It's come to this.
Losing and dysfunction, commixed with more losing and dysfunction, has carried the New York Knicks somewhere they aren't supposed to be: under .500, lacking answers, with no choice but to explore trading Carmelo Anthony.
Diction is important here, especially for those currently white-hot with rage preparing to seek virtual revenge.
Saying the Knicks must "explore" trading Anthony is much, much different from stating they "will" or "must" actually deal him. Just as you have to load the barrel of a gun before pulling the trigger or pour expired, septic-tasting salad dressing into your Super Soaker before water wars, the Knicks must explore every option available to them before taking action.
One of those options includes trading Anthony. It has to.
With the Knicks far removed from "temporarily adrift" and fast approaching "definitively hopeless," they have no choice.
Extracting Value Out of Tragedy
Let's start with the obvious: Losing Anthony for nothing this summer would be tragic.
Is he worth the five-year, $129-million contract that would expire when he turns 35 that New York will give him? No. Will he lead the Knicks to a championship on his own? Of course not. But retaining him is necessary.
Call Anthony an "essential evil" or vital cornerstone—call him whatever you want. The Knicks didn't mulct their roster of assets and future flexibility to lose Anthony less than four years later.
Especially for nothing.
Allowing Anthony to reach free agency only to watch him walk for nothing would be devastating. No immediate cap space or financial plasticity will be gained. Not for a team that would still have more than $65 million on the books even without him.
If Anthony bolts, he leaves a trail of defunct dreams and maimed expectations in his wake. The Knicks will have entered a transition period without a star to build around or stable of draft picks to indulge in.
The general feeling among NBA players and coaches is that Anthony will walk, even if it means leaving $30 million on the table. LeBron James took less money to secure a championship future in Miami and Anthony has already been quoted this season as saying that James was “smart” to make such a move.
Although the Knicks can offer him $30-plus million more than any other team, money isn't everything. Not to ringless superstars approaching 30 who are already lambasted for postseason failures.
Regardless of circumstance, losing Anthony isn't ideal. His departure would mark another failed plan, another flawed scheme.
But losing him for something trounces losing him for nothing.
Life after Anthony becomes easier to cope with if the Knicks initiate it.
Should Anthony leave this summer, his decision will come as a surprise to the Knicks, who will have kept him because they expected him to re-sign. And just like that, they're forced to usher in a new era without a plan.
Trading Anthony gives them a plan.
Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan called this a "controlled demolition," writing:
Flawed superstar though he may be, Carmelo Anthony undoubtedly remains an enticing piece—particularly for teams looking to take the next step or make a big splash. If the losses and the rancor rise and the Knicks decide to blow it up completely, there are handful of trade scenarios that could help them cut ties today, while setting them up for a brighter future.
What those trade scenarios are, we don't know. But we know Anthony is a superstar in his prime and, therefore, is a desirable asset for any team looking to bolster championship odds or in need of someone to expedite their rebuild.
Possibilities abound here, where the Knicks can attempt to net any number of different packages in exchange for their disgruntled star and potential flight risk.
First thing that comes to mind is draft picks. The Knicks don't have any first-round selections in the upcoming draft, which figures to boast the deepest talent pool since 2003. Bilking a fringe-lottery team of an imminent first-rounder would be huge for any future the Knicks hope to have after Anthony.
Securing any number of first-round picks from any team actually does the trick. All Knicks officials need do is look to their Atlantic Division rival, the Boston Celtics. General manager Danny Ainge has squirreled away more first-rounders than some have fingers in effort to successfully move on from the Paul Pierce era.
What Ainge has also done is purge Boston's ledger of any unsavory contracts. Moving Anthony allows the Knicks to do the same, giving them a valuable trade chip who can be partnered with any number of bad contracts, specifically those of Andrea Bargnani, J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Parting ways with Anthony also leaves the Knicks no other choice than to keep going. Maybe they move Tyson Chandler, along with another longer deal, for picks and expiring pacts. Maybe they stock their cupboard with promising prospects of their own.
Maybe the Knicks do what they never do: plan for a future that doesn't include starry-eyed free-agency coups and pricey, one-way superstars.
Never Hurts To Look
Due diligence won't kill the Knicks.
Gauging Anthony's trade value might make for some awkward plane rides and movie-going pow wows, but he's a veteran, so he knows how this business works. Not to mention he may want out anyway.
This isn't to say he does or that the Knicks will; they probably won't. ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported in December that the Knicks wouldn't trade Anthony regardless of how this season plays out. But that's only effective discourse if Anthony guarantees his return.
Which he hasn't.
"I didn’t think we would be in this situation," Anthony said after the Knicks fell 103-80 to the Brooklyn Nets, via Isola. "I don’t really know how to deal with situations like this. I’m learning. This is the first time for me."
Should the Knicks explore Carmelo Anthony trades?
Short of Anthony demanding a trade—which he likely won't do—the Knicks must make this call on their own.
Shopping Anthony on their own accord gives them an idea of what they can glean out of his departure. If it's not worth it, if no teams meet their asking price (whatever it will be), then it's not worth it. On the off chance it is, the Knicks must have the stomach to do what's necessary.
Merely exploring an Anthony trade is a step in that direction.
Ensuring they have a contingency plan in place in case Anthony's attitude changes or present plans travel further south gives the Knicks some handle on a season, once awash with promise and hope, that is quickly spiraling out of control.
*Salary information via ShamSports.