Two games; two losses; two more reasons for the New York Knicks to seriously consider cashing in their chips and calling it a season.
Following Monday night’s crippling 101-98 loss to the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks, New York—now a game-and-a-half back of the Charlotte Bobcats for the East’s eighth and final playoff seed—once again finds itself at a confounding crossroads.
Do they tighten ranks and remain content to continue treading water, or save what little face they can and consider trading one or both of their best, most desirable assets: Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler?
The prospect remains an unlikely one, if only because owner James Dolan seldom puts the blame at his players' feet. Should Dolan decide that a shake-up is in order, his first target will likely be the man standing directly at the helm: head coach Mike Woodson.
Still, there are plenty of teams for whom the fast-looming trade deadline could warrant a significant roster shake-up, and Anthony and Chandler are two targets that could start fetching a few phone calls—if they haven’t already.
In a recent interview with TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott, ESPN's Chad Ford predicted the possibility of an “epic” trade deadline leading up to February 20.
And while Ford focuses more on teams that have already bought their tickets to Tankapalooza, the domino effect of deals might be such that everyone could be willing to toss their hats into the ring.
The problem, though, is this: Any team that’s willing to sell off assets on the cheap probably isn’t going to be too interested in parting with draft picks. Otherwise, why tank at all?
That’s bad news for the Knicks, who parted with their 2014 first-rounder in the 2011 Carmelo Anthony deal.
Not surprisingly, few and far between are the teams that have both tradable assets and enough picks to sweeten a deal that helps them long term.
One is the Boston Celtics, the subject of my column from yesterday dealing specifically with what trades for Carmelo Anthony, if any, the Knicks’ suddenly asset-rich rivals might be willing to consider.
Which brings us to the chief thesis of any Chandler-Anthony trade analysis: If New York’s endgame is to secure as many draft picks as possible, their best bet is to find a taker for Melo.
There’s just one problem: It would have to be a team and a situation with which Anthony feels comfortable enough to re-sign as a free agent this summer.
Should they focus on keeping Rajon Rondo, Boston might just fit the bill. Assuming, of course, that Boston doesn’t leave the cupboard too dry in an attempt to appease the Knicks, who understandably will be looking for beaucoup assets in exchange for Anthony’s services.
Clearly something would have to give.
Chandler presents a different challenge, albeit a more straightforward one. Even at 31 years old, Tyson possesses the kind of skills—defense, rebounding and veteran intensity being chief among them—that any team on the cusp of contention would love to acquire.
Say, something like this. (Throw in a pick for the Knicks as well.)
The problem here is that, even if a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder was willing to trade for Chandler, their conference-best record would necessarily mean that any draft pick(s) coming back to the Knicks would be of the marginal variety.
Likewise, it’s hard to imagine, for example, the Philadelphia 76ers—a team currently in the tanking vanguard—giving up anything beyond comparable contracts and players with middling upside.
Trading Chandler for immediate help, meanwhile, would only magnify the team’s already fragile frontcourt depth. Indeed, for as promising as rookie Jeremy Tyler has been in recent games, expecting him to blossom overnight into a rim-protecting stalwart of Chandler’s caliber is wishful thinking, to say the least.
There is, of course, a third option the Knicks could pursue—one that would amount to a philosophical and financial mea culpa on the part of Dolan: trading both Anthony and Chandler.
Something like this, perhaps:
New York gets: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Danny Granger, Darren Collison.
Los Angeles Clippers get: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler.
Indiana Pacers get: Jamal Crawford.
The Clippers acquire two players better suited to help them contend right now; the Knicks get a young superstar tailor-made for the bright lights of the Big Apple and a possible replacement for Raymond Felton, while Indiana bolsters their bench scoring and gains more financial flexibility heading into the summer.
The x-factor here, of course, is Lance Stephenson's impending restricted free agency. While Granger's contract coming off the books ostensibly helps Indiana in this regard, Jamal Crawford's somewhat-onerous tender... Well, it doesn't. But you can easily imagine any number of teams stepping up to assume Indy's cap-cleaving spot.
Whether New York parts with Anthony and Chandler piecemeal or in some three-team mega-deal is almost beside the point: The Knicks would be looking for fast-expiring contracts, good draft picks or a bonafide superstar, period.
For a team as cash-strapped and financially hemmed-in as New York, any chance to escape their own self-inflicted financial bondage has to be afforded a second glance.
At the same time, the team simply has too much invested in what they have—philosophically, monetarily and marketing-wise—to entertain any deal short of a surefire future boon.
With 17 of its next 25 games on the road, it’s possible that New York could soon find itself far enough outside the playoff picture to make just about any deadline offer—however wrongheaded or risk-laden—look like quite the consolation prize.
Of the two, Carmelo Anthony poses a much bigger risk than Tyson Chandler, both for whatever team is willing to roll the free-agency dice, and for the Knicks themselves.
But Anthony also holds the greater combination of reward and return: Reward for the contender capable of giving Melo a true taste of contention, and return for a franchise forced to cope with the possibility of having to prematurely tear down its latest basketball Babel.