Is Carmelo Anthony on his way out of New York?
The New York Knicks are a mediocre team fighting for one of the last playoff spots in an atrocious Eastern Conference. As the February 20 trade deadline approaches, they must decide if they believe they are contenders this season and what their plan is for the future.
If management concludes that this team is not capable of making a deep playoff run, they must begin to build toward the future. That may include dealing some of their best players for draft picks, young talent and salary cap space.
If James Dolan, Steve Mills and Mike Woodson think the Knicks can still turn this into a successful season, then they have to address the team's biggest weaknesses, most notably an unreliable bench, lack of depth down low and poor point guard play. They would be required to make difficult decisions regarding which of their few young assets and draft picks to include in trades.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is one of the Knicks' few trade assets.
If the Knicks are still in the playoff hunt as the trade deadline approaches, they should consider adding some depth to the frontcourt. New York has not received consistent production from the big men on the second unit, especially when Andrea Bargnani has been in the starting lineup.
Veterans Amar'e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace have been in and out of the lineup due to an assortment of injuries. Center Cole Aldrich belongs in the D-League, and talented big man Jeremy Tyler is too raw to play meaningful minutes for a team with playoff aspirations.
The price will be steep for a rotation-quality center or power forward, and the Knicks do not have many assets to offer. They would likely have to part with future draft picks or one of their two young, inexpensive shooting guards, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Knicks discussed a deal for Kyle Lowry earlier in the season.
New York’s point guard play has been embarrassing. The starter, Raymond Felton, has a PER of 11.4 (well below the league average of 15). He is shooting 39.0 percent from the field, 28.7 percent from behind the arc and 71.1 percent from the line and has failed to break down defenses with dribble penetration. The nine-year veteran is also regularly abused on defense.
His backup, Pablo Prigioni, has been more efficient offensively but equally ineffective at keeping opposing guards out of the paint. At 36, he is not capable of playing starter's minutes and lacks the quickness to turn the corner on pick-and-rolls. Beno Udrih and Toure' Murry have failed to impress in limited action.
The price for Lowry has probably gone up since then. He has flourished since Toronto traded Rudy Gay, and the Raptors are currently leading the Atlantic Division. It will be challenging for the Knicks to find another available starting point guard.
The Knicks discussed trading Shumpert earlier in the season.
Iman Shumpert is an excellent defender with plenty of offensive potential, though he has not shown the improvement many basketball insiders expected in his third season and often appears hesitant and/or lost in the Knicks offense.
Management is not as enthralled with the young shooting guard as the majority of the fanbase. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said off-air during an interview with Dwight Howard over the summer that James Dolan threatened to trade Shumpert after the guard refused to participate in the NBA Summer League.
Shumpert should still garner interest around the league, and he could benefit from playing in an offense without two ball-dominant scorers in Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. The Knicks have to decide whether Shumpert is in their long-term plans and if they have the patience to develop him.
The Knicks may want to explore the market for Chandler.
Tyson Chandler will be 32 years old when his contract expires in the summer of 2015. He has plenty of mileage on his legs after joining the league straight out of high school and has had his share of injuries over his 13-year career.
He is unlikely to hold up over the life of another long-term contract, and the Knicks would prefer to use the cap space from his expiring contract to pursue marquee free agents like Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo.
James Dolan is likely loath to give up on a season during which he has repeatedly stated that he believes the Knicks can win the championship. However, a deep playoff push appears increasingly unlikely for this underachieving team, and Chandler's trade value may be at its peak.
A contending team could rent his services for the remainder of this season and all of next. Plenty of teams would be interested in an elite defensive big man, and the Knicks could use him to recoup some of the draft picks they have surrendered in recent years.
The Knicks have to at least consider the idea of trading Anthony.
Carmelo Anthony is one of the few Knicks who compete on a nightly basis and is averaging 26.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. It is not fair to blame him for New York’s horrendous play when three of the team's five most important players (Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton) are shooting under 40 percent.
That does not mean that the Knicks should re-sign their superstar when he opts out of the final year of his contract and becomes a free agent this summer. Melo will be 30 years old in May and re-signing him to a maximum-salary contract of $129 million over five years would prohibit the Knicks from surrounding him with the players necessary to win a championship.
Even if New York is intent on re-signing Anthony, there is a decent possibility that he will choose to accept less money to play elsewhere. As his basketball mortality begins to creep up on him, the All-Star forward may believe that another team provides him with a better chance of winning a championship.
New York cannot afford to lose Anthony and receive nothing in return, and sign-and-trades are extremely difficult to pull off under the new collective bargaining agreement. If management believes that Anthony might bolt via free agency or that re-signing him is not a sound investment, it must at least explore his trade value and possibly pull the trigger on a deal.