By now, the legend of Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point detonation last Friday night has grown large enough to almost single-handedly alter how the New York Knicks are expected to approach their star forward’s impending free agency.
And rightly so: No team in its right mind would dare deal the guy who just broke the arena’s and the team’s single-game scoring record.
But what if—perish the thought—it never happened?
Worse, what if the Knicks actually consider the unthinkable: trading Melo at the very moment when his stock’s at its ceiling?
Is it highly unlikely? Absolutely.
Impossible? If your answer is yes, you probably haven’t heard of James Dolan.
Put simply: If the Knicks fancy themselves as even a half-competent organization, trading Anthony before he has a chance to jilt them must be in the contingency plans. In a piece written last week, our very own Dan Favale wrote:
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.
Truth be told, the list of scenarios whereby the Knicks would even consider dealing their No.1 meal ticket is long enough to fit, well, in this one-off article.
Still, every player has his price. And so does every team.
The always-excellent D.J. Foster teased out a handful of possible trade scenarios involving some notable suitors—some of which are on the cusp of contention, others resigned, it seems, to filling the seats ahead of a date with the lottery ping-pong balls.
What we don’t know is whether any of the attendant teams would even have the stomach for such a high-wire act, where the Knicks take on onerous contracts in an effort to rebuild and their interlocutor risks losing Melo completely.
Here’s what we do know: According to the New York Post’s Marc Berman, there were rumblings, though media-muted, of Melo planning his summer escape route. His desired destination: all big markets.
Anthony wants to play for a winner but desperately wants to play in a big market because of his business ventures—his Jordan Brand sneaker line, his PowerCoco energy drink, his watch deal.
That is why New York, Los Angeles, where he has a home, and even Chicago are on his short list, according to a source.
Granted, all of this was first reported weeks ago, back when the Knicks looked lost and on the ropes, waiting for the knockout blow.
That said, if we already know where Melo might be inclined to stay past this season, it stands to reason that teams in one of these three markets might make an offer the Knicks can't refuse, and that could pave the way towards a brighter future for both franchises.
Knicks get: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Reggie Bullock
Clippers get: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler
Why the Clippers do it: Whether one believes the Clippers can contend in the coming years depends, in large part, on these two factors: How many more prime-riding years Chris Paul has left in the tank, and what his collaborative ceiling is with Griffin.
If the Clippers are convinced that that their window is now, the deal actually makes sense. Melo and CP3 are, after all, a much better basketball fit on paper—the two meshed well during Team USA’s gold-medal run in 2012 and are known friends to boot. Chandler, meanwhile, would be a short-term upgrade over Jordan.
Why the Knicks do it: The uncertainty of Melo’s Manhattan future, first and foremost. Getting a rising star of Griffin’s caliber—along with a promising young center—wouldn’t hurt, either. And who wouldn’t love a J-Crossover Garden return?
Knicks get: Pau Gasol, Emeka Okafor, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill
Lakers get: Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire
Phoenix Suns get: Steve Nash
Why the Suns do it: Simple: It allows Nash to retire a Sun, whereby he could even agree to forgo his final year’s salary, a la what Jason Kidd did when he retired from the Knicks last summer.
Why the Lakers do it: If Melo can be convinced to bite the bullet on this season, role the dice in the draft, take a bit of a long-term haircut and wait around for Kobe Bryant to get right and Kevin Love to come in 2015, he could finally have a chance at the championship he’s long desired.
A lot of ifs, to be sure.
Why the Knicks do it: While far less appealing than the Clippers scenario, this trade does help New York fast-forward the rebuilding process by giving them a slew of cap room heading into the summer, at which point they could either go for broke or stand pat for a bigger bounty—and a lottery pick, most likely—come 2015.
Knicks get: Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Chicago’s 2014 first-round draft pick
Bulls get: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler
Why the Bulls do it: A very Lakers-esque line of thinking: Resign yourself to bowing out this year in hopes that a Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler core will be good enough for a one- or two-year title window. Should Chandler not work out, the Bulls will have enough cap space in 2015 to attract a big-name replacement.
Why the Knicks do it: This would probably be the toughest pill to swallow for Knicks fans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its silver linings. Provided the proper tanking protocol, the draft pick alone could become a franchise game changer.
Stoudemire for Boozer is a salary-cap wash, essentially, but at least you’re getting a younger, arguably more effective center in Noah. And Butler isn’t a bad long-term piece to have, either.
The point of this exercise is not to champion New York abandoning the basketball ship. Rather, it assumes a level of organizational desperation—either with the Knicks, their trade partner or both—that, approached in a particular way, could yield a package that would be very difficult for Dolan to dismiss.
The fact is with Melo on a hot streak and the team looking like the favorite to move out of the Eastern Conference and into the playoff race, the chances that any of these deals actually come to pass are shoelace-slim.
At the same time, we’re talking about the New York Knicks—a team that's made basketball bipolar-ism its own macabre art form.
As such, there’s no guarantee that another losing streak—or an anonymous source with his or her own agenda—won’t send the front office scrambling to find a deal that can help the Knicks not only save face today, but better face the future as well.