Despite a plucky start to the season, the New York Knicks are going nowhere fast. The team will finish in the lottery, which helps them not at all because the Knicks traded their unprotected 2016 pick for Andrea Bargnani. So, in fact, being in the lottery objectively hurts New York because it strengthens a rival. Alas, the Knicks are bad and there's no getting around it.
The 2016 offseason is beginning to look like a critical moment for the franchise. Carmelo Anthony, who turns 32 in May, is under contract through 2017-18. The only other veteran under contract that long is Robin Lopez, who in a perfect world would soon make way for Kristaps Porzingis at center. Porzingis is just 20, a generation younger than Melo and the very obvious future of the franchise. Melo as the franchise player and Porzingis as the franchise future seem fully incompatible based solely on timing. By the time Kristaps is ready to be a top-2 player on a good team, Melo will no longer be. This is a textbook case of two stars on different cycles.
The obvious answer, as briefly discussed in Tuesday's edition of Flanns & Zillz, is that Melo ought to be traded. The time is right for such a move. Anthony is still productive and has three years left on a max deal that will look more affordable once the cap goes up this summer. The hitch in this plan is that Melo has a no-trade clause and is known to love New York City. That clause and that fact almost completely reverse the contract situation that makes a trade viable in the first place.
As others have noted, this season and offseason are really the first times the Knicks could seriously consider a Melo trade. At all other points of his tenure in NYC, he'd either just arrived, had been approaching free agency or the Knicks were (fleetingly) awesome. The perfect storm of Melo being under contract and the Knicks being bad has just arrived in the past year and a half. Still, that means nothing if Melo won't consent to a trade.
Everyone interested in Melo's future, and by extension the future of the Knicks, will be reading tea leaves every time he talks. So far, Anthony's commentary on his future has focused on what the Knicks need to do to get back into the playoff conversation. There's been an awful lot of Rajon Rondo talk, with Melo apparently attempting to recruit him to NYC this summer. Rondo is fine and would be an upgrade on Jose Calderon as a distributor. But at the price tag Rondo will bring, the Knicks could do so much better for the long-term development of Porzingis and the roster in general.
This is the problem with keeping Melo: he's expecting more veteran help and the Knicks should not be investing in older players at this point. It doesn't help that Phil Jackson is apparently putting out test kites for a plan in which he coaches home games and Kurt Rambis is retained to serve as the head coach on the road. In that linked Ramona Shelburne piece, she reports that Jackson feels a sense of urgency to right the Good Ship Knicks. If Jackson is suggesting he rekindles his coaching career, that urgency is likely to come with veteran players. The future is never close enough in New York.
A sane franchise would assess Melo's value around the league, develop a list of potential trades with teams that have a shot at convincing Melo to waive the no-trade clause, watch teams struggle to land top free agent targets in early July and pull the trigger on the best option thereafter. The shallow free agent pool and giant pot of collective cap space is bound to leave teams riddled with questions. Let Melo be the answer for one lucky team, whether that's the Lakers (L.A. is glamorous), Rockets (compete for a title with James Harden), Mavericks (no income tax in Texas, be Dirk's successor and become a future Mark Cuban investment partner), Celtics (a competitive young team with a respected coach) or the Wizards (Baltimore's your real hometown, right?).
L.A. has Julius Randle. The Rockets have picks. Dallas has Dwight Powell, Justin Anderson and perhaps there's mutual interest in a Chandler Parsons sign-and-trade. (Parsons is five years younger than Anthony.) The Celtics have a slew of draft picks. The Wizards have Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre.
The pitfall here is what happens if New York tries to trade Melo and he won't consent to any team willing to give up assets for him. If Melo is only willing to go to Miami, and Miami is only offering Tyler Johnson, a Hassan Whiteside sign-and-trade and Josh Richardson, the Knicks will find themselves at an impasse and will eventually be forced to convince Melo to pick another city, keep Melo for the rest of his contract or take a less favorable deal just to end the drama.
In some ways, the leverage the Knicks used back in late 2010 and early 2011 to pry Melo from Denver may come back to haunt New York. Back then, Anthony was adamant that he'd only re-sign with the Knicks and maybe the Nets, so only the Knicks and Nets were involved in trade bidding. The Knicks used that leverage to negotiate a tough deal. It ended up being a good deal for the Nuggets because GM Masai Ujiri and his ownership team was willing to be patient and string the Knicks along until they added more assets to the offer and James Dolan got twitchy.
The Knicks must now find a way to gain an advantageous position in a situation limited by the whims of Carmelo Anthony. What goes around comes around.
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