicks have given him, moves made for him and riches promised him mean nothing if the end goal isn't reached.
Almost three years ago, Anthony was forced to wait. Wait for Amar'e Stoudemire to be healthy, for Tyson Chandler to save the day and for a competent point guard to find his way to New York.
Now, the Knicks plan on asking Anthony to wait again, even though he's been waiting ever since.
Say everything works out for the Knicks—which, if history has taught us anything, it probably won't. But for our purposes here, go with it.
Best-case scenario, Anthony is sold on the idea of 2015 and re-ups with the Knicks on a five-year deal worth roughly $129 million. Then, when 2015 is upon them, the Knicks will swoop in and sign one, if not two, other superstars that summer.
If we're to believe Woj—which we should—the Knicks intend to wine, dine and seduce the hell out of Love. In a world where the Knicks get whomever they want, Love would be enamored by the city of New York, playing next to 'Melo and the prospect of front-row seats to all of James Dolan's band's shows.
With Love on the roster, he becomes the unquestioned starting power forward, forcing 'Melo back to the 3. Hooray! That's what the Knicks have wanted all along. Everyone rejoice and be—wait a minute, 'Melo at the 3? Doesn't everything we know suggest he's better off at the 4?
That it does.
Through his first nine seasons, Anthony played most of his minutes at small forward, posting an average PER of 20.4 and securing roughly seven win shares each year. In his lone season as a power forward, Anthony notched a career-high 24.8 PER while amassing a career-best 9.5 win shares.
Bringing in Love displaces 'Melo from the position where he's experienced the most success. A scoring title, respectable three-point clip, the best season of his career—all had as a power forward.
Recognizing that 'Melo plays best at the 4, the Knicks could pursue other superstars to put around him. Besides Love, there are plenty of big names slated to hit the open market.
Realistically, though, not everyone will reach free agency. Young restricted free agents like Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard won't reach the available ranks; bet on that.
That leaves various unrestricted free agents, the most interesting of whom are Rajon Rondo and Marc Gasol.
Back in July, the New York Post's Marc Berman reported that Anthony had expected the Knicks to make a play for the Boston Celtics' injured point guard. Long in need of a big man who can make an impact on both ends of the floor and stay healthy, Gasol is an interesting candidate for obvious reasons as well.
But by 2015, we're talking about a 30-year-old big man who will have almost a decade's worth of wear and tear on his body and a ball-dominating, jump shot-challenged point guard who injured his ACL a couple years prior.
Awaiting the Knicks and Anthony in 2015 isn't a free-agency class like the one 2014 is expected to be. Not unless players like LeBron James and 'Melo opt into the last year of their deals.
All this extra waiting, then, is essentially so the Knicks can chase: a) a superstar who forces 'Melo to play where he shouldn't; b) a then-aging big man and/or point guard who won't necessarily complement Anthony; or c) an expensive consolation prize.
Reaping the benefits of a perfectly laid-out plan isn't something for which the Knicks are known. If it were, LeBron would have come to New York in 2010, STAT would still be healthy and retaining 'Melo wouldn't be an issue.
Mostly, the Knicks have associated themselves with failure. Grand schemes have gone awry, and they've been forced to adjust, compelled to settle. Shoot, Anthony himself is a glorified consolation prize. Think the Knicks would've been aching for his arrival if they landed LeBron? Probably not.
So what if the current trend continues and the Knicks strike out in 2015? No Love, no Rondo, no Gasol—no other superstar. What then? Anthony will have attached himself to a franchise ready and willing to give him the world, to bring him a championship, but unable to do it.
There is no Plan B right now. Not one worth telling.
Ideally, the Knicks would be able to expedite the rebuilding process by becoming players this summer. Potentially pairing 'Melo with LeBron is something to which Anthony himself would listen.
To do that, however, the Knicks must dump the expiring contract of Stoudemire, which isn't going to happen—not at more than $23.4 million. Even if they did by some miracle move Stoudemire, others would have to go, too. Like Andrea Bargnani ($11.5 million) or Chandler ($14.6 million).
I'm not in the business of calling things impossible, but it's pretty damn unlikely general manager Steve Mills can finagle a series of enormous salary dumps. And if not 2014 and not 2015, that leaves...2016 or later.
"Wait until 2016, 'Melo," sounds far worse than waiting until 2015. Anthony doesn't have that kind of time.
The Knicks don't have that kind of time.
Making Sense of the Confusion
The Knicks are painted into a corner.
Anthony is going to become a free agent, and there's no stopping it. They're restricted financially until 2015, and there's (likely) no changing that. And their current plan—to persevere until 2015—is flimsy at best.
Saddled with so much baggage, the Knicks cannot afford to sell Anthony on the same thing they've been slinging since 2011. Forget 2015—something must be done now.
Thin on assets and devoid of cap space, a savior isn't coming via trade or free agency in 2014. The only way the Knicks can feel comfortable entering this summer is if they spend time selling Anthony on the present.
Chances are, he isn't going anywhere anyway. Ignore his loyalty to the city; there's nearly $130 million to be made by remaining with the Knicks.
Banking on his allegiance and impending payday to do all the talking isn't a sound business plan, though. Neither is pointing to a crop of players you don't have and saying, "Look, we can have all this...maybe."
Win now; focus on now. Sell 'Melo on now. Let 2015 be a perk, not the foundation of why he should stick it out for another two years.
Stop leaving the future of an entire franchise in the hands of players you don't yet have access to and plans you don't yet have the ability to implement.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed and are accurate as of Nov. 11, 2013.