There have been two prevailing knocks against the Knicks' acquisition of Carmelo Anthony: they gave up too many young assets to get him and that the creation of "super teams" modeled on the Miami Heat is bad for the NBA.
Neither is true.
At first glance, New York did seem to give up an awful lot. They traded three starters—Ray Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler—as well two young seven-footers (Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov), an expiring contract (Eddy Curry) and a first-round pick.
Chandler was a fairly one-dimensional scorer who was due for restricted free agency after this season and the Knicks had no intention of tying up their cap space to keep him. Randolph, despite having an immense amount of talent, could never earn playing time for Mike D'Antoni. Also, a cash-rich team like the Knicks can always buy their way back into the latter stages of the first round if they want to.
** See: The Mavs paying Memphis $3 million for the #25 pick, which they used to take South Florida SG Dominique Jones, last off-season. **
Getting Anthony, Billups and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Corey Brewer for Gallinari, Felton and Mozgov is a pretty good deal for New York.
Going forward, the Knicks have only four players under contract after next season—Stoudemire, Anthony, Renaldo Balkman and Toney Douglas. But, Anthony and Stoudemire will combine to make around $40 million next season and there's a good chance that the salary cap comes down under the new CBA, meaning the Knicks would have a hard time finding complementary pieces if they go after Chris Paul or Deron Williams in 2012.
Nate Silver at the New York Times articulated this fear, worrying that the trade "was extravagant from the terms of opportunity cost." But, for all the talent Williams and Paul have, the Knicks don't really need either.
The vast majority of the most statistically productive "Big Threes" in league history include at least one complementary player—a Horace Grant, Maurice Cheeks or Robert Parrish type. There are diminishing marginal returns to having a third elite perimeter scorer; there's only one basketball to go around.
Both Carmelo and Amare's value comes from their ability to create efficient shots in the half-court at will: Carmelo has a usage rating of 32.5 with a 45.2% shooting percentage while Amare has a usage rating of 31.7 and a 50.7% shooting percentage. They can create easy shots on their own; they don't need a point guard to do it for them.
You don't need another perimeter-oriented star around these two; you just need to find guys who can defend their position and hit open jumpers. If you space the floor properly for two perennial All-Stars, you're going to have a great offense.
Of course, this isolation-heavy style of basketball is the antithesis of D'Antoni's free-flowing, pick-and-roll offense. But, a good coach adjusts his system to fit the strengths of his players—if D'Antoni can't—than he should be replaced.
** Phoenix seems to be doing just fine with Alvin Gentry. **
The types of perimeter role players the Knicks need are a dime-a-dozen: New York found Landry Fields in the second-round and Felton in the bargain bin of free agency.
They've still got three more athletic young players on their bench who should benefit from playing off of their two superstars: Shawne Williams, a 6'9" combo forward shooting 47.5% from beyond the arc, Toney Douglas, a 6'2" combo guard who is a career 36.7% 3-point shooter and Bill Walker, a 6'6" former McDonald's All-American who can shoot from outside (42.1% from three-point range).
The nay-sayers are right on one point though: this current Knicks team isn't going to challenge Miami or Boston in the East. Not if they're forced to play Ronny Turiaf (6'10") and Shelden Williams (6'9") at center.
But then again, the pre-Carmelo Knicks weren't anything special either.
The Knicks will be so loaded with front-court scoring that the only thing their centers will need to do on offense is stand by the rim, catch and dunk the ball. What's more, there should be several athletic defensive-oriented seven-footers available in the off-season: from Marcus Camby to Brendan Haywood, Sam Dalembert and Kendrick Perkins.
A team starting Haywood/Amare/Melo/Fields/Billups with Douglas, Walker, Shawne Williams and Ronny Turiaf off the bench will be an elite squad in the East for most of the next decade.
The Knicks, the Heat, the Bulls and the Wizards (depending on who they draft the next two years) are the four teams best positioned to contend in the East in the 2010's. Are we going to act like this is a bad thing for the NBA?
** I would put the Nets in that list, but trying to trade Devin Harris for pennies on the dollar? Combine that with turning Courtney Lee into Troy Murphy and dumping Terrence Williams for nothing...these are not positive omens for player evaluation under the Avery Johnson/Billy King regime. **
Already the concern trolls are out, with college basketball announcer Dick Vitale ominously tweeting that: "The NBA will have about 8 power teams & a bunch of Cupcakes as super players will go where they want."
Yet, there was hardly any competitive balance in the 1980's, widely considered to be "The Golden Era of the NBA." From 1980-1989, only five teams even made the NBA Finals and the big-market LA Lakers and Boston Celtics won all but two championships.
Many worry that small markets won't be able to retain superstars, that what started in Toronto (Bosh) and Cleveland (LeBron) will soon spread to Orlando (Dwight Howard), New Orleans (Chris Paul) and Utah (Deron Williams). They ask: Can small markets survive in this new era of superstar free agency? I'd respond: Does it even matter?
Will the Carmelo/Amare Knicks win a championship?
There were only 24 teams in the mid-1980's; no professional basketball was played in Toronto, Minnesota, Miami, Memphis, Orlando or Charlotte. Does anyone think the NBA would have been better off breaking up Bird's Celtics and Magic's Lakers to ensure competitive balance? Would fans have benefitted from Kevin McHale toiling away in Minnesota, James Worthy in Memphis or Robert Parrish in Toronto?
The NBA has surged in popularity this season, with ratings up 26% on TNT, 15% on ESPN and 32% on ABC, which is almost unheard of in the increasingly fractured media market place. All you need to do is check out StubHub to figure out why the Heat and the Lakers sell out every arena they play in, while their Christmas Day showdown was the hottest regular season ticket in the league's history.
Compare that with the middle of the decade, when small-market teams from Cleveland and San Antonio played in the lowest-rated NBA Finals of all-time.
The people have spoken and they have spoken loud and clear: They want superstars playing together and they want them playing together in big markets.
Small-market fans complain about how unjust it is that the biggest markets can "buy up" the best talent, but there's another word for that—capitalism. Thirty-three million people live in metro LA and NYC. The Knicks and the Lakers are always going to have more fans than teams in Memphis (1.3 million people), Oklahoma City (1.2 million) and Salt Lake City (1.1 million).
Why should a tiny fraction of basketball fans be subsidized to watch the game's best players by everyone else? What's so fair about that?
Many have suggested the idea of a "franchise tag" to force marquee players to stay where they are drafted. This is a clear red herring—if an NBA star feels like he has the talent around him to win a championship, he will always take the extra money and forego free agency.
It's no coincidence that the two superstars who didn't leave for the bright lights of the big city, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan, did so while playing for two of the most well-run franchises in the NBA. While Durant has been lauded for his loyalty in staying with Oklahoma City, if the Thunder were an aging, capped-out team whose best young player was Anderson Varejao, he probably would have left too.
Bryan Colangelo in Toronto and Danny Ferry in Cleveland already proved they couldn't build a team around their young superstar, why should their managerial incompetence be rewarded? I doubt the NBA's ratings would be up this season if Cleveland and Toronto had continued to waste the prime years of their franchise players' careers.
** The NFL's "franchise tag" doesn't stop players from leaving their teams, it just forces the other team to give up two first round picks to sign them; which the Heat did for both Bosh and James. **
With Chicago, Miami and New York set to wage epic playoff series over the next few years, the NBA is on the brink of a new golden age. And as a basketball fan, I'd rather watch Deron Williams pass to Carmelo and Amare than Paul Millsap and CJ Miles.