In a lost season for the New York Knicks, star forward Carmelo Anthony gave fans a brief glimmer of hope on Friday when he told reporters he would "without a doubt" be willing not only to re-sign with the club, but also take less than max money to do so, per the New York Post's Marc Berman:
Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I'd do it. I told people all the time, if it takes me taking a paycut, I'll be the first one on Mr. Dolan's steps saying: 'Take my money and let's build something strong over here.'
Let's build something strong over here. Knicks fans have heard those words repeated ad nauseam during the James Dolan era, but this is the first time the words have been uttered by a genuine star player who is still in his prime and, most importantly, still has two working knees.
The news that Anthony is willing to sign for less money is far more crucial to New York's future success than the idea of him coming back at all. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the Knicks can offer him the most money and years: $129 million over five seasons.
The money might have given the Knicks a leg up in keeping Melo, but then what?
In the salary-cap era, a $129 million deal for a great player can be just as devastating to a club's future as a lesser deal for a mediocre player. Anthony is the kind of player a team can build around, but his cap-clogging deal, combined with the Knicks' lack of young, cost-effective players and tradable assets, would cripple the Knicks for the next five years.
It would seem that Anthony understands this, which is why he has shown the willingness to take less money to improve the Knicks' chances of building a championship team. But the deal hasn't been made yet. Before Anthony signs with the Knicks, they must show him they are serious about building a winner.
And to do that, there's one crucial move that must be made as soon as possible: The Knicks need to clean house up at the top.
Make Changes Where They Are Needed Most
The 2013-14 Knicks are an absolute joke despite Carmelo Anthony's best efforts. Though he has done his best to carry the team—he currently leads the league in minutes per game—no player on Earth can make a winner of a team when every other player takes a significant step back.
And that is exactly what has happened in New York. Center Tyson Chandler has struggled with injuries and, more recently, a general sense of apathy. Raymond Felton is probably the worst starting point guard in the league at the moment. Iman Shumpert looks like a shell of the player who took the 2013 playoffs by storm. And shooting guard J.R. Smith...is J.R. Smith—not much else to say there.
New York is currently in 10th place, 2.5 games back of the Charlotte Bobcats for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The suddenly hot Cleveland Cavaliers are just 0.5 games behind the Knicks in 12th place, which means they might soon need to jump three teams (Charlotte, Cleveland and the ninth-place Detroit Pistons) simply to make the postseason.
ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk believes that Knicks general manager Steve Mills needs to make quick, decisive moves before the trade deadline in order to convince Melo to stay on after the season:
That's why it's on Steve Mills to find a way to make a trade before the Feb. 20 deadline. Yes, the general manager is very limited with what he can do. After all, who wants what the Knicks have to offer?
We're not saying to give up even more future picks for somebody who will only make the Knicks marginally better. But realistically, Mills is probably the only person who can provide the Knicks with any new hope, even if it is false hope. And a trade would at least show Anthony that the Knicks are trying and keep him engaged.
Is that what the Knicks should be selling Anthony? Marginal upgrades? False hope?
No, the Knicks should not do anything at the trade deadline for the simple fact that the men making the decisions on any trade cannot be trusted to make the right decisions. The Knicks front office has no track record of making smart decisions, and its desperation will only make things worse.
Why should the Knicks make a deal at the deadline when their last major trade, the Andrea Bargnani deal, turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. The Toronto Raptors have been a better team simply by unloading Bargnani, whom Forbes' Tom Van Riper just rated the most overpaid player in the NBA:
By [University of Southern Utah economics professor David] Berri's calculations, Bargnani, who makes $11.8 million, has cost the Knicks 1.3 wins this season, making him one of the NBA's three worst players among those who average at least 20 minutes a game.
For that, the Knicks gave up three draft picks (including their 2016 first-rounder) to a division rival.
Oh yes, there are changes the Knicks could make to show Anthony they are serious about building a winner, but those changes should not be made on the court (at least not at the moment).
Change at the Top
If Anthony believes that building a contender in the salary-cap era is an involved process—and, judging by his comments, he does—then perhaps the Knicks should entice him by rejecting their old, failed model of team building.
According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, GM Steve Mills' experience is "on the business side" of things. That's great if you need to make even more money, but Dolan does not. He has plenty of it. If he wants to keep his star player—a player who just declared that winning basketball is more important to him than money—then perhaps he should hire a general manager who excels at building winning basketball teams.
Mills is a symbol of the past, when the Knicks spent recklessly and paid the price in the victory column. Just check out this murderers' row of terrible contracts, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:
Excluding Melo, Amar'e, Eddy Curry, Marbury, Allan Houston and Patrick Ewing (at age 35) were the last five guys to get $60M deals from NYK.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 15, 2014
Will Melo be enticed by the group of geniuses responsible for those deals? Probably not.
For years, the Knicks have been hamstrung by both the salary cap and their own incompetence. There's nothing they can do about the cap, but they can easily improve upon the whole "incompetence" thing.
Front-office brainpower is the one area not governed by the salary cap. If Dolan wants to spend his millions in ways that will actually help his team, he should start there.
Surely, Melo has noticed how well GM Daryl Morey worked the cap (and his team's own assets) to acquire James Harden and entice Dwight Howard in free agency. Well, here's a crazy idea: Throw an ungodly sum of money at Morey.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Dolan nixed a potential deal for Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry because he was worried that GM Masai Ujiri would take advantage of him in yet another trade. Hey, Mr. Dolan, have you ever heard the phrase, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?" If you can't beat a rival GM in a trade, then perhaps you should hire said GM.
The Knicks' brain trust has proven itself incapable of building a winner. If it is sitting back and hoping to fleece a rival GM for a star like Rajon Rondo, it is deluding itself. The Knicks are not the fleecers in these kinds of deals, they are the fleecees.
If Melo re-signs with New York, the front office will have five years to clean out the bad contracts and assemble a championship team around him. It won't happen this year, and it won't happen next year. It is possible, but only if they break from the past and assemble a shrewd front office.