So after all that, we’re back where we started.
For the past week, the Knicks reportedly flirted with trading Iman Shumpert in approximately 72 different deals. He was going to the Clippers for Reggie Bullock, Darren Collison and Knicks’ right to leave Raymond Felton on the Clips’ doorstep. He was going to the Thunder for a sure-to-be-very-late first-round draft pick. He was going to the Clippers again just for Collison, and then maybe for Matt Barnes or maybe for Willie Green too. There was, allegedly, and in this universe, a bidding war for the services of Beno Udrih.
Ink was spilled and tweets were tweeted and … nothing happened. Beno Udrih is a Knick. So are Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton. But that’s not the headline.
Knicks Continue to Wander Aimlessly, could work, but that’s a bit wordy. Let’s go with Bad Team Lacks Plan.
It is always a bit of a fallacy to criticize a front office for inaction, because we don’t know what trade offers there were.* But, a reasonable person might ask herself — as the Knicks sit 11th in a horrendous Eastern conference with a 21-33 record, with no 2014 or 2016 first round pick and no cap flexibility for next season — just exactly why the trade efforts focused on three marginal players, and just exactly how self-deluded this franchise is that it didn’t try to blow it up.
No, we aren’t privy to the inner workings of the organization, but it is safe to say that there would be strong demand for Tyson Chandler (how about the Thunder?) and, of course, Carmelo Anthony.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Knicks did not seriously attempt to trade Anthony, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult to swallow. Now that the deadline is over, and given that Melo has made every indication he will use his Early Termination Option, the Knicks now officially have two options with their star player:
A) Let him walk for nothing at the end of the season, or;
B) Win his services as a free agent. Given the team’s awful constitution (and Melo’s comments about potentially taking less money notwithstanding), this will likely be a 5-year, $129 million commitment to a one-way player in his early-mid 30s.
To argue that the Knicks should not have traded Melo because they would not have received full value, you have to believe one of three things:
1. The Knicks can still compete this year;
2. Anthony will re-sign with the Knicks and it is a smart basketball decision to make him perhaps the highest-paid player in the NBA;
3. Anthony will choose to re-sign for less money.
The Knicks clearly believe at least one of those three things. Otherwise, they would have traded him and gotten at minimum a shred of value. And while believing in any of the three above options doesn’t necessarily make you an irrational actor, it does require a leap of faith. Suffice to say, if you believe in any of options 1-3, you aren’t making a good bet.
For my money, the safer bet is that this team, as currently constructed, is awful. That re-signing a wonderful offensive player for five of his decline years for more than $25 million/year will likely be a disastrous decision. That nabbing a young asset or two and a couple first-rounders for Anthony and Chandler was a realistic option that could have given this team some footing to rebuild in earnest. That while this season is not at all Melo’s fault — on the contrary, his inspired offensive play and effort in an unreasonable number of minutes have been extraordinary — his team is too weak and cap-strapped to simply pay him, make a few tweaks, and produce a winner. That the experiment has failed.
Now, the deadline did have some positives. The Knicks still have a 2018 first-round pick. They never got particularly close to mortgaging even more of the future on this lost season for the likes of Kyle Lowry and Jeff Teague (genuine upgrades, of course, but not enough to move the needle in a meaningful way). There was no talk of moving Tim Hardaway Jr., a dynamic and shockingly efficient scorer (58 TS%, 39% from 3, 81% from the line) on a rookie contract. The team tried to trade Shumpert only to shed salary and get a young player (Bullock) with upside in return, and may or may not have balked with the Clips made them a worse offer.
But while this front office appears to have developed some perspective on the margins, it remains, on the big issues, entirely deluded. Believing that committing to Anthony at top dollar, and letting the rest of the pieces fall where they may, can make the Knicks a title contender.
So this is where we are, back where we started. Nowhere.
*Or maybe we do. This seems a good spot as any for a related mini-rant: the outrageous number of leaks that come out of the front office hurts this team. Seemingly every proposed trade, every small idea, every lunch order this organization has gets leaked to the media. The Knicks have been trying to trade Iman Shumpert for over a year now, and it seems like we’ve known about, in detail, every single rumor. For the good of, say, not destroying the confidence of a 23-year-old promising and extremely athletic two-way wing player, this team needs to stop having the details of every phone conversation end up on Twitter. When the Yankees traded Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda in 2012, it was a total shocker — no one had heard a word about the proposed blockbuster. For all its warts, the Yankees’ front office has done a masterful job avoiding leaks, which improves their leverage in trades and doesn’t destroy their players’ confidence in themselves and the organization. The Knicks need to fix this. End rant.*