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Inside the One Trade the Knicks and Clippers Could Discuss: 'Melo for Griffin

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Inside the One Trade the Knicks and Clippers Could Discuss: 'Melo for Griffin
USA Today

When All-Star Blake Griffin took the floor at the Barclays Center on Thursday night, fans who have been in awe of his thunderous, above-the-rim dunks through the years had to be thinking, "Come to New York! We need you!"

While the prospects of that happening anytime soon are remote, there is one trade—just one trade—that could be possible. But it wouldn't involve the Nets. Make that their nemesis across the East River: the Knicks.

Why would that be the case?

Because of another star power forward: none other than Carmelo Anthony, who would be sent to the Los Angeles Clippers in that scenario.

With the Knicks stinking, a big question that's been brought up lately is this: Would Anthony demand a trade or sign elsewhere next summer? The Knicks are 6-16 with mounting injuries (now Raymond Felton is out two-to-three weeks with a strained left hamstring), and Anthony knows the team has a massive salary-cap crunch until the summer of 2015, when he'll be 31 years old.

He's already planning to opt out of his contract a year early next summer, and the Knicks risk losing him for nothing—even though many insiders predict he's staying put.

While Anthony is doing a lot of what he can to keep the Knicks competitive, the light at the end of the team's tunnel is blurry. So would he really want to wait until 2015, when the Knicks will finally have major financial flexibility and could attract All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving or Rajon Rondo (whom Anthony has reportedly already been recruiting)?

Also, consider this: The Knicks are reportedly targeting Kevin Love for 2015, so how do you think that makes Anthony feel when he needs a star-point-guard running mate?

The overall cloudy Knicks picture suggests that Anthony might force his hand to make the one and only trade that's best for him this season and beyond: going to the Clippers. In that scenario, a compelling blockbuster deal that fits money-wise would be Anthony and shooting guard Iman Shumpert for Griffin, small forward Jared Dudley and center Ryan Hollins. A deal-breaker could be a future first-round pick to the Knicks.

The Clippers' starting lineup could be:

Potential Clippers starters PPG RPG APG SPG BPG
Chris Paul, PG 18.9 4.7 11.4 2.3 0.1
Iman Shumpert, SG 6.9 4.3 2.0 1.4 0.2
Carmelo Anthony, SF 25.6 9.6 2.8 1.1 0.6
Stephen Jackson, SF 1.5 1.5 0.5 1.0 0.0
DeAndre Jordan, C 9.6 12.9 0.8 1.1 2.0

2013-14 stats via Basketball-Reference.com

"Now, the Clippers are a team," a source close to the Clippers said of that proposition. "Right now, they're not good enough with the Heat or the Pacers. Blake is not good enough."

The Knicks' first five, meanwhile, could be: 

Potential Knicks starters PPG RPG APG SPG BPG
Raymond Felton, PG 10.3 2.4 5.2 0.9 0.6
J.R. Smith, SG 11.1 4.3 2.0 1.0 0.1
Jared Dudley, SF 8.0 1.8 1.5 0.6 0.1
Blake Griffin, PF 20.3 10.5 3.0 1.0 0.7
Tyson Chandler, C 7.3 9.0 1.3 1.0 2.5

2013-14 stats via Basketball-Reference.com

Dudley and Hollins are position needs for the Knicks. By giving away three players, the Clippers could also sign Lamar Odom—and perhaps he could eventually start at power forward with Anthony at the 3.

It's likely the only trade that Anthony would demand, and it might be the only trade that would make Clippers owner Donald Sterling reassess his position that, according to a second source close to the Clippers, he "would never sign off on a trade of Blake."

Would Knicks owner James Dolan agree to the trade? Possibly. Because Dolan is more of a businessman than basketball mind, he would be enticed by Griffin, who is younger than Anthony and is a ticket-sales—and marketing and social-media—draw for his SportsCenter-worthy dunking exploits and inside power game.

Defense and carrying a team down the stretch are not his strong suits, though. Anthony is better in both areas, and that's where Dolan could cut the lifeline on a potential trade based on his attempt to win a championship this season—his preseason sentiment—and re-sign 'Melo next summer.

Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

Another potential problem with the trade is Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which is Madison Square Garden's business consultant. Because it is very much involved in the team's operation and Anthony is repped by CAA, his departure would seem impossible.

In fact, this past summer, the Knicks originally wanted to trade for Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, but "Andrea Bargnani was pushed onto the Knicks because of CAA," according to a source close to the Knicks.

But even with CAA's tight and discombobulated foothold on the organization, another source close to the team said it should pull the trade off "in a heartbeat," because the Knicks "aren't going anywhere until 2015"—and at least with Griffin, they have a young star they can build around through 2017, which is when his contract expires. The source said the Knicks should go into rebuilding mode without Anthony, who could simply leave the Knicks in the dust. Why not prepare now?

In the short term, the trade would benefit the Clippers, but the Knicks could shop around Tyson Chandler's expiring contract next season for younger big-man talent. Then they would have enough cap space in 2015 to lure in an elite point guard, such as Irving or Rondo, and build around that star-studded inside-out punch with Griffin.

The Knicks, and everyone else for that matter, would also keep in mind that a year after that, Kevin Durant becomes a free agent. With Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports now representing the NBA's leading scorer, the agency would dream about him landing in a big market like New York.

Besides the business aspects, those who know Paul and Anthony say they are meant to eventually play together—and with the Knicks 10 games under .500 and the Clippers still a big step away from competing against the Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, it feels like an opportune time to execute the blockbuster trade.

Paul and Anthony have been close for a long time, especially through their experiences with Jordan Brand, two Olympics (2008 and 2012) and spending time together in Los Angeles, where 'Melo resides in the offseason. Paul even attended Anthony's wedding in 2010, reportedly saying, "We'll form our own Big Three," referring to Amar'e Stoudemire as well.

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

According to a source close to the Knicks, "Playing together has been their plan from the beginning." Another source familiar with the situation also noted that their basketball partnership has been in the works for a while, and that's it's the "perfect timing" to make it happen with the Knicks struggling and the Clippers needing a fuse to be lit.

"'Melo needs a good organization and a good leader on the court," the source close to the Clippers said. "Chris Paul is Carmelo at a different position. They both haven't won a championship. They've come from bad organizations before. The Clippers are still the Clippers organization, but they've done a better job, hiring Doc (Rivers) and bringing in some good pieces. The reality is that Chris and 'Melo might be good for one another."

That would be especially true in pick-and-pop situations, as Anthony is arguably the best mid-range shooter in the game, an area where Griffin is still developing. And Anthony can post up, which reflects his higher degree of versatility than Griffin as a power forward. Anthony can also hold his own in the post against opposing 4's.

There are also benefits to playing with Paul that Anthony doesn't reap in New York. First off, he wouldn't have to grind as much with the ball in isolation. With Paul's unique ability to draw a double-team as a point guard, his quickness, creative ball-handling and uncanny ability to change direction to get into the paint consistently and, of course, his passing skills, Anthony would be the recipient of many catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Not to mention, with DeAndre Jordan drawing the defense in off pick-and-rolls, the spacing around Anthony could open up more. Remember how good he was in the 2012 Olympics, shooting quickly and efficiently off feeds from Paul? Imagine that more in L.A. than N.Y.

There is an another interesting reason why Sterling might feel compelled to trade Griffin for Anthony: the current negotiations the owner is involved in to re-up the Clippers' exclusive television contract with FOX Sports Prime Ticket (FSPT), which was initially signed in 2009. According to the source close to the Clippers, the ongoing discussions motivated Sterling to sign Paul to a max deal this past summer and pay new coach Rivers $21 million over three years.

"(Sterling) liked Vinny Del Negro. He was cheap and he allowed him to win," the source said. "The upcoming TV deal convinced him otherwise."

The source close to the Clippers said Sterling might see Anthony as a major financial kicker to get the FOX renewal done and increase his franchise's value, which is average for an NBA team, approaching $500 million, according to Forbes—but it's growing. Sterling would have Anthony until at least 2015, when his current contract expires. As a businessman, Sterling is trying to go toe-to-toe with the Lakers, who have an exclusive deal with Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and a finalization with FSPT would spark a financial jump.

"The word was in L.A. that Chris Paul wasn't worth that max deal, and that's what people were saying in L.A. that know Chris Paul's injury history and know his value," the source close to the Clippers said. "They said the reason they did it was to lock in that star power and to lure other talent so that they could get the (latest) FOX deal done. That's the whole reason they gave Chris Paul that extension and why they brought Doc Rivers over.

"If they bring in Carmelo, then they could be printing money like the Lakers. Carmelo brings value to the Clippers from the standpoint of them going into negotiations with FOX. Sterling wants to somewhat duplicate what the Lakers did with TWC."

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

On the basketball front, if Sterling wants Anthony, he likely won't have to worry about the Lakers, who have been considered a potential destination for 'Melo. Because of Kobe Bryant's new two-year, $48.5 million extension, the Lakers simply won't have a lot of money to build a championship-caliber roster around him and Anthony. They'll be stuck with mostly veteran's minimum contracts to offer.

While one source close to the Knicks said Dolan "wouldn't trade 'Melo for the 1998 version of Michael Jordan," and two others believe it's unlikely to happen, it mostly comes down to Anthony's needs—and there's still a little more than two months until the trade deadline. A lot can happen within that time frame, both on and off the court.

The bottom line is this: Anthony wants to play in the big market of New York or Los Angeles, but the Knicks are losing steam, and the Lakers don't have the financial assets to pay him next summer. The Clippers are simply better positioned to compete in the West in the next couple of years, and Anthony has been itching to play with Paul, who represents the star sidekick he's never had.

So Stoudemire, it was nice knowing you?

"If 'Melo demands it, and James Dolan has a chance to get Blake Griffin or another superstar that makes sense, he may pull the trigger," a source close to the Knicks said.

 

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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