These days, the New York Knicks find themselves knee-deep in a riveting Melodrama of epic proportions. If it ends well, long-suffering fans of the franchise will undoubtedly Melobrate wildly at the ensuing Melopalooza. If it ends badly, there will surely be a Melocalypse in NYC and Carmelogeddon in the front office at MSG.
It’s hard to believe that more than eight months have passed since He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named took his talents to South Beach, but it was actually “The Decision” that set in motion this long-rumored marriage between Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. After missing out on LeBron James, New York fans have redirected their lust to the Brooklyn-born ‘Melo as the next-best option. The Savior, 2.0, so to speak.
Now, with the NBA’s trading deadline just 10 days away, the time for predictions, conjecture and rumor will finally be put to rest. Carmelo is leaving his current team, the Denver Nuggets, and is coming to Broadway. Or he isn’t. For the sake of GM Donnie Walsh and Coach Mike D’Antoni, he had better be.
A friend of mine who’s wildy successful in business recently shared a story about how he once had to back out of a particularly troublesome negotiation because “there was a lot hair on that deal.”
That’s what the Knicks face here. Lots and lots of hair on a potential deal to bring ‘Melo to town. On the surface, the mechanics of acquiring Anthony via trade shouldn’t be all that complicated.
There’s precedence here: Team A wants Player B from Team C. Team C demands Player D, E and F from Team A. Papers are signed. Carrier pigeons are deployed. Embroidery professionals are engaged to produce new team jerseys. Joy ensues.
But nothing is ever so simple for the Knickerbockers. It just so happens that the NBA is experiencing a wee bit of financial turmoil, and no one can know with any degree of certainty just how the landscape will look once the 2010-11 season concludes. There are rumors that the league’s salary cap will be lowered and that teams will be have the right to “franchise” players like in the NFL. Of course, the resolution of these issues are of paramount importance to Anthony, because he stands to lose anywhere between $20-40M in salary if he’s unable to extend his current contract before the expiration of the league’s collection bargaining agreement.
All of which means that the Knicks must act now. Players like Anthony don’t grow on trees. No, they’re not root vegetables, either. What elite players are, however, are rare and valuable commodities that are not available on the open market very often. Sure, the Knicks have Amar’e Stoudemire and a bunch of “other guys,” but let’s not view the world through Knicks-colored glasses.
No one, and I mean no one, on the Knicks roster other than the aforementioned Stoudemire should be off the table when it comes to completing a trade for ‘Melo. Anthony can play inside, with his array of post-up moves. He can play outside, where his albeit streaky outside long-range arsenal would fit perfectly in the Knicks’ three-point shooting-happy system. He’s a much better passer than he gets credit for, a skill he repeatedly demonstrated during the 2008 Olympics by elevating the games of everyone around him.
Most importantly, Anthony is a star. He commands the respect of defenses, he would undoubtedly take great pressure off Stoudemire, and there’s zero question of his ability to withstand the bright lights and scrutiny of playing in the Big Apple.
Defense? Umm, what’s that?
But what about the assets that the Knicks would have to part with? First, consider the “D’Antoni Effect.” It’s no coincidence that players’ stats under the offensive-minded Knicks coach tend to inflate. Speedball means more possessions. More possessions means more shots, more assists, and more rebounds. Come to think of it, the next time you see a member of the Knicks box-out will be the first, so perhaps my logic is somewhat faulty there. Details, details.
So what do the Knicks have to offer?
Ray Felton? Nice player. Tough player. Passionate player. Indispensable? Not so much. At least, no one described him as such when Felton was signed off the proverbial scrap heap last summer on an affordable two-year deal. Now, halfway through his first not-quite-yet All-Star caliber season, he’s untradeable? Please.
Wilson Chandler? Talented player. Lots of tattoos. On all accounts, a very swell chap. Plays hard, despite the recent lack of focus. But, will he ever approximate ‘Melo? Not unless he starts wearing a headband and an elbow sleeve. Oh, and he improves his game by a factor of ten.
Landry Fields? I get it. He rebounds. A lot. He’s got really thick and lustrous hair. He can drain an occasional three. But this is a “glue-guy” averaging 10 PPG and 7 RPG. There’s upside there, likely as a piece to a championship-caliber squad’s puzzle, but he’s a second-round draft pick whose stock is high. Playing the Market 101: Buy low, sell high.
Danilo Gallinari? Here’s where the Knicks need to draw the line, especially if they’re being forced to trade two of Felton, Chandler and Fields. Gallinari has shown improvement every year that he’s been in the league. He’s the highest Knick draft pick to have an impact on the franchise in a very long time. Perhaps most importantly, Gallinari is the kind of shooter that would feast on an opposing defense’s need to pay attention to Stoudemire and ‘Melo. And his defense is actually much improved, a quality the Knicks are desperate for.
Enter Donnie Walsh. He knows that ‘Melo wants to be a Knick. He knows that ‘Melo probably doesn’t want to be a Knick if it means he isn’t able to extend his current contract. He knows that the Nuggets are running out of time to get something in return for their star player before the trading deadline. He also knows that not every NBA talent evaluator sees things the same way as fans of the Knicks do. Denver has their own fans to satisfy, and trading away their franchise player for New York’s spare parts would surely be unpalatable. I mean, the air is thin up there, but it ain’t that thin.
What Walsh doesn’t know is how many “mystery teams” are lurking in the shadows, willing to pony up more assets than the Knicks are at present. And that is exactly why he needs to act quickly and decisively to complete this deal. Sure, Walsh has an irrational owner, impatient fans and a relentless media to contend with, but he knew what he was getting into when he took the job. Championships are delivered on the backs of star players, not role players with upside.
The other person with a significant stake in how this all shakes out is D’Antoni. Having come aboard three seasons ago to lead the charred remains of Isiah Thomas’ Knick roster, D’Antoni’s been mostly beyond reproach. Without Carmelo, the Knicks are sure to be eliminated in the first round of this year’s playoffs, should they even qualify. And what then? D’Antoni is still out to prove that his coaching philosophy can breed success in the NBA, and not just with regular season wins, but with championship-caliber campaigns. None of that seems plausible with the current roster of Amar’e, Danilo and the fellas.
Ultimately, this Melodrama has been reasonably entertaining as far as trade rumors go, but the running time has been way too long, and the fans are getting antsy in their seats. They’re looking for the show to wrap up. The problem with an unscripted ending is that this production will go from drama to horror show if the Knicks can’t bring Carmelo to The Garden before the trade deadline expires.
The Payoff Pitch brings you Jamie O’Grady’s distinct take on New York and national sports every Monday. Having previously worked as a Contributing Writer for MLB.com., Jamie is also a practicing lawyer and an unapologetic Yankees, Knicks and Giants fan. He lives in Mount Kisco with his wife, Sarah, and son, Jack.