Carmelo Anthony is willing to leave New York. The Knicks are willing to trade him. But can anyone come up with an offer for Anthony that the Knicks are willing to accept?
That's what several NBA front-office members were wondering Monday morning after ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Anthony is willing to waive his no-trade clause to join Houston or Cleveland.
"That's not an easy proposition for either team," one executive says about a possible Melo trade.
Here's why things are complicated: The Knicks have told people they don't want to take back older players on longer contracts in any transaction. At the same time, many in the organization feel it's best to trade Anthony. So that leaves New York in a tricky negotiating position.
So where could things go from here?
We asked ESPN front-office Insider Bobby Marks to help us sort through the parameters of a Carmelo deal and come up with a few plausible trades.
First, two factors to note:
At the moment, the Knicks are over the salary cap, so they'd have to take back $100,000 plus 125 percent of what they would send out in an Anthony trade. Of course, they could go under the cap if they renounced their rights to Derrick Rose ($29.7 million) and Sasha Vujacic ($1.4 million), moves that would create $16 million in space.
Also, there's Anthony's trade kicker. Anthony has a 15 percent trade kicker that would add $8.1 million to his 2017-18 salary. That would bring Anthony's contract to $34.7 million, which is almost untradable.
Under the new CBA, however, Anthony can waive all or part of his trade kicker to help facilitate a deal. We saw this with Chris Paul recently when Paul reduced his kicker from $3.6 million to $600,000 to help complete the trade that sent him to Houston.
In our trade scenarios, we'll operate under the assumption that Anthony is willing to do the same thing.
Scenario 1: Melo to the Houston Rockets
If the Knicks are looking for a first-round pick in a Carmelo trade, they'll probably need to get it from a third team. After trading for Paul, Houston does not have a first-round pick to trade right now: Houston sent a pick to the LA Clippers that was top-three protected between 2018-2023 and becomes unprotected in 2024.
The Rockets also have the option of amending the protection. If they put no protection on the 2018 pick, they can trade their 2020 first-rounder.
What about assets? Again, Houston doesn't have much to offer that entices the Knicks. New York, as of late last week, showed no interest in trading for Ryan Anderson ($19.6 million cap hit in 2017-18 with two years left at $20.4 million and $21.3 million).
Players the Knicks might have interest in? Eric Gordon, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, who overlaps with Courtney Lee and has a $12.9 million cap hit in 2017-18 with two years left at $13.5 million and $14 million; and Trevor Ariza, who is entering the final year of his contract ($7.4 million).
Here's one two-team trade proposal:
And one three-team proposal, with the Miami Heat facilitating a deal:
2022 2nd-round pick (from Miami)
2022 2nd-round pick (from Houston)
2020 1st-round pick (from Houston; protected 1-14)
For the Knicks, this deal makes sense for one reason: future flexibility. New York would get $35 million in cap room in 2017-18 and $50 million in 2018-19.
Marks points out that many teams looking for power forwards (Clippers, Kings, Nuggets) have found them via free agency. So there aren't a ton of teams that would have both the cap space and the need at power forward to help facilitate a three-team deal. The Heat, who have a hole to fill at power forward, would need to renounce forward Udonis Haslem to make this deal happen.
For Miami, re-signing McRoberts and waiving Wayne Ellington also would preserve the necessary cap space. After Wednesday's Dion Waiters acquisition, Miami would have a projected $10 million in room to bring back James Johnson.
Scenario 2: Melo to the Cleveland Cavaliers
Realistically, Cleveland has four players it could include in an Anthony trade that might interest New York: Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson. It's unlikely the Knicks would have interest in bringing back JR Smith (the same might be true of Shumpert). With that in mind, there's only one two-team trade scenario that works:
The issue here is that Love doesn't really fit in New York unless the club moves Kristaps Porzingis to center, something there has been internal resistance to doing, sources say. Even if they moved Porzingis to center, that would mean bringing Willy Hernangomez off the bench and leaving Kyle O'Quinn and/or Joakim Noah at the back end of the rotation.
From the Cavs' perspective, they'd be left with an unbalanced roster that would force LeBron James to play primarily at power forward. That's why a three-team deal makes the most sense here.
Could the Atlanta Hawks emerge as the third team in a Melo-to-the-Cavs trade?
One scenario Marks presents is Cleveland getting Anthony, Atlanta getting Love and New York getting the Timberwolves' lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick that Atlanta has in its possession.
2018 Minnesota first-round pick (lottery protected)
It seems like a poor return for New York, but it would allow the Knicks to get Anthony's contract ($54 million in total over the next two seasons) off the books. New York also would receive a first-round pick. Atlanta gets a replacement for Paul Millsap on a contract with fewer dollars and an All-Star in his late 20s.
Atlanta at the time does not have the required cap space to take in Love and would need to initiate a contract buyout with Jamal Crawford. It also would have to renounce every cap hold on its books except for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mike Muscala.
While the deal fits on paper for Atlanta, keep in mind that under new GM Travis Schlenk, Atlanta has begun a full rebuild. Also, while Cleveland would get Anthony in this scenario, the roster imbalance issues would remain.
Scenario 3: A Melo buyout
In the end, Anthony and the Knicks might be back to square one, stuck with each other unless New York agrees to a buyout, which at this stage could be the best option for both sides.
The Knicks had been uninterested in buying out Anthony in the weeks leading up to the draft. But former president Phil Jackson changed course and requested that owner James Dolan buy out Anthony shortly before free agency, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. Dolan was unwilling to do so, which was one of the final straws in Jackson and Dolan parting ways.
A buyout would be a less than ideal outcome for New York, which would receive no assets in return for a player it signed to a $124 million contract just three years ago. But the Knicks could create cap space, and if Anthony and the Knicks elect for the buyout option, the amount reduced would be stretched out over five seasons. For example, if Anthony and the Knicks agree to pay out $35 million of the $54 million Anthony is owed, the Knicks would have $7 million on their cap over the next five seasons.