Less than a week away from the trade deadline, one thing has been made clear amidst the Carmelo Anthony trade saga: he wants to play for the New York Knicks. He doesn’t want to be a Nugget and he definitely doesn’t want to play for Clippers East in New Jersey.
He wants to win and he wants to win big, in the city he was born in—in a city that would remember him forever.
For Knicks fans, the idea of adding a second perennial All-Star to the starting lineup of a team exceeding preseason expectations perks their ears faster than hearing “Ladies and Gentlemen, your Knicks City Dancers!” And that’s understandable. The media has deemed the past summer’s LeBron-a-thon as the beginning of an NBA era marked by heroes and villains, selfish and unselfish, and winners and breadwinners.
Who wouldn’t want two of the best players alive in their team’s frontcourt, putting up triple-digit scores every night? Who wouldn’t want two guys averaging 25 points per game on their team? Who wouldn't welcome pitting two match-up nightmares against the rest of the NBA every night? And wouldn't Anthony's wife, LaLa Vazquez, welcome a return to the city that made her pseudo-famous? These questions excite New Yorkers to a point at which their patience wears thin and is replaced by eagerness.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go get him!” Not so fast, NY.
One thing basketball can teach its fans is that success is never easy and hardly ever comes quickly; and one thing we’ve learned about the Knicks franchise these past few years is that Donnie Walsh is more than willing to wait patiently for the right opportunities to dramatically improve his team. Here are five reasons the Knicks don’t trade for Anthony this season:
1. Carmelo’s Not a Perfect Fit
There’s no debating it: Carmelo Anthony is one of the best in the NBA at scoring. Like, Justin Timberlake-showing-up-at-a-sorority-party good. He’s playing in his eighth season, averaging at least 20-plus points per game in each. He’s been in the top 10 in scoring each of the last six seasons, and was in the top three in two of those seasons.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that scoring isn’t the Knicks’ problem.
The Knicks lead the Eastern Conference in scoring and average nearly five points per game more than the conference’s second-most offensively adept team (the Heat). At the same time, the team finds itself second-to-last in scoring defense, and in the bottom half of the league in rebounding despite the extra possessions generated by Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Even accounting for Amar’e’s much-improved weakside defense (a career-high 2.5 blocks per game), the Knicks sorely lack interior toughness and post defense.
As good as he is, Carmelo fills none of the Knicks’ serious needs and provides what they already have plenty of. His bad fit with the Knicks is compounded by the notion that ‘Melo is a decided downgrade defensively from the players he would be replacing (Danillo Gallinari, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler) and his suspect three-point shooting (career 31 percent) isn’t exactly prototypical of a Mike D’Antoni small forward.
2. At the Moment, Carmelo’s Too Expensive
Recently, Forbes Magazine listed the New York Knicks as the Association’s highest-valued team, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls. This we know: the Knicks have the cash to afford ‘Melo, even with the inflated contract he could accept from the Knicks after a sign-and-trade. That comes naturally when your team is owned by James Dolan, the head of the company that provides cable to the nation’s largest media center.
But the Knicks would squander other valuable resources in trading for ‘Melo. An agreement with Denver would command at least some combination of:
- Wilson Chandler, Gallinari and Landry Fields (two of the three)
- Eddie Curry’s big, fat expiring contract
- Some first-round picks
- Anthony Randolph, or the high pick the Knicks are confident they can get for him
That’s a lot to ask of a team that’s A) not very deep in the first place, and B) low on (non-monetary) resources.
Still, you might make that trade. But you wouldn’t make that trade if I told you that...
3. If the Knicks Don’t Trade for Carmelo, He’ll Come as a Free Agent Anyway
We can’t know this for sure, but as the trade deadline draws closer and Anthony rejects more teams’ requests to sign a contract extension in lieu of a sign-and-trade, the more weight the theory that Carmelo would be willing to finish the season without signing an extension holds.
The only thing stopping him is the money he’ll be leaving on the table; contracts signed this offseason will be regulated by the new collective bargaining agreement, and are projected to be limited compared to the contracts of the last agreement. If this holds up and Anthony stays in Denver for the season, the Knicks could sign him, hitting the mother lode by saving millions of dollars on ‘Melo’s contract and saving all the pieces they’re so fond of (namely, Chandler, Gallinari and Fields).
4. Amar’e Secretly Likes Being “The Guy”
As several media outlets have reported, an anonymous former Suns teammate of Stoudemire’s insisted that while he is a great teammate that would embrace Carmelo, Amar’e prefers being “the guy.” Maybe this anonymous player is right and maybe he isn’t. Amar’e has made public statements welcoming Carmelo into the NYC hoops world, but most were before the season and the Knicks’ unexpected success. Now, he says the Knicks “don’t really need much,” bringing us to reason No. 5...
5. The 2011 Free-Agent Class
I’ll say it again; the Knicks have serious needs that Carmelo Anthony simply can’t fulfill. New York sorely needs a scoring guard as well as the previously mentioned interior toughness/post defense. In other words, ‘Melo staying in Denver next season or going to Clippers East could very well be a blessing in disguise for the team.
By watching Anthony go elsewhere, the Knicks allow themselves to use their newfound cap space (so long, Eddy Curry) to address their actual needs. Jamal Crawford and Jason Richardson will be looking for new deals and could score in bunches for the Knicks (although I’m not sure the Knicks would be willing to give Crawford another go), and the free-agent class for centers this year is deep, including Joe Przybilla, Kendrick Perkins, Tyson Chandler and Nene (to me, the best choice, combining the defense and toughness the team needs, with the mobility it requires).
The Bottom Line
Should the Knicks sell the farm for that one missing nugget the city craves? Their proposed trade to Denver isn’t preposterous—two talented wing players, a boatload of cap relief, cash and picks is probably worth Carmelo. However it’s not worth it if not making the trade means being able to add him for a lot less (not just saving money, but players and picks too). If the worst-case scenario the Knicks can find themselves in includes adding two talented free agents (Richardson and Nene?) or exploring the trade market to build on a resource-heavy franchise that is definitely on its way up, I assume they’re content.
It’s not worth the risk. Part of me thinks that Donnie Walsh knows this and feels the same way. If that’s the case, Walsh’s efforts to trade for Carmelo in this final week might be a front designed to keep ‘Melo interested in the team and willing to sign on in the offseason, sacrificing dollars for team success and the big stage.
So really it comes back down to patience and winning. For 'Melo, is it about winning the lottery or winning a championship? And for the Knicks, they hope they strike up their own luck and win the lottery this offseason. Then the championships will only require patience.