Should NY Knicks Be Exploring Trade Options for Carmelo Anthony?

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Should NY Knicks Be Exploring Trade Options for Carmelo Anthony?
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

This July, Carmelo Anthony will face a decision that will not only determine his own career's destiny, but also the immediate fortune of his current franchise. Either he will re-up with the New York Knicks and entrust Phil Jackson to deliver him the success he has yet to enjoy over his 10-year career, or he will flee the Big Apple in pursuit of a more immediate title chase.

And, if the Knicks' recent history has taught them anything, it's to expect the worst. Not being left empty-handed if and when 'Melo decides to skip town should be New York's primary concern heading into the offseason.

If Anthony gives Jackson's front office word in advance that he's not interested in returning, a sign-and-trade would obviously be preferred to letting Melo walk for nothing.

If James Dolan was still the team's primary negotiator, the team might not be interested in aiding Anthony's exit, no matter how lucrative it would've been for the team's immediate turnaround. Thankfully for the team, Jackson surely won't operate under these petty and immature "business" principles.

 

A Lopsided Sacrifice

For the Knicks to be in an advantageous position moving forward, Anthony would undoubtedly need to settle for less than a maximum salary. By taking $18 or 19 million—rather than $23 million to which he's entitled—he'd be allowing Knicks significant cap flexibility moving forward.

For New York: First, the good news.

Anthony has said he would take less money to re-sign with a Knicks team if it meant winning. During All-Star Weekend last February in New Orleans, 'Melo addressed this scenario, as transcribed by ESPN New York's Ian Begley:

Without a doubt. Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I'd do it. 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."

Now, the bad news.

For Anthony to make this sacrifice, Jackson first must convince him that New York can offer success similar to what the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets can dangle. With those teams, Anthony can hop into a championship hunt as soon as next season, while the Knicks are building to contend in 2015 and beyond.

With Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire essentially locked into next season's payroll, the Knicks will be capped out regardless of Anthony's decision. The 2014-15 season's roster—barring an unforeseen miracle by Jackson—will look largely like the one assembled last year and that compiled just 37 victories.

With Chicago or Houston, Anthony could be the final piece of a championship team. A core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Anthony would surely make noise in the East, and a Dwight Howard-James Harden-'Melo trio would be difficult to stop offensively. Those are the options that Phil will be competing with this summer.

If Anthony would take less to win in New York, one would presume he'd take less to win anywhere. This essentially levels the playing field financially between New York and other suitors. New York won't be the only team asking him to make a sacrifice. But as 'Melo will soon find out while being courted by external options, other teams' situations will be much more appealing considering the earnings he'd be forfeiting.

 

The Financials

As outlined by salary cap expert Larry Coon during a chat for Basketball Insiders, the Knicks will have a few options if they're convinced that Anthony is on his way out.

* They could mutually decide that Melo will opt-in for 2014-15, which will enable the Knicks to trade him at any time (such as at the draft). His new team can then work out an extension with him (and the restrictions relax six months after the trade).

* They could work out an extend-and-trade transaction.

* They could let him become a free agent, and work out a sign-and-trade. For example, if he wants to go to Chicago, the Bulls won’t have enough cap room to pay his full salary unless they clear some additional players off their roster. The teams could try to work out a deal where, say, Gibson & a first round pick come over for a signed-and-traded Melo.

Of course, if the team lets Melo become a free agent, there’s a chance he could sign somewhere else on his own and leave the team with nothing.

With 'Melo's new destinations being limited to teams that can both contend for a championship and are located in a larger market, Houston and Chicago stand as the two prime suitors for Anthony's services. According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, they'll both show interest in the seven-time All-Star. 

Both teams would need to do some maneuvering to land Anthony. As it stands now, Chicago has no cap room this summer, though they're a Carlos Boozer amnesty away from freeing up a moderate chunk. Still, the Bulls would need to part with a combination of pieces to afford 'Melo, even at a discounted rate. 

Houston has nearly $53 million of guaranteed 2014-15 salary tied into its four highest-paid players, which leaves no possibility of obtaining Anthony without dealing away significant salary. 

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In reality, if Anthony is set on departing for Chicago or Houston, the teams have little choice but to negotiate some sort of swap with Jackson's Knicks.

Now, for Phil's trade parameters.

In any deal, the Knicks aren't likely to add many players whose contracts extend through 2015. A bulk of the team's current roster comes off the books a year from now, lining New York up as a free-agency player that summer. 

The Knicks will also be wise to request a haul that includes draft selections. The team won't be selecting in this year's draft or in 2016, and has just one selection each in 2015 and 2017.

Acquiring a pick in the 2014 draft—viewed as the deepest pool in more than a decade—would require Anthony opting into next year and then negotiating an extension with his new team after a trade on or near draft day. Chicago has three selections this year, while Houston has two. Though a more likely option will be waiting until July 1 to negotiate a sign-and-trade. 

(Note: It's important not to think of these deals as the Knicks attempting to get equal value for Anthony. That ship sailed when they didn't trade him in February. These are simply New York's attempts to gather some assets moving forward.)

 

Deal 1: Chicago

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

In a July sign-and-trade, Chicago will face the decision of amnestying Boozer or including him in a trade to the Knicks. They'd surely prefer the latter, and the Knicks may not be opposed either, with his contract expiring in time for their planned spending spree.

In addition to Boozer, Jackson could attempt to add Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy and a draft pick. Such a deal would allow for Anthony to make roughly $20 million next season. 

Potential Knicks-Bulls Sign-and-Trade
Bulls Receive Knicks Receive
Carmelo Anthony Carlos Boozer
Taj Gibson
Mike Dunleavy
Future Draft Pick

ESPN Trade Machine

Though Gibson is a favorite of Tom Thibodeau—Chicago was about five points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor this past season, per Basketball-Reference—Anthony would be a perfect fit with the Bulls as a power forward.

Alternatively, if Chicago manages to bring Nikola Mirotic over for next season along with Anthony, he'd act as a perfect 4 to space the floor for Anthony at the 3. Regardless, Gibson seems to be the odd man out.

Building a well-rounded team around Anthony isn't easy, but the Bulls seem to have the pieces to make it happen. They have strong perimeter defenders to cover 'Melo's flaws there, a worthy center that competes on both ends and a dominant point guard whom Anthony will respect and can rely on without hesitation.

2015-16 Knicks Payroll Entering 2015 FA (After Bulls S&T)
Player Salary
Taj Gibson $8,000,000
J.R. Smith (Player Option) $6,399,750
Raymond Felton (Player Option) $3,950,313
Iman Shumpert (Qualifying Offer) $3,695,169
2015 1st round pick (estimate: 15th pick) $1,600,200
Tim Hardaway Jr. (Team Option) $800,000
Pablo Prigioni $1,734,572
Future Draft Pick Estimate (from CHI) $800,000
Incomplete Roster Charge $525,093
Incomplete Roster Charge $525,093
Incomplete Roster Charge $525,093
Incomplete Roster Charge $525,093
Total Salary $29,584,896
Salary Cap Projection* $66,044,000
Knicks Cap Room for 2015 $36,459,104

ShamSports

The Knicks would love to include Raymond Felton in this deal, but if his putrid performance wouldn't turn the Bulls away, his pending legal status likely would. He was arraigned on two felony weapons possession charges last February, with trial set to begin on June 2.

Both Dunleavy and Boozer are on expiring deals, while Gibson is a valuable piece to build around for New York. After this move, the Knicks could have over $35 million to spend in free agency next summer.

The talent level in the deal obviously favors Chicago, but if Anthony is set on leaving New York, this swap would net the Knicks a few assets to build with post-2015 while maintaining significant spending room.

 

Deal 2: Houston

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The Rockets don't possess the cap room necessary to land Anthony outright, but are strapped with the assets to make a sign-and-trade agreement happen.

Both Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik are set to make over $8 million each next season in the final year of their deals and would probably both need to be shipped north to make a deal work financially. Dolan likely wouldn't be thrilled at the notion of trading for a player who left the team two years ago, but Jackson's sense should overrule the owner's input. 

Terrence Jones would be out of a starting job in Houston, as Anthony would slide in as the team's power forward. Jones could be included in the deal, to help financially and supply the Knicks with youth to build on. 

The New York Post's Marc Berman suggested that Chandler Parsons would be a Knicks target this summer, but it's doubtful that Daryl Morey would deal away the 25-year-old, who will make less than $1 million next season, and has contributed more than seven win shares in each of the last two seasons. Aside from Anthony, that's the highest 2013-14 Knick win share total belonged to Tyson Chandler with 4.9).

Potential Knicks-Rockets Sign-and-Trade
Rockets Receive Knicks Receive
Carmelo Anthony Jeremy Lin
Omer Asik
Terrence Jones
Future Draft Pick

ESPN Trade Machine

Again, the Knicks would certainly look to package Felton into this trade, but basketball and/or legal troubles would likely derail their efforts. 

Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk broke down the nature of potential negotiations between both sides. Morey has been heralded as one of the game's most revolutionary front-office minds, while Jackson—who could go down as the game's best coach ever—is a novice at constructing a roster.

The Rockets reportedly believe they can get Melo, but it would almost certainly take a sign-and-trade with the Knicks. What I’d give to be a fly on the wall in negotiations between the old-school Jackson and the analytical Daryl Morey. Those are two decision-makers coming at it from different perspectives, and that could make hashing out a deal difficult.

The negotiating table sure will get interesting during those talks, but if Houston is determined to land Anthony, Morey will need to part ways with some of his prized assets.

A Linsanity reprise at Madison Square Garden would have fans anxious, and would finally solve the team's issues at point, at least in the short-term.

Asik's arrival would likely mean the end of Chandler's New York run. The Knicks could attempt to pull off a deal with the Dallas Mavericks—who are interested in re-acquiring Chandler, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein—and return a haul headlined by youth, such as Shane Larkin or Ricky Ledo and picks.

The 2014-15 Knicks could run out a young nucleus of Lin, Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert, Jones and Asik. J.R. Smith, Felton, Stoudemire and Bargnani would still have to be part of the picture somehow, but it's clear that this would be a transitional year. 

That Knicks team wouldn't win many games, but unlike this past year's disappointment, that wouldn't be an issue.

In the same fashion the Los Angeles Lakers tanked their way to a top lottery pick after losing out on Howard last summer. New York could use next season to build upon Anthony's departure and the fact that they actually own their first rounder in 2015 helps the cause, too.

2015-16 Knicks Payroll Entering FA (After HOU and DAL Trades)
Player Salary
J.R. Smith (Player Option) $6,399,750
Raymond Felton (Player Option) $3,950,313
Iman Shumpert (Qualifying Offer) $3,695,169
Terrence Jones (Player Option) $2,489,530
2015 1st round pick (estimate) $1,600,200
Tim Hardaway Jr. (Team Option) $1,304,520
Pablo Prigioni $1,734,572
Shane Larkin (Team Option) $1,675,320
Future Draft Pick Estimate (from HOU) $800,000
Incomplete Roster Charge $525,093
Incomplete Roster Charge $525,093
Incomplete Roster Charge $525,093
Total Salary $25,224,653
Salary Cap Projection* $66,044,000
Knicks Cap Room for 2015 $40,819,347

ShamSports

They'd then have the option to re-sign Lin and Asik for the post-2015 era and would be able to make a run at significant free agents still that summer. If Lin and Asik are renounced, those Knicks could have as much as $40 million to spend in 2015.

Meanwhile, Houston would have Howard, Harden and Anthony locked up long-term, with Parsons and Patrick Beverley in the mix for the future as well. Harden and Anthony would create issues defensively for the Rockets, but once the kinks get worked out, that trio could be a powerhouse in Houston through the rest of the decade.

Should the Knicks work out a sign-and-trade if Anthony leaves this summer?

Submit Vote vote to see results

If Anthony leaves the Knicks, they'll surely be in for another disappointment next season. If at all possible, Jackson should look to collect any last-minute assets before his star's departure. 

Even though the short-term payout wouldn't be desirable for much of the fanbase, it would ensure a smooth turnaround, potentially locking in a few building blocks to go along with a prized free agent or two next summer. 

Though it may come off as partnering with the enemy, collaborating on a sign-and-trade deal would be the most painless way for New York to combat Anthony's potential departure.

Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.

Stats gathered from Basketball-Reference.

Salary information gathered from ShamSports.

*2015-16 salary cap projection based on the NBA's expected 4.5 percent annual increase from ESPN.com's Marc Stein's reported 2014-15 cap.

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