The Knicks and Carmelo Anthony agreed to a contract this weekend, a 5-year deal for $124 million, a player option on the final year and a no-trade clause.. The deal–which will color every move the organization and new president Phil Jackson make over the next half-decade–was such big news that we had to break out the roundtable; an illegal roundtable in basketball terms, in fact. We’re going 6-on-5 to discuss whether the Knicks overpaid, what the move says about Jackson’s reign, and what to expect from the team this year and beyond.
1. Is 5 years, $122.5 million (or so) an overpay for Carmelo Anthony? If so, was it worth it to sign him anyway?
Dan Litvin: Objectively, I don’t think it was an overpay, because salaries for the best players are artificially capped. In the context of the CBA however, his contract does create challenges. It’s going to escalate in cost at the same time he’s likely to be declining in skill, and that inflation will limit the team’s ability to add pieces around him. On the other hand, I think fans should be pleased (if initial reports are correct) that he decided to take less to help management facilitate additional moves, particularly next summer. He didn’t have to do that but he clearly understands some of the burdens the CBA (unfairly) places on the league’s best players.
Jonathan Topaz: In a vacuum, this will likely prove to be an overpay. An average annual salary of more than $24 million a year is a lot for a one-way player on the wrong side of 30, regardless of his brilliance on offense. Melo is somewhere between a top-10 and top-15 player in the NBA — if you like PER, he’s more a top-7 player; if you prefer win shares, he’s more like a top-15 guy. He’s a great and flawed player, a perennial All-Star but not a once-in-a-generation talent, a player you hate to give up but whose contract is bound to get ugly when he is a 34-year-old making $27 million a year. The last two years of this deal will almost certainly be painful. And Melo isn’t quite special enough to make up for it value-wise in the first three. I still think it’s worth it (more on that in a bit).
David Vertsberger: Perhaps, but it was worth it. The Knicks aren’t in a dead-in-the-water position, they have a first round pick this year and a handful of young pieces with upside. Their books are almost completely wiped clean next summer, and Anthony’s still got at least two to four years left in his prime. There’s no reason to begin a complete rebuild when one of the league’s elite is at your doorstep ready to sign.
Robert Silverman: Since the Lakers did have an offer for 4 years/97 million, I have to say no. Of course, I wish he would’ve re-upped for something in the neighborhood of 5/100–that’s still a Gramercy Park duplex-level neighborhood–but the market determined what Melo’s value is/was, and in the end, I’m glad that he’s back. If you’d like to read more as to why I’m so tickled, I wrote a bunch of words over at VICE Sports.
Gus Crawford: Overpay? Yes. Worth it? Compared to the alternatives, it looks like it was the right path to take. Melo’s options narrowed down to Chicago and New York, and with the Bulls toeing a fine financial line and unlikely to fork out any assets of significance in a sign-and-trade scenario, retaining him for that price steadies the Knicks’ position ahead of the 2015 free agency window.
Kevin McElroy: Prices are market-determined and there were multiple teams in this market prepared to max Melo out. I don’t believe that the Knicks paid much/any more than they had to pay to keep him.
2. Let’s say you were the Knicks GM, and you couldn’t get a sign-and-trade deal worked out or convince Melo to sign for less than this contract. Would you have signed him for the (almost) max or let him walk for nothing?
Litvin: I vacillated greatly on this subject over the last several months. Coming off a dreadful 37-win campaign, I thought the Knicks could be terrible without Melo, and the best course may have been to bottom out rather than tread water. I stuck with that view into free agency but with every day that passed I felt more uncertain. Every time I read that Melo was giving serious consideration to another team a sense of dread enveloped me. I don’t know if that is because being spurned by a superstar who couldn’t handle incompetent management would have been embarrassing and quintessentially Knicksian, or because I genuinely wanted him to stay. But I think if push came to shove I would have given him every cent. Whatever the reason, I’m glad he’s still here.
Topaz: I would have signed him, but it’s complicated. A very tricky part of this deal is Melo’s depreciating value. He is a 30-year-old entering into his 12th NBA season who led the league in minutes per game last year (the rest of top 5 were all players 25 or under — thanks, Coach Woodson!) In other words, the Knicks have to get better fast to maximize their chances before Anthony’s performance declines. It’s a tall order, but the Knicks will have cap room next summer and a more thoughtful front office running the show. This contract isn’t an ideal situation, and ownership likely missed a major opportunity to trade Anthony during last year’s comedy of errors of a season. But letting an elite player walk for free — particularly when the market this summer indicated the team will likely be able to trade him at some point if they so choose— would have been unnecessary.
Vertsberger: I’d sign him. Again, I like the position the Knicks are in. It’s one primed to have at the very least a Playoffs team in 2015-16, maybe something better. While teams continue to struggle putting together a package suitable for Minnesota to give up Kevin Love and lose out on this summer’s top free agents, the Knicks have their guy, one whose talent is very difficult to replace.
Silverman: I don’t think letting him walk and getting zip back would’ve been good, so no.
Crawford: Key word there is “almost.” It sounds as if Melo has agreed to a slightly below max-level deal — which is nice — but the most important detail will be his salary for 2015-16. If the Knicks were able to convince him to stagnate or slightly reduce his Year 2 figure, then re-upping him was the right maneuver. Slapping a five-year, $129M full-max albatross atop an already messy cap sheet is a whole other matter, though.
McElroy: I would have signed him. As I wrote over at The Cauldron, Melo’s skill set makes him a better fit for the primary perimeter role in the triangle offense than anyone else the Knicks would have been likely to sign with the cap space they would’ve saved over the next five years by letting Melo walk. More than that, the value that the rest of the market seemed to place on Melo bodes well for what he represents as a trade commodity if the Knicks decide they want out of the deal at any point. If, 2 years from now, the Knicks are still mired in mediocrity, you’ve gotta think the Knicks and Melo would both be amenable to a trade and you would hope that they’d be able to get at least a couple of minor assets for him.
3. With all due respect to Derek Fisher, how to deal with Melo was far and away Phil Jackson’s biggest decision in his first summer in charge. How’d he do? And does his handling of this shed any light on what type of executive the Zen Master might be?
Litvin: I can only speculate, but it seems Phil played the game shrewdly. Melo opened the door to taking less, and Phil jammed his foot into it by pressuring Melo to actually follow through. He also seemed to have taken leverage away from both Melo and Chicago by making it known that he would not engage in sign-and-trade discussions should Melo have chosen the Bulls. I think Phil has done a good job as President and his handling of the Melo negotiations bodes well for the future.
Topaz: It was an odd scene last week: Phil Jackson — winner of 11 NBA championships, master of Zen, tamer of nature, wearer of backpacks — telling reporters Melo hadn’t returned any of his recent text messages. It was a reminder that in today’s NBA, even the most royal of senior citizens takes a backseat to the league’s superstars, who wield an almost unprecedented amount of leverage. We’ll see how much money Melo ends up leaving on the table, but given his many attractive suitors and seemingly predetermined decision to opt out, I’m not sure if this ordeal tells us much about Jackson. If anything, it tells us a bit more about Anthony — namely that Jackson, who has coached wing players named Jordan and Bryant to multiple NBA titles, thinks Melo is worthy of the max.
Vertsberger: We obviously don’t know in the inner workings of Phil Jackson’s negotiations with Anthony, but I like how he handled the situation with the public. Confident, assuring, not afraid to say “if we lose him, we lose him.” It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t get Anthony to take a smaller deal, but I’m not so sure any GM could. Some may have not even been able to re-sign Anthony. If this tells us anything about Jackson though, is that he must either think highly of Melo as a star, or wants to avoid a total overhaul at all costs.
Silverman: I think the Chandler-Calderon trade actually says a lot more about his GM’ing skillz. He got good value for a player that I kind of think is about to enter a serious decline; considering how much of Tyson’s game is built on speed and athleticism, he could drop off pretty quickly. We already saw what happened when he was a half step slow this season, and he’s never going to be the DPOY that prowled the lane like a wild-eyed, ravenous tiger shark again. Considering his injury history, I think dumping him now was absolutely the right thing to do. Netting two picks in a loaded draft, a nifty prospect in Larkin and dumping Felton? That’s a pretty darn good first step.
And then he brought back Aldrich. No one’s talking about that (understandable, given the hurly-burly of the last 48 hours) but I think he’s going to be really valuable this year. I loved watching him operate in the Triangle in the first SL tilt, and it’s always worth it to roll the dice on a lottery pick “bust.”
But to the question at hand. It wasn’t an ideal situation. If he really tried to squeeze Melo to take a serious cut, I think he would’ve walked—taken his talents all the way to Sunset Boulevard, if you will. He got him to take less and while that’s not the absolute idea result, in this instance, I think perfection is the enemy of progress.
Crawford: Jackson has always made the public forum his domain, peppering the press corps with salty one-liners and teetering between backhanded compliments and his trademark Zen wisdom. From Day 1, his candor on the media front has instilled an authoritative presence for the organization, and signalled a shift away from the days of the Knicks grovelling at the feet of agents across the league. Sure, his private stance may have (and likely did) differ, but I couldn’t find much fault in the first flirtations in the Melo-Phil romance. If that’s any indicator of his executorial MO, sign me up.
McElroy: Jackson did his job here but I don’t think it was a particularly difficult decision. Clearly, his sales pitch was good enough but that’s not the toughest thing to do when you can outbid the competition by a couple dozen million dollars. Once Melo was willing to come back, his retention was a formality; I doubt any other current NBA GM would have behaved differently. In my opinion, the Chandler trade was far more illuminating of Jackon’s creativity and team-building philosophy.
4. With this signing and the Tyson Chandler deal, next year’s roster is basically set, though the Knicks still have a mini-MLE available. It’s obviously very early, but how does next year’s team look?
Litvin: Very Melo-centric. He still needs help. Phil’s best triangle teams always had a top-notch second fiddle. Who is the Knicks’ second best player? Try not to think too hard about that because the answer may scare you. That said, I still think the Knicks can field an efficient offense. Their defense will be a serious concern though. There is going to be a heavy toll on Iman Shumpert, Dalembert will have to limit his tendency to gamble for blocks and Cole Aldrich is going to have to be physical. Most importantly, Melo is going to have to set an example.
Topaz: Not great, but it could be fun. There will certainly be some ugly moments — young rotation players, a potentially rocky adjustment to the Triangle, and a first-year head coach. This team will really struggle on defense without Chandler (and with an injury-prone Samuel Dalembert taking his place). But they could surprise people on offense. Calderon is a high-efficiency, low-turnover point guard and a wonderful shooter, and the smaller team and lack of frontcourt depth will likely push Melo back to everyone’s favorite spot for him at the power forward position. Those changes alone, plus a coaching change that might mean fewer minutes for Andrea Bargnani and better lineups in general, will likely bump this team up from last season. They seem like an on-the-bubble playoff contender in the East.
Vertsberger: Terrible, but at least it’ll be fun terrible unlike last year’s “I want to put something sharp in my eye” terrible. We’ll get to see Carmelo in an actual NBA offense, with Calderon – an actual NBA point guard – commanding the floor and bombing home threes. I imagine the young guys will get loads of playing time, if only to become more intriguing trade assets. That’s going to be fun to watch too. Now I just have to pray that Andrea Bargnani doesn’t play, unless he’s in to get in Kevin Garnett’s grill.
Silverman: It’s interesting. I’ve been chatting with some fine hoops minds on the Twitter about whether or not this is a playoff team as presently constructed. Right now, I’m going to say no. The East has gotten kind of deep all of a sudden. Indiana (assuming Stephenson returns), Cleveland, and Chicago are all pretty evenly matched at the top. And then there’s the somewhat equally ranked Toronto-Washington-Atlanta-Charlotte-Miami quintet. The Knicks certainly could bust into that grouping, but right now, this looks like a lottery team, even if they’ll be improved over last season, while winning about the same number of games.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Getting a stab at a top-3 draft choice, working to learn Fish’s system and seeing which players on the roster actually do make sense together is hardly a wasted year.
Crawford: It’s an improvement on the inferno of this past season, but there are still gaping holes. The roster is scarily thin up front, and not much has taken place to shore up the defensive side of the ball. I don’t think 2014-15 is going to mean much, in context. One positive of the makeover is the role of José Calderón, which I covered here.
McElroy: If they don’t sign anyone for the Mini-MLE, I think they’ll be 5 or 6 wins better than they were last year. I’m building in a likely coaching upgrade (although that’s entirely based on Woodson’s incompetence; Fisher remains an unknown quantity) and a much better fit of personnel to system. I’m offsetting those improvements with the downgrade from Chandler to the center-by-committee that they have in place right now as well as the potential for worse injury luck than they had last year (or, frankly, BETTER luck with Bargs’ health; the fewer games he plays, the better). Put me down for 42 wins, although there’s certainly some upside there.
5. The front office and coaching staff has gone through a major, major change this summer. What do you think their long-term plan is beyond this year? How will (or should) the organization approach the next several years?
Litvin: This time next year is obviously a fulcrum in Phil’s plan. The Knicks will likely have maximum salary cap space to get Melo some help. Marc Gasol is obviously everyone’s main target, but I’m worried the well may dry up before the summer comes around. That said, you can do more with cap space than just spending it on free agents. For example the Lakers just landed an expiring contract in Jeremy Lin and a first round pick because they were able to help the Rockets clear room. Another event that shouldn’t be overlooked is the expected jump in the salary cap associated with the NBA’s new forthcoming TV deal. If the cap jumps because of a rich new broadcast deal, look for the Knicks to have additional cap space beyond just 2015.
Topaz: As I said above, Melo is only getting older. In this five-year window, the team’s best shot might be in 2015, when Anthony will just be a year older and the Knicks will have maximum-level cap space (and perhaps a lottery pick from 2015.) Melo’s declining age is the real downside of this deal. The Knicks have an excellent star; some fun young pieces in Tim Hardaway Jr., Cleanthony Early, and Iman Shumpert; impending cap space; and a young, new coach. But Anthony’s contract could be a real liability at age 33, and as fun as it is to have some young talent and lowered expectations in 2014, this team needs to start winning and winning quickly in 2015. Things might not look so chipper in 2017 or 2018. As this five-year journey begins with Melo and Fisher, it is Jackson’s tall order to build a roster that miximizes his star’s years on the back end of his prime before things turn sour.
Vertsberger: From what I can tell, the plan is to score Carmelo Anthony some surrounding pieces in 2015 free agency to create a contender. Apart from this, I’m not so sure. I assume the plan B is trading Melo if the Knicks swing and miss that summer, and it may not even be Jackson’s choice. Carmelo has his max contract, now it’s just about getting his championship. If he thinks the Knicks can’t get it done, he may look for an out. At which point it’ll probably be time for the Knicks to go through a true rebuild from the ground up. Whatever the case, I’m pretty darn excited.
Silverman: Build a winning culture. Yes, it’s such a hoary sports cliche it practically is analog, but the thing about cliches is, if you stare at them long and hard enough, you’ll realize that there’s some seriously sharp teeth of truth. You can miss it, what with those canines being hidden behind a yellow smiley face button of a saying, but a winning culture is a real thing–getting a disparate group of individuals to work and sacrifice towards a common goal, often at the expense of the component parts’ individual happiness takes time.
The Spurs have it. The Heat have it. The Pacers had it before it all came tumbling apart in a venomous see of finger pointing and possible girlfriend bedding.
So yep. That’s the plan. Should be fun to watch.
Crawford: TRIANGLE. Uh, sorry. It’s encouraging to see some degree of harmony between the front office and those on the sidelines, at very least. Even if you’re skeptical as to whether Phil can ride out the entirety of his five-year deal, you’ve got to be optimistic about the foundations that he is laying. Aside from personnel changes, the introduction of a single affiliation D-League team is the priority. The Westchester Knicks can evolve into the fertilizing system not just for future Knicks players, but for the style of play that the franchise wishes to adopt long-term.
McElroy:: I would expect that if the Knicks’ plan was to try to improve this year’s team at the expense of the future, their notoriously leaky front office would have let some rumors slip by now surrounding the the divesting of Bargs’ and STAT’s contracts. My expectation, and hope, is that they will allow those contracts to expire after this season, make a push for Kevin Love or Marc Gasol next summer (if either is a realistic option; if not, getting a quality big will remain priority #1) and try to acquire and develop a young point guard, likely through the draft.