When an owner is known to have interceded in a blockbuster trade, the accusation of meddling almost always makes the owner look bad. But will that be the case in this trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks?
As soon as the Knicks had agreed Monday to deal three current starters and their top reserve to Denver in the exchange for Anthony, Chauncey Billups and three of their fellow Denver Nuggets, reports began to circulate that Knicks president Donnie Walsh hadn't wanted to make the deal. He had been overruled by owner James Dolan, who had insisted that 24-year-old rookie center Timofey Mozgov be packaged into the trade to meet the Nuggets' demands.
Did the Knicks give up too much?
Look at it this way. They weren't planning to re-sign Wilson Chandler (who went to Denver) as a free agent this summer, because they were planning on using his cap space to sign Anthony as a free agent. So that means Chandler wasn't part of their future.
They had signed Raymond Felton (who went to Denver) to a two-year contract. And now in this trade they're receiving Billups as his replacement at point guard for the short term. So that's a wash.
So now it comes down to forward Danilo Gallinari, Mozgov, the Knicks' 2014 pick in the first round and second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 to Denver for Anthony and Billups (along with Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman). Is that such a bad deal?
I think it's a terrific deal for years to come. Now that the Knicks have two stars in Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, other top players are going to want to follow them to New York. The view of the Knicks has changed instantly. For the first time in a decade they look like a team on the rise, which isn't bad for a franchise that had been snubbed last July by all of the most-wanted free agents.
In the short term this trade may create problems for coach Mike D'Antoni. How is supposed to integrate Anthony (known around the league as a ball-stopper) and Billups (who doesn't naturally push the ball in transition) into a team that was maxing out its talent by outrunning opponents? Stoudemire has been thriving in D'Antoni's free-flowing, ball-moving offense. Will the Knicks be able to maintain their status as a playoff contender that is capable on the hot nights of beating any opponent?
That's why it should be understood and respected if D'Antoni had privately held doubts about including so many players in this trade. Every Knick who was moved to Denver -- including Mozgov -- was a player who thrived in D'Antoni's system. The job of the coach is to focus on the here and now, to win the next game, and D'Antoni was doing his job by focusing attention on how the Knicks may be affected this season.
That's how it's supposed to work: The coach worries about the next game, and the GM or president takes the long-term view of worrying about next year and the year after that and so on.
Instead of consoling D'Antoni for the pieces he lost, the coach should be congratulated for so quickly raising the value of so many of his players. Coming into this season, no one would have imagined these four guys ever could have delivered a star like Carmelo Anthony to New York. Last season Gallinari looked ineffectual for the 29-53 Knicks, after missing most of his rookie year amid back surgery. He and Chandler were viewed as scorers who did little to help the team win. Felton had been dismissed without a contract offer by the Bobcats, and Mozgov wasn't seen as being part of the Knicks' plans until he emerged during training camp.
This Knicks team was assembled in the shambles of the franchise's failure to land LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last summer. Walsh did an excellent job of pulling the pieces together, and D'Antoni did even better to make them appear valuable around Stoudemire.
The Knicks should be able to come up with replacements for Chandler (a No. 23 pick in the draft), Felton (a castoff free agent before he was reinvented by D'Antoni) and Mozgov (an undrafted free agent). You don't need tons of cap space or a lottery pick to find more players like them. But how often were they going to have another chance at a star like Anthony?
If the Knicks had failed to acquire Anthony after he had made it clear that he wanted to play for them, that failure would have done severe damage to the Knicks' reputation among Chris Paul and other future free agents. They are all friends of Anthony's, and he would not have had good things to tell them about New York.
The Knicks hired former Nuggets VP Mark Warkentien for their front office, in part because he was a client of CAA, the same agency that represents Anthony. Did this trade turn out to be an inside job arranged by Dolan and CAA with the help of Warkentien? The answer is probably yes.
Aren't most major trades built on these kinds of unseemly partnerships? The answer is absolutely yes.
Wasn't Celtics president Danny Ainge accused of exploiting his friendship with Minnesota GM Kevin McHale to trade for Kevin Garnett? Didn't Jerry West have strong relationships with agents Leonard Armato, who represented Shaquille O'Neal, and Arn Tellem, who represented Kobe Bryant, that helped West land both players in 1996 to launch a Lakers dynasty?
The problem for Walsh and the Knicks last summer was that they didn't pursue these kinds of relationships. The reason Pat Riley murdered the Knicks in free agency was because he cultivated and pursued those relationships to pull off the biggest coup of the modern era.
Now there is going to be a lot of complaining about Isiah Thomas and his relationship with Dolan, which is totally understandable given Thomas' record with the Knicks.
But in this case, look at how bad the Knicks were playing one year ago and how little promise could be found in their roster. Congratulate Walsh and D'Antoni for discovering and creating value that could bring a second star to New York and give the Knicks a chance to eventually -- because they are still years away from being any good -- build a contender.
Then congratulate the long beleaguered owner for boiling this deal down to the essentials. Dolan persuaded his basketball people to essentially trade Gallinari, Mozgov, and three low-level draft picks for the 26-year-old Anthony. He couldn't have completed this trade without the work of Walsh and D'Antoni, and they wouldn't be moving forward with two All-NBA stars if it weren't for the ambition of their owner. So why isn't everyone celebrating?