The NBA trade deadline is February 24th, and come hook or crook, the New York Knicks must find a way to obtain Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets. Carmelo has done his part, with the greatest subtlety; he has made perfectly clear his desire to play under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
First of all, he has no desire to continue to play in Denver, and has expressed this desire through his actions, or lack thereof. The Nuggets, who can pay Anthony more than any other team, have offered Carmelo a contract extension for the last year and he has yet to sign it. He isn’t negotiating, the offer is a max deal, and Denver is no longer high on his wish list. It is even common knowledge in NBA circles that his newly wed wife La La Vasquez, for career reasons, also has desires to live in New York. But for Melo it isn’t just living in the tri-state area, it is about playing with Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks, and a true chance at winning an NBA title. Those feelings were made perfectly clear when the Nets and the Nuggets had a deal worked out and the final stipulation, the signing of that Anthony contract extension, killed the deal by his continued failure to sign. The failure of the Net deal opened the door for the Knicks, and with New York fresh off the bitter taste of losing the LeBron James franchise sweepstakes; they must take advantage of their good fortune.
Right now the Denver Nuggets are asking for too much for Carmelo, and they have been all year long. From New York they want Danilo Gallinari, Eddy Curry and his expiring contract, Raymond Felton, another unnamed starter, and 1st round draft pick in exchange for Carmelo and veteran guard Chauncey Billups. The loss of Raymond Felton, the man that makes the Knicks offense go, is a major blow, but it can’t be the sticking point on preventing 26 year old Anthony from becoming a Knick. It is common knowledge that New York has its eyes set on New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul after the 2012 season. If that is indeed their plans, then Felton is only a stopgap measure anyway.
So far New York has played the situation perfectly. The Knicks have held their ground, refusing to roll over to all of Denver’s steep demands. Knick General Manger Donnie Walsh has been in the league long enough to know that Denver is feeling pressured also, even though they are negotiating like they hold all the cards. It would behoove Denver to get something in return for Carmelo, and allowing him to walk away from the team without any compensation is a non-starter. So the NBA trade deadline is noose around the Nuggets neck in the same way it is around the Knicks. If the deadline passes the Nugget can do a sign and trade for him in the off-season, but holding out for that risky option is a last resort for Denver, not a trading strategy. Still the Knicks must be wary of that option in their negotiations with the Nuggets.
The only other team in reported trade talks with Denver is the Los Angeles Lakers, who reportedly are considering a straight up trade of Andrew Bynum for Carmelo Anthony. The good thing for the Knicks is that this trade doesn’t make much sense for either team. Denver already has a solid center in NeNe Hilario, and while the Lakers aren’t playing great right now, their team strength lies in their size. Adding Carmelo helps Los Angeles in the regular season, but in the playoffs scoring won’t be an issue, and defense and rebounding will be at a premium, traits Melo for all his wonderful talents, does not excel in. It is more likely that the Laker trade rumors were just preliminary talks that Denver is now using as leverage against New York. The problem New York has, is that while they have played the negotiations the right way the whole time, they ultimately are in a no win situation. The potential Laker deal, the just reported renewed talks with the Nets, or an emerging last minute player are all potential concerns for the Knicks. Carmelo clearly wants to play in New York however, playing with Kobe has to seem enticing to Anthony, and if push comes to shove, signing his contract with the Nuggets and staying in Denver is always a last resort option.
Reasons for NY Reluctance
It is understandable why the Knicks don’t want to decimate their team for Melo and Chauncey Billups, an aging point guard who may have a hard time running the Knicks fast paced offense. Mike D’Antoni’s offense is designed to shoot the ball within the first seven seconds whenever possible. The idea behind this, score before the opponent can set up a proper defensive front. This is hardly the offense you can imagine Billups running. For the first time in years, New York is playing as a collective. The Knicks are a young team; the players have gelled, are playing plus .500 ball, and are currently the Eastern Conference sixth seed in the playoff race. Even if the team fails to sign Carmelo Anthony, the future for this franchise is bright, the question is how bright? Can New York assemble a true title contender without adding another major acquisition? These questions cannot accurately be answered today, but conventional NBA wisdom says signing Melo is the best shot New York has at winning a title. Remember with the Heat’s all-star line-up, how far can this team get with Wade, Bosh and James in Miami, without equal talent and star power to compete?
The Title Landscape
Based upon the current NBA landscape it is logical that the Boston Celtics would no longer be a factor by the time the Knicks could put the right pieces around Amar’e and Carmelo. That leaves Chicago, Miami, and possibly the Orlando Magic to deal with. That is an ideal situation that New York has to take a shot at. New York may be able to build a contender the slow traditional way, however in todays league, teams obtain their major pieces through trades and free agency. New York knows first hand the success the right signings can cause. Bringing in Stoudemire and Felton changed the team into a playoff contender within months. Between that and watching the Heat, Donnie Walsh knows very well how trades and free agency can expedite the process to title contention.
Just Sign the Deal
This season has been a great improvement for this franchise, but it is just the beginning. And despite the collective success, frankly, there is not a player up for trade that is worth losing Anthony over, even Felton, who is likely the major sticking point for the Knicks unwillingness to sign off on the trade. Despite the reluctance to lose the young guard, the Knicks must pull the trigger, and soon, or risk losing one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA, and a chance to build a dynasty that would have a real opportunity to make a championship run for several years to come. So the Knicks must bite the bullet, ship off whatever players they must, regroup and figure out what type of team they have after the trade, and fill in the blanks from there. GM Donnie Walsh knows basketball, and he knows there are only a couple of better pure scorers in the league than Carmelo Anthony, and when that type of franchise changing talent comes along, you just can’t pass on it. Sometimes it is okay to blink first.