Parroting headlines is usually boring and ineffective, but you need to be asked that question immediately because it's not as easy to answer as it seems.
When I was first asked that question, "absolutely" was the first answer that sprang to mind. Let him go, stop trading first-round draft picks, take that extra cap space in 2015 and hit the reset button on this nightmare.
At the time, I knew it was bound to be an unpopular opinion.
Stars sell seats. More importantly, they sell hope, keeping fans engaged through excessive losing and nausea. In New York specifically, stars help fans maintain sanity in between inexplicably bad decisions backed by owner James Dolan. Frankly, you can't put a value on that.
But with Anthony approaching 30 and the Knicks slated to commit as many as five years and close to $130 million to him, watching him leave for nothing doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world, as also argued by the New York Daily News' Frank Isola:
Believe it or not there is a silver lining in what is becoming, for a number of reasons, the worst Knicks season in 25 years. This summer the Knicks get to start all over again and rebuild for real this time. And it should begin with them bidding farewell to their best player rather than locking up the soon-to-be 30-year-old Anthony for five more years at $127 million. Been there, done that.
Some will protest, of course, that the Knicks would be losing a valuable asset without getting anything in return. That’s not entirely accurate. By not signing Anthony, the Knicks would clear valuable cap space one year before the contracts of Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani and Stoudemire come off the books. The Knicks even have a first-round pick in 2015. Cap space and a pick, imagine that.
Nothing Isola says is false. It's all true. Most of it even sounds good. Hell, he had me at "even have a first-round pick."
Once you start to think about it—and I mean really think about it—the potential advantages sound better in theory than they would ever actually be.
For the same reason trading Anthony ahead of the Feb. 20 deadline would have been a terrible decision: The Knicks cannot be trusted; Dolan and the front office cannot be trusted.
Been There, Failed At That
It's true that letting Anthony walk opens up more financial wiggle room for summer 2015. It's true that his departure ensures the Knicks, who would still be devoid of cap space without him, a top pick in the 2015 draft.
It's also true the Knicks need to ensure they don't screw any of that up. And therein lies the problem.
#Knicks front office has made wrong decisions in critical spots, but let’s let Melo walk for nothing & trust them to rebuild the team. LOL!— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) March 5, 2014
What exactly has the Knicks front office done that should instill confidence in their ability to rebuild from scratch? Overpaying for Anthony in the first place? Trading first-rounders like they're Leprechaun's gold? Devaluing in-house prospects such as Iman Shumpert?
At every possible turn, the Knicks have offered reasons to doubt. From the Andrea Bargnani trade to J.R. Smith's and Raymond Felton's contracts to chasing ghost trades, they're forever selling tomorrows that never come.
Their trade-market activity is especially reprehensible. This season alone, they consistently attempted to land Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics despite lacking the necessary assets to do so.
Knicks' lust for new PG, I'm told, has inevitably prompted them to try to nudge Celts into Rondo talks ... even though they know it's futile— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 18, 2014
The whole Shumpert situation is a mess, too. Per ESPN's Chris Broussard, the Knicks rebuffed an offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder that included a 2014 first-round pick in favor of chasing a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers headlined by Darren Collison.
Darren "I lost playing time to Mike James while with the Dallas Mavericks" Collison.
Regardless of how poorly Felton is playing, flipping one of your most valuable assets for a career backup and marginal upgrade makes no sense.
Whoops ... even the NBA agrees the Knicks should not trade for Collison. pic.twitter.com/9Q2wx9IBhI— Mychal Lowman (@My_Lo) February 19, 2014
Oh, and by the way, Broussard indicated it was the Clippers who pumped the brakes on that deal. The Knicks averted further disaster courtesy of Los Angeles. They owe Tinseltown a "thank you."
Think about the Knicks' sales pitch for Anthony, too. They're not selling a brighter future beginning next season. They're slinging 2015, when they'll have the cap space to maybe, if they're lucky, land Rondo, Kevin Love or another star.
Maybe that's something you sell a 25-year-old budding star in the thick of his prime, but Anthony, who will be 31 by July 2015, is approaching the end of his. And still the Knicks prattle on about 2015, like it will be any different from 2010, when they whiffed on LeBron James. And Chris Bosh. And Dwyane Wade. And Joe Johnson (yes, even Joe "Jesus" Johnson burned them).
This is the team fans should entrust another rebuild to? Keeping 'Melo, even at full price, sounds better.
One Is Better Than None
One superstar, even though he's inferior to Kevin Durant and James, is better than no superstars at all.
Seeing how New York has handled housing a superstar, that much is clear.
The Knicks have given Anthony every reason to leave, but in an effort to give him every reason to stay. It's sad, but true. Everything that's happened has been for Anthony. It's backfired in a big way, but it's been for him to stay.
There's no turning back on that obvious, yet tacit commitment now. The time for that was this season, when they had every opportunity to trade. But they didn't, because the Knicks want him. More to the point, they won't know what to do without him.
Anthony at least gives the Knicks a puncher's chance of landing another star in 2015. If he's still playing at a high level, Rondo, Love or someone else may be interested in joining the cause. But if he's off contending for a title somewhere else, the Knicks have nothing and no one to sell topliners on.
Anthony also gives the Knicks and their fans hope. Dwindling, near-empty hope, but hope nonetheless. He's a star. He's their star. New York's beacon of light, however faint, at an impossibly dark time.
Assuming Anthony won't take a pay cut, which course of action is better for New York's future?
"Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I'd do it," Anthony told reporters while in New Orleans for All-Star weekend. "I told people all the time, always say, 'If it takes me taking a pay cut, I'll be the first one on [Knicks owner] Mr. [James] Dolan's steps saying take my money and let's build something strong over here.'"
If he's willing to stay, even if it doesn't come at a discount, the Knicks must welcome his return. The alternative has them entering a rebuild that, under normal circumstances, is difficult, yet manageable.
For most teams, that is.
For the Knicks, it leaves them starless, tasked with doing what they've been unable to do this side of 1999: attempt rebuilding the right way.
Been there, failed at that.