Finally, after months of speculation, the wait is over.
Carmelo Anthony is a New York Knickerbocker.
A deal was struck late last night that saw Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman head to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov, along with a 2014 first-round pick, second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 and an additional $3 million in cash.
In order to balance the additional salary the Knicks are taking on from the Nuggets, New York will also send Eddy Curry’s expiring deal, Anthony Randolph and another $3 million to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for swingman Corey Brewer.
The basketball world has been waiting on bated breath for confirmation of Melo’s final destination. The smart money was always on New York; Melo made no secret of his desire to end up with the Knicks. Even so, the New Jersey Nets clearly didn’t feel it was a foregone conclusion given their season-long pursuit of Melo—a pursuit that continued as recently as last weekend’s All-Star Game and may have succeeded in at least pushing up the amount that the Knicks gave up to make the deal happen.
There were even recent rumours of interest from the Los Angeles Lakers, but after months of negotiations, breakdowns in negotiations, reopening of negotiations, leaks to the press, denials of leaks to the press and all manner of confusion, we finally have our answer.
Let me be the first—alright, probably not the first—to congratulate all parties on finally making this deal happen, because a player like Carmelo Anthony was born to be a New York Knick.
New York City is the most happening place on earth, the epicentre of modern entertainment, the city that never sleeps, so good they named it twice and all those other catchphrases.
From the Empire State building to the Statue of Liberty, everything about the place is iconic—iconic enough to inspire songs from musical artists ranging from Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys.
Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knickerbockers, is the most famous sporting venue in the country—a venue built for stars like Carmelo Anthony. A generation of modern-day New Yorkers have grown up hearing of the days The Garden hosted some of the greatest heavyweight fights in history when Ali and Frazier came to town in the early 70s.
Unfortunately for them, it’s been just as long since the city had a heavyweight basketball team capable of packing a punch at the top level.
The Knicks won their only two NBA Championships around that time, in 1970 and 1973, to be precise. Back in ’73, the Knicks, led by Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Walt Frazier, beat the Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals. That win was their second Championship and third Finals appearance (they also beat the Lakers in the ’70 finals and lost to them in ’72) in the most successful four years in the team’s history.
Since then, Knicks fans have had to suffer through their team being a relative afterthought at the top level, while other teams thrived; the Bulls and Celtics have won six championships each, and the Lakers 10, since the Knicks’ last title.
Not only is it nearly 30 years since they last won a title, it’s also over 10 years since Patrick Ewing played his final game in a Knicks uniform, which makes it over 10 years since the Knicks had a legitimate NBA star.
Now they have two, and for all their deficiencies—particularly at the defensive end—the Knicks now boast arguably the best offensive big man in the NBA in Stoudemire, and arguably the most devastating scorer in the league in Melo.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not placing Melo ahead of LeBron or Kobe in terms of overall talent, or ahead of Durant in terms of consistent scoring. But when he’s in the mood, nobody lights it up quite like Melo.
He served reminder of his scoring potential in his penultimate game for the Nuggets last week, torching the Mavericks for 42 points while shooting 17-25 from the field, including 5-7 from three-point range. The fact that he is currently averaging 25.2 points per game (sixth in the NBA) this season while looking relatively disinterested for large spells is—in a slightly preverse way—another mark of his quality.
Adding Anthony to a starting five that already features the second-highest scorer in the NBA this season in Stoudemire (26.1 ppg) gives the Knicks a superstar duo comparable to any in the league—at least at the offensive end.
Coach Mike D’Antoni now has the enviable task of running an offense with two of the league’s best scorers at their positions, although that of course poses problems of its own in terms of making sure both players have enough of the ball to satisfy their scoring appetites.
The team already had the league’s second-best offense and second-worst defense in terms of points scored and allowed, so adding Melo’s attacking qualities and defensive weakness will certainly only add to the entertainment factor from now on. In adding one of the NBA’s biggest names to their payroll, the Knicks have just made a ticket to MSG to see Stoudemire and Melo in tandem a must-have for New Yorkers.
Then again, we knew all that already.
Of course, the trouble for the Knicks is that they’ve given up so much in the deal to get Melo, that on first glance it appears that they now have very little quality left on their roster to build. On the surface, giving up four of their recent starting five to get Melo seems counterproductive; what is the point of adding the player who could take your team over the top talent-wise if you have to give up the rest of your team in the process?
The thing is, from the Knicks perspective at least, the merits of this deal go way beneath the surface. Yes—the loss of Felton, Chandler, Gallinari and Mozgov is significant, but when you examine the deal player by player, it begins to make a measure of sense.
First, while it is true that Felton is enjoying the season of his life this year, averaging career highs in points, assists and steals, how much of that can be attributed to life in the Mike D’Antoni offense?
Without wishing to disparage Felton’s stellar efforts this year, the Knicks are giving up spending the next year-and-a-half with an improving point guard, but one who is still far from one of the NBA’s best.
In getting Billups as part of the package, they replace him with an admittedly more expensive option, but one who is producing another solid season running the NBA’s highest scoring offense, while shooting a career-high 44 percent from three-point range.
In Billups, they also add a leader with an NBA ring who already has chemistry with Melo from their time together in Denver. In the short term at least, this might even be an improvement for the Knicks.
Third-year small forward Gallinari has been great for the Knicks, but given that his overall numbers are pretty much the same as last year—but with worse shooting percentages—who’s to say that he is not already approaching a plateau in terms of his potential?
The fact that the Nuggets are already reportedly shopping him around suggests that he may be not as highly rated outside of New York, while the fact that he plays the same position as Melo means that had he stayed with the Knicks, it would have been as a backup anyway.
Did the Knicks make the right move?
The Knicks were reportedly highly reluctant to give up Mozgov, who has shown more over the past eight games than he had in the previous 46. The move also leaves the Knicks noticeably short of frontcourt depth, but if this was the make-or-break element in the deal, something had to give.
The Chandler deal is purely about economics. Even if the Knicks had been able to secure Melo as a free agent in the summer, they wouldn’t have had the remaining cap space to secure Chandler as well, so losing him now makes little difference. The same goes for giving up the expiring contract of Eddy Curry to Minnesota to make the economics with Denver work, given that as soon as Melo signs his extension, that cap space will disappear too.
The Knicks also gave up Anthony Randolph to the Timberwolves, but given that Randolph had barely played this season, and the Knicks receive the defensively-disciplined if slightly erratic Corey Brewer in return, the deal begins to make even more sense.
Of course, the Knicks could have waited until the summer to sign Melo as a free agent, and of course, they had reason to believe they were in pole position given Melo’s desire to play in the Big Apple But he also seemed to have an overwhelming desire to sign his three-year $65M extension while it was still available; the pressure was on New York to get the deal done now.
Also, with the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations for the new Collective Bargaining Agreements and the potential for anything from drastically-reduced salary caps to rumoured "franchise tags" similar to the NFL threatening to complicate a move for Melo, maybe now was indeed the best time to pull the trigger.
In comparing New York’s rebuild to the one that happened in Miami over the summer, you could make the case that the Knicks aren’t too far behind their Eastern Conference rivals.
No—a big three of Stoudemire, Anthony and a veteran Chauncey Billups doesn’t compare to Miami’s big three. But in rookie guard Landry Fields, they already have a player with the potential to be far more effective than any of Miami’s role players.
Throw in Brewer, Ronny Turiaf, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas, Shawne Williams and the other pieces they received from the Nuggets, and maybe things aren’t as bad as many would paint it.
Of course, this is a very rose-tinted view of things, and the Knicks have certainly taken a risk making this deal now given what it cost them. But in this league, the chance to sign a superstar doesn’t come along very often, and maybe—just maybe—it was a risk worth taking.