[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Patrick Gallagher. He’s a playwright with a day job and has been a Knick fan for 25 years. He’s not sure which has brought him the most misery.]
“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.”
–Red Redding, The Shawshank Redemption
Every year around the summer solstice, Knick fans indulge in their long-running tradition of creating outlandish, implausible trade and draft scenarios that transform the Knicks from playoff outcasts to title favorites. It is a curious tradition, in that most traditions involve good memories filled with pleasantries like family and cake, or solemn, obsequious routines filled with deep meaning that connect us to our forbearers. Knick rumor mill tradition, on the other hand, is filled only with unrealistic pipe dreams (see: signing Michael Jordan, trading Michael Doleac for Kobe Bryant, James Dolan taking a sabbatical to play with The Eagles) that lead inevitably to crushing disappointment. No rational person would choose to subject themselves to this once, let alone every summer of their post-pubescent lives.
And yet, in the wake of Carmelo’s opt out, we find ourselves here again. Every third tweet recapitulates a new trade rumor that nets Phil Jackson and company Chandler Parsons, or the Bulls’ two first round picks, or Kobe Bryant and the Lakers first rounder, or even the Cavaliers number one overall pick. Insidiously, each of these rumors carries with it a certain plausibility: The Rockets/Bulls/Lakers/Cavs need to shed salary to add ‘Melo, why not shed that salary right onto the Knicks’ cap? After all the Knicks will happily take your flotsam, as long as you throw in a sweetener or two. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Right? Am I right? Tell me I’m…
Sorry, chief. Despite the litany of click-bait headlines, there is almost no compelling reason for any team to give away any valuable asset to the Knicks to complete a sign and trade for Carmelo Anthony. The most plausible scenario right now seems to be Melo to the Bulls. Chicago can clear the cap space to offer Melo a near max-deal, but both Melo and Chicago would probably be happier with a sign & trade the could net Melo more money and net Chicago more years with Melo under contract. The last rumor I saw was Boozer, Dunleavy, and picks 16 and 19 this year and Sacramento’s top 10 protected in 2015 for Carmelo Anthony. Sounds somewhat equitable, right?
There are two huge problems with believing in that proposal. First, it ignores the timeline of events required to sign Melo. Melo is not allowed to receive proposals from teams until July 1st. The draft is June 26. In most cases, especially mid first round picks, it is much easier to move picks pre-draft than post draft, especially for the purposes of clearing salary. If Chicago is hell-bent on clearing the cap space to sign Melo, which they should be, their most rational action would be to trade their first rounders this year on draft day for future picks and cash (which they’d then use to cover the theoretical cost of amnestying Boozer). Given the strength of this draft, this appears unquestionably achievable.
This leads to problem two: Once the Bulls have officially created the cap space to offer Melo a near max-deal, they have all of the leverage in any sign and trade negotiations, assuming Melo decides that he wants to be a Bull. And this is how free agency recruiting works. Before there is any discussion of a sign and trade, Chicago will get Carmelo to commit to the franchise. Commitment comes first. That’s how it worked with the big three in Miami, that’s how it will work with Melo. Once the commitment’s in place, Chicago can call up the Knicks and tell them, “Melo is going to sign with us. You have two choices: You can either facilitate a sign and trade in which you get Boozer, Dunleavy, and a second rounder or two, or we can amnesty Boozer and sign him on our own.” This is not a haul worthy of Anthony Carter, let alone Carmelo Anthony. But it is the most likely outcome.
No matter who acquires Melo that will be the story of a sign and trade. No acquiring team will make the Knicks an offer before they are assured that Melo is coming, and once Melo is coming the acquiring team has all of the leverage. Assuming that team is a rational actor (see: not secretly owned by James Dolan), the only chance the Knicks have of getting a decent return like the one outlined above is if Carmelo Anthony tells two teams he will sign with whichever one can get the Knicks to agree to a max contract sign and trade first. That’s a circumstance I’ve never heard of in my entire life. It’s also the one most of you reading this hope against hope will come to pass
I get it, I really do. It’s so hard to see a player of Melo’s caliber let go for pennies on the dollar or nothing at all, especially after Dolan & Co. gave up literally half of a young, improving, above .500 roster and draft picks galore to acquire him. It’s not just hard; it’s unfair. It’s unfair that this has to happen to this team yet again, who since they traded away the 15 year heart and soul of their franchise for a guy who may have allegedly been shtupped by Sarah Palin have been on the wrong side of virtually every trade they have made, who have acquired potential star after potential star only to see them felled one after another by terrible roster management, brittle knees, or an untreatable Vaseline addiction. For once can’t we be on the winning side of a trade? If we can’t have a star, can’t we at least have the bounty of assets such a player commands? If we can’t be good, can we at least have hope?
This seeming elimination of even the slightest rational possibility of hope is truly the greatest crime perpetrated on Knicks fans by the team’s maladroit management. Fan bases of professional sports teams can only sustain interest if their team is winning (unless you’re a Heat fan with a dinner reservation) or if the team has a plausible path towards contending; that is, if the fans have hope.
For 15 years, Knick rosters have consisted of retread, underachieving or declining veterans. Draft pick after draft pick has been traded away, for very little or in the case of Andrea Bargnani outright negative return. This is why Knick fans are so prone to overvaluing serviceable but hardly extraordinary players like Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr., or Nate Robinson, who happen to be homegrown (I was convinced Frank Williams would be a professional point guard for fifteen years…he played 86 career NBA games). This is also why many Knicks fans were so distraught when the team chose not to re-sign Jeremy Lin, a player who, for all his flaws, felt like a fount of untapped potential at the time. He raised (perhaps illogically) our perception of the team’s ceiling. For a brief time, the Knicks were not only good, but also had room to become even better.
With that pathway seemingly gone, it’s no wonder Knick fans are back to their old habits. Free agency invites wild speculation. But what’s so striking about this version is its lack of ambition. Yes, there will always be morons who think we can somehow turn Bargs, Shump and a 2022 1st into Russell Westbrook, but the most common free agency rumors smart Knick fans currently indulge in are so, well, modest. Getting a couple mid-round draft picks and Mike Dunleavy does not turn the Knicks into a competitive team, or a team with robust growth capacity. Even the Lakers-based proposal Dan Litvin detailed at The Cauldron earlier this week centers around acquiring a 75 year old Kobe Bryant with a quantum thin Achilles tendon who makes $25 million the season after next; hardly the stuff titles are built on.
And yet the delusion persists. Well for the love of God stop it. Don’t do it to yourself Knicks fan. Accept that to root for this team means there is no hope. We are as far from a title as Andy Dufresne was from Zihuatanejo. It’s just a fecal pipe dream.
I mean, Mexico is way the hell down there, and you’re in here. And that’s the way it is.