It’s been an interesting week on the New York blogosphere, with hometown hero Jim Cavan pondering whether the Knicks should trade Carmelo Anthony over at Bleacher Report and friends Jared Dubin and netw3rk exchanging e-mails about whether or not to blow up the team (unclear on whether they mean that literally) at Grantland.
Both pieces are well-written and entertaining, but both are ultimately undecided on the path the Knicks should take. As Dubin outlined in the Grantland piece, there isn’t any one quick fix – there are just too many problems to be fixed overnight in one broad stroke.
But the fact remains that many Knicks fans are left standing still with their mouths agape. After winning 54 games a year ago and pushing the impressive Pacers to six games, the team has fallen apart at the seams, helped along by an injury to Tyson Chandler.
On one hand, it seems like the season has barely started. It seems like just yesterday the Heat and Bulls were squaring off on opening night. But that was five weeks ago. And over the last five weeks, the Knicks have tumbled to 3-13, tied for the worst record in the entire league. It happened so fast that many fans and analysts have stopped in their tracks, saying “wait a minute, this wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“So what the hell do we do now?”
That’s the question that everyone seems to be asking, from the fans all the way up to the front office. And nobody seems to know.
When a team has an unexpectedly bad start to the season, there are a number of different paths they can take to try to fix things. They can stand pat and hope the issues resolve themselves with time, they can reverse course and blow up the team, or they can double-down and try to flip their assets for new players that might be able to shake things up.
In the case of the Knicks, well, none of them seem feasible.
“We should wait for Chandler to get healthy, everything will be fine.”
This is a nice sentiment, and not totally incorrect. When Chandler is healthy, this Knicks’ team is completely different. They have a defensive anchor to patrol the paint, and they have a roll man off high screens that acts like a black hole in the middle of the floor, opening up shooters on the perimeters as the defense crashes down on him, afraid of a lob. When Chandler returns to health, the Knicks will undoubtedly be a better team.
The problem, however, is that by the time the Knicks have a healthy Chandler back, they could have a record in the neighborhood of 5-21 (or something similarly crappy). The list of teams that start the season that poorly and then turn it around to make the playoffs isn’t very long. Even with the East as terrible as it is, the Knicks would need to finish the season 31-25 (or something similarly impressive) to even get to 36-46, the worst record of any playoff team in the last 15 years.
In other words, for the Knicks to have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, they would need (a) Chandler to return to the lineup posthaste, (b) him to be a universal salve for all of their ills, and (c) to begin winning games with alarming frequency immediately upon his arrival back in the lineup.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
“We should trade Carmelo”
The logic here is pretty simple:
1. Carmelo Anthony is a good basketball player
2. The Knicks are not a good team even with Carmelo Anthony
3. There are other teams who would want Carmelo Anthony
4. Trade Carmelo Anthony to one of those teams and receive picks/young players/valuable assets in return
This is something that many struggling teams do – if they have a valuable player and they can’t win even when he does play, or he is too expensive for their liking, or they don’t plan on keeping him around for the long-term (or all three of the above), they should trade him to a team that believes they can win with him, his price tag is manageable, and he is a part of their long-term plans. Memphis traded Pau Gasol for Marc Gasol (and cap relief) and turned themselves into a contender just a handful of years later. Seattle traded Ray Allen and used the draft pick they got in return to spur a rebuilding effort. The Knicks, conceivably, would do the same with Carmelo Anthony.
Here’s the problem, though: The Knicks don’t possess their first-round draft pick this year. It is controlled by Denver because of (a cruel twist of fate) the Carmelo Anthony trade three years ago. So the idea of “Trade Carmelo and Bottom Out” doesn’t work because there’s nothing to bottom out to (kind of like in 2009-2010 when the Jazz held New York’s 2010 No. 1 – the Knicks seem to have a habit of trading unprotected No. 1’s).
So, if they were to trade Carmelo, they would need to be sure to either get back a mind-blowing haul of young players and/or picks, or find a way to clear out all the dead money on their cap (cough Amar’e cough) – or both.
But here’s the problem with THAT: It’s effectively impossible. There aren’t any teams that are [dumb enough to/capable of] clear(ing) that money for New York AND offering any assets in return. The only potential suitor, Brooklyn, already surrendered all their available first round picks between now and 2075 in the Boston trade that netted them Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
The only way to trade Carmelo and dump Amar’e with him is the zero-sum game of “You get Carmelo but have to take Amar’e,” and the Knicks don’t really get any assets in return (unless the Knicks agree to take back a similarly onerous contract – like Joe Johnson or Gerald Wallace)
The only option would be to (as Jim suggested in his Bleacher Report article) trade Carmelo for cheap assets and contracts that expire in 2015 (or before), something like to Cleveland for Anderson Varejao ($9.8 million team option for next season), Dion Waiters (rookie contract), C.J. Miles ($2.2 million expiring), and Earl Clark ($4.2 million this season and next season), and a future pick.
And again, another problem: Most teams wouldn’t be interested in Carmelo Anthony right now. Because of his player option for next season, even teams in “win-now” mode could be scared away. And many teams, in fact, aren’t in “win-now” mode, because they control their own first-round pick and are happy to play out the season for a chance a top draft pick next year. On top of that, the days of front offices that trip over themselves to get “a star” (with no consideration as to who that star is, how they fit on the team, or what they’re actually worth in regards to the salary cap) are mostly gone. Very few teams operate that way anymore. Teams are much more discerning now, and teams would be much more hesitant to trade for a player that carries a price tag like Carmelo, but doesn’t carry the guaranteed-title-contender status that someone like LeBron or Durant or Chris Paul does. Other than Cleveland and possibly Chicago, there just won’t be enough interest in landing Carmelo in that type of trade.
(Complicating things further is that it’s incredibly hard to swing a four-for-one trade like the one mentioned above during the season once rosters are filled – the Knicks would end up having to waive multiple players at the back end of the roster, even ones with guaranteed contracts.)
TL;DR: it’s near-impossible to trade Carmelo during the season
“We should package our assets for another key player”
“We should flip Shumpert for someone else”
This is the move that the Knicks would normally make. It’s the proverbial moving around of deck chairs on the Titanic and calling it a new ship, even as it’s actively sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic (Double-win here because the Knicks ARE at the bottom of the Atlantic – division. #NailedIt).
Once again, there’s a problem, and it’s two-fold, to match the two quotes above:
First, all the small-to-mid-sized assets that would normally be packaged together to net a key player…. They were already used. To net Andrea Bargnani. Novak, Camby, Quentin Richardson, and three picks (including a 2016 No. 1) were dealt away for a player that Toronto was having a fire-sale on and, if dealing with a savvy team (read: not the Knicks), would likely have had to throw in their own first-round pick to get the other team to bite.
The only small assets the Knicks have right now are Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway II, which leads us into the second problem:
Shumpert and Hardaway have salary cap figures that combine to just $2,900,520. Because the Knicks are over the luxury tax line, they can only receive 125% plus $100,000 of their outgoing trade cap figures. So, for Shumpert and Hardaway, that number is a whopping $3,725,650.
Plain and simple, there’s nobody that they can trade for with a salary under $3.7 million that is going to make the team appreciably better. They can’t sweeten the deal with first-round picks, because under the Ted Stepien Rule (teams can’t trade No. 1 picks in consecutive years), they don’t have any picks eligible to be traded until 2018 (their 2014 pick is owned by Denver, their 2016 pick is owned by Toronto). Flipping Shumpert and Hardaway for Young Player On Rookie Contract X would be purely a lateral move. Picking up a cheap, budding star like Andre Drummond or Klay Thompson isn’t even remotely within the realm of possibility.
Still, though, this is the course of action that the Knicks are most likely to take – and there’s a reason for it that isn’t entirely satisfying. Because the Knicks don’t control their pick, they’re more likely to try to over-extend themselves in an effort to win now. Why? So that the pick they convey to Denver isn’t a top-five pick and the Knicks look stupid for not protecting it. Instead of treating the pick as a sunk cost (which it is), the Knicks will likely look at the pick through the frame of “we can’t surrender a top-10 pick so we need to win enough so that it’s only a top-15 (or -20) pick.” So the Knicks will flip Shumpert and/or Hardaway, and maybe even an unprotected 2018 No. 1 (because they never learn) for some “immediate help” that may or may not actually help.
“So what the hell do we do now?”
I don’t know. I really don’t. Firing Mike Woodson and turning the reigns over to someone who realizes that Iman Shumpert is their only good two-way perimeter player and one of the few players who actually makes the team better when he’s on the court, and that the team is at its best when Carmelo is playing at power forward would be a decent start. But that’s another story for another time.