Impressions of the Carmelo Anthony Trade
My initial impressions of the Carmelo Anthony trade:
- The Knicks got better.
I love Danilo Gallinari and believe he will top out as a very good NBA player, but he’s no Carmelo Anthony, and given that they play the same position, it’s hard to complain about the Knicks giving Gallo up to get Melo. Wilson Chandler provided versatility and character to the Knicks. Shawne Williams can replace a fair amount of what Chandler did on the court and we’ll see how he responds to increased minutes. Chandler was going to be gone at the end of the season anyway, so we can’t get too caught up in losing him. At this stage of their careers, I would argue that Ray Felton is slightly better than Chauncey Billups, while acknowledging that reasonable people can differ. Felton’s leadership and swagger were valuable, but Billups is no slouch in those areas either. The biggest gap comes in the fact the Felton is younger and can play more minutes, but I can’t be too upset. Timofey Mozgov is a project, but the Knicks needed a guy to play some minutes at center. Ronny Turiaf is a nice bench player, but you could not swap him for the current starting center of any contending team without materially weakening that team. So the loss of Mozgov hurts. The jury is out on whether Corey Brewer can help the Knicks, though I suspect he will at some point.
2. They still aren’t good enough to contend.
See my point above about the Knicks at the center position. Moreover, I am not convinced Billy Walker is good enough to be a rotation player on a contending team. More-moreover, the question remains how well Stoudamire and Anthony will complement each other, and how the players around them will respond. Even if things go as well as we hope, the Knicks weakness at center and beyond the first two guys off the bench will preclude them from being a contender this year. I just don’t think the Knicks have enough talent to be a serious playoff factor this season.
3. They gave up too much.
My biggest problem with the trade is not that we got Carmelo Anthony and it’s not what we gave up for him. The team is better now than they were 5 days ago. And the exchange was a fair one, as far as I can see. But…the Nuggets had to trade him!!! There were only 4 possibilities: Chicago didn’t want him; the Lakers weren’t even close to willing to give up what Denver wanted; The Nets play in New Jersey; and then there are the Knicks. Why make this trade on Monday, three days ahead of the deadline? Look at how things played out. The Nets ended up using their ‘Melo assets to get Deron Williams, which would have left the Knicks as the only game in town if they had waited. Are you telling me no one could have texted Carmelo to cool his heels for a couple of days so the Knicks could press Denver to take a little less than everything they asked for?
Again, the problem is not the fairness of the trade. The Knicks got better. The problem is that they are still not good enough and they now have no pathway to getting materially better. Mozgov and Curry’s expiring might get you a serviceable center or backup point guard. Or not. We’ll never know, but the Knicks could definitely have used more assets to help them on the court or in the bargaining room. They should have held tight. The other thing to remember is that Billups is 34 and his contract effectively expires next year (the Knicks can buy him out for under $4 million). The good news there is that Chris Paul and Deron Williams will be free agents at the end of the 2012 season. The bad news is that unless the salary cap goes up or disappears, the Knicks won’t be able to afford either of them.
Aside: There is talk that the salary cap will either drop from $57 million to $50 or $52 million, or that the league will institute a hard cap at around the luxury tax level, which this season is a shade over $70 million. If the cap drops, there is no hope of signing a top free agent, obviously. If there is a hard cap, the Knicks could pay a guy like Paul max money, but with Anthony and Stoudamire already over $40 million combined, we’re talking about $60+ million on three players, with guys like Fields, Douglas and other young veterans to pay. It would be difficult, though not impossible to sign Paul with a hard cap in place.
I believe the NBA should eliminate the cap altogether and leave the individual salary limits and the luxury tax in concert with a salary floor. I also believe the draft should be eliminated, but that’s a topic for another post. I don’t see how the salary cap limits spending in any way that the luxury tax can’t accomplish. I also don’t buy into the idea that all superstars will bolt for L.A. and New York and Miami. But regardless, the grim reality of the NBA is that there are never more than 5-7 teams that can contend. It’s the nature of a sport in which so much rides on the very small number of transcendent talents. The NBA should embrace it. The truth is, there are always going to be great players like Kevin Durant who love cities like Oklahoma City, or Deron Williams, who is said to be devastated about leaving Salt Lake City – which as you may recall, Karl Malone and John Stockton loved as well. If rookies entered the league as free agents, would Blake Griffin have gone to L.A., or would he have joined forces with Durant to play in his hometown?
4. The front office is a mess.
Donnie Walsh has been making NBA trades since Alexander the Great and an aging Aristotle were the principals. He would have had no problem waiting until closer to the deadline to make a deal if necessary. So what could possibly have gotten in the way of Walsh’s strategy? If only we had some access to the inner workings of Knicks management to learn what really happened. I guess we’ll never know.