The New York Knicks are playing better in 2014; this much we know. They are only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot and 5.5 games out of first place in the Atlantic Division. The Knicks, and the rest of the NBA, are also only about six weeks away from the trade deadline. For the Knicks, this is a huge date.
Yesterday, Howard Beck and Jim Cavan both wrote articles on Bleacher Report about trading Carmelo Anthony and planning for a post-’Melo world in New York. Beck suggests it’s time for the Knicks to trade Anthony and Tyson Chandler and acquire as many assets as possible. Some of those could turn into useful, franchise players, and some of them could be used in other deals. Cavan’s post-’Melo world is less glamorous, but he suggests some more detailed plans about trades the Knicks could make to get assets and clear up cap space.
The problem is — and likely will remain — that the Knicks don’t know if Carmelo Anthony will stay.
GM Steve Mills was brought in to replace Glen Grunwald because of his league connections, his affiliation with CAA, and his supposed ability to keep Anthony in New York. Mills even acknowledged the latter as his task when he was introduced earlier this season. In all likelihood, Anthony will probably remain a Knick through the next six weeks and beyond, up into free agency, where he’s said he will test the waters. Simply: the Knicks probably aren’t trading him.
As Beck notes in his article, one of the biggest problems about re-signing Anthony is that he’s due for a giant salary. By staying with the Knicks, Anthony can reel in a max. contract of five-years, $129 million, a contract he’s unlikely to turn down (by his own historical precedents) if he’s to stay in New York. This would eat up a majority of the Knicks’ cap space, almost eliminate the chances of bringing aboard another superstar, let alone enough depth to build a championship contending team.
However, if the Knicks aren’t willing to move Anthony by the deadline, then the best course of action would be to fight hard for a playoff spot. If the Knicks miss the playoffs, they don’t have a draft pick to use in the lottery, and it becomes even more likely that Anthony will leave in free agency.
But if the Knicks make the playoffs, even if it’s just a first-round exit, would it be enough to make Anthony stay? In fact, it could even be the Knicks’ best option. A short, uninspiring playoff venture might be what it takes to keep Anthony in New York. He could see that the Knicks do have some of the talent in place to make the playoffs, but they’re far from competing. If the Knicks can reason with Anthony that they can build a contender around him if he takes less money, then perhaps he will do it.
By this summer, through NBA contracts alone, Anthony will have made over $100 million. Though it’s hard to leave another $129 million on the table (really, how many of us could pass that up?), Anthony could possibly take less than his maximum to help the Knicks bring a second star on board. The expiring contract of Amar’e Stoudemire will be movable next season, and by 2015, much of the current roster will be coming off the books. There is the potential for a rebuild on the move in the future, so long as Anthony is willing to negotiate and take less money.
Of course, this all depends on actually making the playoffs. The Knicks are only just starting to look like a playoff team (and three games isn’t much of a sample size), but making a playoff run is actually somewhat plausible for New York. The Chicago Bulls are likely dropping out of the race now that they’ve dealt Luol Deng; the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite acquiring Deng, still look like a long-shot. The Brooklyn Nets will lose Deron Williams for more time once again while he gets his continuously hurt ankle treated. Outside of the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors seem like the only mainstays, and they only have 18 and 16 wins, respectively.
The key for the Knicks, if they can’t outright win their division, would be to aim for the 6th or 5th seed, where in the first round of the playoffs, they would avoid Indiana and Miami. The Knicks would certainly have a chance at beating either Toronto or Atlanta — should those two teams stay in 3rd or 4th place — and advancing to the second round of the playoffs. Although the Knicks would almost certainly lose in the second round, as mentioned, it could prove to Anthony that they can still compete if he allows them to retool the roster.
With February fast approaching, expect all of this madness to heat up even more.
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