With James Dolan’s proclaimation that the organization doesn’t plan on making any changes to the roster or coaching staff this season less than two months old, the Knick rumor mill is stirring up again, this time with Jeff Teague reportedly the new apple of the Knicks’ eye.
Acquiring Teague is more feasible than Lowry given how much Teague has fallen off this season and how well Lowry has played. Teague’s contract runs through the 2016-17 season at $8 million per year, and his decline is mostly a result of a poor perimeter shooting. His true shooting percentage hovered just below the league average in his previous two seasons, but with his new contract in tow, he’s dropped down to 50.7%.
At twenty-five years old, Teague probably won’t get much better, and with Danny Ferry seemingly following the Daryl Morey strategy of staying flexible with short term value contracts while going whatever direction — rebuild or win now — in which the market offers the best value, it makes sense that Atlanta would be open to losing Teague for a flyer on Iman Shumpert and the opportunity in summer 2015 to look for a better way to spend $8 million.
The big question though is, “Why are the Knicks back in the trade market?” With the Bobcats heading towards thirty-seven wins and currently owning the tiebreaker, the Knicks would likely need to close the season on an 18-12 tear to overtake them. Considering nineteen of the Knicks’ final thirty games are on the road, even adding Teague for free likely wouldn’t punch the Knicks into the playoffs.
Any trade, therefore, is not about this season, in which case they’d be better off waiting to see what Melo does in the summer before making commitments, so this front office mood swing likely relates some news relating to Melo’s thought process for the summer. The question is how might they relate?
Let’s start with three assumptions:
- The Knicks’ interest in Teague is real and not just clickbait.
- As Stephen A. Smith said, “[The Knicks are] hellbent on holding onto [Melo] and doing everything they can short of James Dolan getting on his knees as a billionaire and begging the guy…”
- Carmelo Anthony understands the Knicks’ situation and has been properly prepped PR-wise on how to best achieve his desire. His vague statements about wanting to stay in New York and wanting to win could mean anything, just as Lebron’s statement in June of 2010 — “[Cleveland] does have an edge [in re-signing me]” — turned out to be gobbledygook.
If these are all true, then I only see two possible ways to interpret a trade for Teague.
If the Knicks top priority is retaining Anthony, then they undoubtedly will pass any trade through Melo and his people, so if this trade is really in the works, there’s a good chance Melo has endorsed it. If that is the case then Melo is likely leaning towards staying and is only looking for the team to improve enough to justify that decision.
Why? Well, think about it from a PR standpoint. If Melo was leaning towards or had already decided to bolt, his best option would be to request that the Knicks don’t make any moves, a request that a team desperate to keep Melo would have to fulfill. If the Knicks trade youth and picks for so-so contracts like Teague’s and Melo still leaves, it would be viewed as a betrayal as KB commenter Hubert so eloquently expressed. Not only would he have forsaken the team to which he requested a trade, but he would be leaving behind a team that most likely at his request had just sacrificed its future to make a roster that makes no sense without foundational player like Anthony.
Approving a trade for a player like Teague is a lose-lose proposition for Melo if he plans to leave.
Furthermore, you don’t transform a thirty win team into a title contender by trading for players like Teague. If you’re near broke and need to become a millionaire in a year — a pretty accurate description of the Knicks’ position and Melo’s purported championship dreams — you make high risk, high reward investments and hope they pan out. Jeff Teague is a savings account; he is guaranteed competence. The Knicks need volatile assets or as Daryl Morey says, “smart risk”, and the value you can get from max salary slots is far more volatile.
Therefore, if the Knicks do trade for Teague, it strongly suggests that Melo’s desire to contend for a title is tertiary, behind his desire to stay in New York and to play on a guaranteed playoff team.
If this is the case, Knick fans can look forward to wearing their Melo jerseys for years to come. They can also expect more trades for more players like Teague — think Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and OJ Mayo. More playoff wins in the near future are in store too if Melo stays healthy given the tragicomedy that is the Eastern Conference. However, Knick fans can also cross out any chance at a title for probably the next decade.
The other possibility is that Melo is being as vague with the Knick front office as he is with the press, and the front office is freaking out. Whereas a decade ago you mostly only saw stars take pay cuts for title chances late in their careers, in recent times stars firmly in their primes have sacrificed guaranteed dollars, even leaving glamorous cities, in search of a chance to win it all. If Melo is playing coy, the Knick front office may well be panicking, just like the Magic were towards the end of Dwight Howard’s tenure when they reacquired Hedo Turkoglu, traded for Gilbert Arenas and overpaid Glen Davis and Jason Richardson. We all know how that worked out.
In any case, Knick fans who want more than just competitive basketball should dread the possibility of a trade for Teague. The rebuild-on-the-fly strategy has been the core reason for the Knicks’ struggles over the last dozen years. Atlanta and Toronto are younger, have more cap flexibility and future picks, and have a ton more wins than the Knicks. If any of these teams should be sacrificing present talent for future potential, it’s New York. Here’s hoping it’s just a baseless rumor…