The trade deadline is Feb. 24, and that means the clock is ticking for the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks to work out a deal to put Carmelo Anthony in Madison Square Garden. But this is one deadline the Knicks should blow. Here’s why:
1. The 2010-11 Knicks are going nowhere
The New York Knicks are the sixth-best team in the Eastern Conference.
If they acquire Anthony, they’ll probably still be the sixth-best team in the Eastern Conference.
Acquiring Anthony now probably wouldn’t help them a lot this season. They are four-and-a-half games behind the Orlando Magic and five behind the Atlanta Hawks in the standings, which are massive gaps at this point of the season. Furthermore, the Hollinger Playoff Odds project them to finish eight games behind the Hawks for fifth in the East.
If they could somehow pass the Hawks, they might match up with Chicago, and one would have to give them a chance to pull off a first-round upset, given how they’ve handled the Bulls.
But how likely would they really be to get out of sixth place?
According to win shares, an advanced stat developed by Justin Kubatko of Basketball Reference, Melo has been worth about seven wins a season. Estimated wins added, a metric calculated by John Hollinger, is a little more Melo-friendly and puts him at about a dozen wins per season.
So split the difference and give Melo and the Knicks the benefit of the doubt here and say he’s worth about 10 wins per season, and say that they make the trade right away, giving them half the season on which to capitalize. That’s five more wins, still three short of Atlanta’s projected record. (And for the moment, the Hawks hold the tiebreaker over the Knicks, although that could change.)
2. The cost in assets is too high
Of course, none of that takes into account what the Knicks would have to give up to get Anthony -- probably key players like Danilo Gallinari and Landry Fields, not to mention Bill Walker and assets like Anthony Randolph, the expiring contract of Eddy Curry and a first-round draft pick or two.
Furthermore, team chemistry is an issue. The current Knicks have had time to adjust to one another, righting the ship for the most part after a choppy 3-8 start. Even the most upbeat analysis of Melo’s talents (such as this one) suggests that his fit with the Knicks is questionable, and certainly there’s a good chance that he won’t mesh immediately. To expect otherwise is wishful thinking.
3. The cost in dollars is too high
If the Knicks trade for him now, they are almost certainly paying him the max over the next four seasons, which works out to more than $20 million per season.
If you add that to the $20 million per season that Amare Stoudemire is getting for the next four seasons, you can see that the vast majority of the Knicks' cap space will be tied up in two players, severely constricting their flexibility going forward.
(The current salary cap is about $58 million. The best estimates say that the new salary cap will be closer to $50 million, and it might be much firmer, preventing the Knicks from going over the cap to the extent they’ve done before.)
4. If they wait, several good things can happen
A quick list:
First, the Knicks don’t overpay now in terms of players, assets and salary. That’s no small thing.
Second, they might have the whole dilemma removed, allowing them to move on. If they aren’t sure how much he will help them this season (and subsequently), this might be the best solution. We’ve seen repeatedly how uncertainty can weigh on a team when trade talk is in the air.
Third, if Anthony decides to go into free agency, that means he is likely willing to forgo millions of dollars and has eyes for only the Knicks, which puts the team in an incredibly strong bargaining position. Then, if the Knicks do decide they want him, they can say, “Your pals LeBron and Dwyane took less to help the Heat build out their roster, and we want you to do the same.” So perhaps they would get him for $12 million or $14 million per year, instead of $21 million or so.
Fourth, capwise, the Knicks are one step closer to bringing in Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, who are scheduled to become free agents in 2012 if they so choose. Reports suggest that those three are much more appealing players to them than Anthony, and reports suggest that those players are somewhat dissatisfied in their current situations. The Knicks very likely cannot sign both Melo and one of those superstars. In other words, if they get Melo, they probably would take themselves out of the running for CP3, D-Will and D12, which might not look very smart this time next year.
Fifth, they get a chance to see what the new collective bargaining agreement looks like. That will give them a much clearer sense of what Melo is worth to them. Furthermore, at that point, they’ll know whether the new CBA has mechanisms in place that restrict the movement of Paul, Williams and Howard. If that is the case, they can snap up Anthony.
I realize that some Knicks fans probably prefer the bird in the hand, which is Melo. But team president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni want the One Big Thing that has eluded them -- a championship trophy. They’ve won plenty, but they haven’t won it all. Presumably that’s what Knicks fans want, too, more than they want the thrill of seeing Anthony in a Knicks uniform.
The entire Walsh-D’Antoni regime has been a Hail Mary pass, as they’ve attempted to remove the team from its horrendous situation and win it all. Winning 50 or 55 games is not winning it all. Winning a round in the playoffs is not winning it all. Winning it all is winning it all.
And to give themselves the best chance of doing that, the Knicks should wait.