The New York Knicks have failed to live up to expectations and are desperately fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the pitiful Eastern Conference.
Their roster is ill-conceived and could use numerous upgrades. Yet, owner James Dolan and general manager Steve Mills do not need to make a trade before the Feb. 20 deadline.
Teams that are active leading up to the deadline fall into two categories: buyers and sellers. Buyers are in the market for one or two players who may help them advance deep into the playoffs. Sellers are looking to obtain young, talented players or draft picks to build around.
The Knicks’ situation is complicated by the pending free agency of star forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony expressed his intention to opt out of his contract this summer, and New York appears to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep him in orange and blue.
It would be a mistake for the Knicks to add a veteran or two at the deadline. They are currently 11 games under .500 and have far too many holes to fill in order to challenge the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy. Mike Woodson's team needs a starting point guard, a reliable second scorer, a backup center and defensive upgrades at just about every position.
The Knicks are about $30 million over the salary cap, via Shamsports.com, and lack the assets to acquire high-impact players. They do not own a tradable first round draft pick before 2018 and have just two valuable young talents in Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Knick fans who believe that is enough to trade for Rajon Rondo or another player of his status are dreaming.
The Knicks would be ill-advised to trade one or more of their reserve assets for an overpriced role player, as they did last summer when they acquired Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors for Marcus Camby, Steve Novak and three draft picks. Such a move would neither make the Knicks a contender nor persuade Anthony to re-sign.
New York has repeatedly mortgaged its future for expensive veterans whose games do not complement one another, rather than building organically through the draft. The result has been one playoff series victory in the past dozen years.
Trading veterans such as Anthony and Tyson Chandler would be a more reasonable move.
Anthony could bolt this summer for a franchise with a better shot at competing for a championship, leaving the Knicks with nothing in return. If he does re-sign, it will likely be for $129 million over five years, leaving the franchise with an insufficient amount of salary-cap space to build a championship team around him.
The Knicks' best option is to rebuild, and they could kick-start that process by moving Anthony for a combination of promising youngsters and draft picks. Chandler, who turned 31 in October, has begun to slow down and is unlikely to be a part of the team's future, though with a manageable contract, he could yield a decent return from a contending team looking to upgrade its interior defense.
The notion that Knicks fans are too impatient to endure a rebuilding project is inaccurate. New Yorkers are fed up with the “win now” approach that turned the Knicks into a punch line and savvy enough to how understand what it takes to build a winning team.
While the Knicks should explore the trade market for Anthony, Chandler and veteran point guard Raymond Felton, it is not essential for them to sell off their assets before the upcoming deadline.
The Knicks would have to accept far less than equal value for Anthony due to his pending free agency and would not necessarily be left empty-handed if he signs elsewhere. The collective bargaining agreement makes it difficult to execute a sign-and-trade deal, though not impossible. And Anthony has about $33 million in incentive (the difference between what the Knicks and other teams can pay him) to help facilitate such a deal.
Chandler may have greater value after the season, as he approaches the final year of his deal. New York may even be able to move Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire, both of whose contracts also expire in 2015, over the summer or during next season.
It is difficult to imagine Dolan giving up on the season and it would be shocking if he agreed to trade Anthony for anything less than a superstar in return. Knicks' fans can only hope that the misguided owner does not continue to mortgage the team's future for an ill-fated attempt to contend now.