Cases for dealing Anthony exist. Strong ones. All along, yours truly has maintained that the Knicks must consider doing so too. They have no choice. Due diligence is necessary when dealing with potential flight risks.
Players in Anthony's position hold all the leverage; they have all the power. Teams must be prepared to change course on a whim should an impending free agent express irreversible displeasure.
Preparation, however, doesn't mean the Knicks should trade Anthony. This was never a matter of "they must"; it was "they must explore." There's a difference, and one that never mattered, because Anthony made it clear over All-Star weekend he wasn't going anywhere, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman:
I don’t think I’ll be traded. When is the trade deadline. [Thursday]? I don’t think there’s no way possible I’ll be traded. I don’t think they’re even considering it. If they feel they want to get rid of me, we’d already have had that conversation already. I don’t think that. I know for a fact I’m not being traded and I know for a fact I’m not going in there saying I want to be traded.
Lack of legwork can usually be detrimental. In this case, New York's inaction is admirable, an adjective rarely associated with the Knicks' broken and oft-reckless business model.
Dealing Anthony, even when it was worth entertaining, was never going to solve everything. This close to the Feb. 20 trade deadline, knowing what they know, it's not going to solve anything.
For what the Knicks want, and for what their starving fanbase needs, retaining Anthony stands to strengthen and brighten a ruptured outlook more than trading him ever could.
Let's start with the obvious: What are the Knicks supposed to get?
Various trade scenarios have been floated, some of which make sense and others that don't. But it's never been about establishing sensible deals. It's been about pursuing realistic ones. And realistically, who or what are the Knicks supposed to net for a player like Anthony, who can leave whatever team he's traded to after this season?
General managers of sound mind won't entertain the notion of satisfying New York's need for draft picks, young prospects and financial relief when there's no guarantee Anthony is more than an expensive half-season rental.
What are the Knicks to do in that situation, then? Sell low? That defeats the purpose of controlled demolition.
For the Knicks to initiate a deliberate and effective rebuild, they need control. They need leverage. Anthony is the one with absolute power, with the ability to deter prospective suitors he doesn't see a future with from acquiring him by voicing his intention to leave after this season.
Even if some team was ready to roll the dice and pay handsomely for Anthony no matter what, "handsomely" means something completely different inside and outside New York.
Jump-starting a rebuild requires the Knicks to replenish their barren draft stock, assemble a core of youngsters and take strides in escaping financial purgatory before 2015. There is no team—none whatsoever—with enough assets and financial flexibility to cleanse New York's begrimed palate.
New York's draft stock is too far gone, it's not known for developing inexperienced talent and even the team's short-term contracts (Amar'e Stoudemire and Andre Bargnani) are too cumbersome to pair with Anthony's already-high salary.
While the risk of Anthony leaving remains very real, it's not the end of the world. If he bolts, the Knicks can enter 2015 with a near-empty ledger as planned. An infecund trade, meanwhile, can have long-term repercussions if they take on an unwanted contract or build around the wrong newly acquired player.
You might say, "Well, they would only trade Anthony to avoid all that uncertainty," and you would be right. Therein also lies the problem: There's no risk-free, all-curing, unerring deal out there.
Leadership and on-court flaws in mind, Anthony is the best star the Knicks have housed since Patrick Ewing. The absolute best.
Moreover, Anthony has displayed similar loyalty to that of Ewing.
"Without a doubt," Anthony said when asked if he would be open to taking less money when re-signing with the Knicks, per 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 pay cut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying: ‘Take my money and let’s build something strong over here.’ "
If you want to fault Anthony for anything, fault him for this: for his apparent allegiance to and faith in an organization that historically digs its own grave.
Pay cuts from incumbent superstars are the ultimate forms of loyalty. LeBron James and Chris Bosh are commended for taking less to play for the Miami Heat, as they should be. But it's Wade who has spent his entire career in Miami and was willing to help the Heat achieve necessary flexibility.
Anthony is offering to do something similar. Only in his case, he isn't placing stock in a front office sage like Pat Riley; he's (open to) entrusting his future to a mercurial owner in James Dolan and a perceived bigwig and previous Madison Square Garden washout in Steve Mills.
Some call this loyalty; some call it stupidity. Then there are others who point out that Anthony's willingness to leave money on the table bodes well for other interested teams too, which is true.
Whatever this is, though, it's good for the Knicks and a future they have so readily tied to Anthony and him alone.
Entertaining the idea of accepting a pay cut shows he's happy in New York, something All-Star buddy Chris Paul corroborated, via Berman. It also shows he has confidence in his ability to lure superstars to the Big Apple, clear and present dangers and failures be damned.
Better still, it's a potential admission that while impatient, Anthony is willing to wait just a little bit longer for the Knicks. For his Knicks.
Accepting a pay cut won't create immediate cap space. The Knicks are over next year's cap even without Anthony on the books, financial limitations a smart player like Anthony must already be aware of.
Taking less benefits the Knicks in 2015, when players such as Rajon Rondo, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and possibly James could all be available. Any additional flexibility Anthony can provide the Knicks increases their chances of landing one (or more) of those guys, which has been the plan all along.
Contrived? Yes. Presumptuous? Absolutely. Improbable? You bet.
Impossible? Not with a discounted Anthony—who is leaving everything on the court—leading sales pitches that hold substance and promise so long as he makes the initial sacrifice.
"I don't want to be traded," Anthony told reporters in New Orleans, per Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears. "I've said it before that I wanted to retire as a Knick. That's something I wasn't just [expletive] with. I said it. I meant it. That's how I feel."
Loyalty to the point of individual concession is one asset the struggling and desperate Knicks cannot trade away, as they know fully well Anthony's (misplaced) devotion and sense of obligation has become conclusively irreplaceable.
*Salary information via ShamSports.