The Case for ... Moving Melo

December 09, 2013

Forget, for a moment, that we're talking about Carmelo Anthony. Let's talk about someone—call him Player X—who is a six-time All-Star and a three-time Olympian. He is one season removed from leading the NBA in scoring and possesses one of the league's most complete offensive arsenals.

But Player X has never won anything at the NBA level. In 10 seasons Player X has made the playoffs 10 times but advanced past the first round only twice, with a career record of 23--43. He is a ball-stopping forward who averages 2.5 assists per game, which ranks him behind such noted dish men as Nikola Vucevic and Joakim Noah. Player X is averaging 26.3 points per game on career-low 42.3% shooting on a team that has a better chance of winning the New York lottery than an NBA championship.

Oh, yeah, Player X, at 30, could command a five-year, $125 million contract next summer. Lost in the discussion of whether or not Anthony will re-sign with the Knicks is this: Should the Knicks re-sign him? Since acquiring Anthony in February 2011, New York is 100--86. That's not all Anthony's fault, of course. Injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler have derailed the Knicks at various points during the last two-plus seasons. But Anthony's inability to be anything more than what he is (see above) has cost the Knicks one coach (Mike D'Antoni) and forced the construction of a roster loaded with streaky shooters who can play off his ball-dominating approach.

Any sunshiny Carmelo-led future in New York requires a lot of assumptions. The Knicks want to believe that they can flip Shumpert, an unproven guard, for a more appealing asset, perhaps Boston's Rajon Rondo or Houston's Omer Asik, as reports suggested last week. Comparing Shumpert with Rondo is like drawing a line from Gilbert Gottfried to Daniel Day-Lewis, but even if it weren't, the Knicks don't have the sweeteners to make a deal appealing to the Celtics. Thanks to their trades for Anthony and power forward Andrea Bargnani, New York doesn't have a movable first-round pick until 2018. "And when dealing with Boston or Houston," says an Eastern Conference assistant GM, "it's all about picks."

The Knicks also want to believe that in 2015, when they're committed to just $13.4 million in salaries, they can replenish the roster. One target is Kevin Love, Minnesota's All-Star forward. An Anthony-Love pairing would be dynamic, and Love is said to be intrigued by bigger markets. But would Love leave Minnesota, a team that can pay him the most money and has a rising star in guard Ricky Rubio, a skilled center in Nikola Pekovic and an elite head coach in Rick Adelman, for ... what exactly? The chance to live in SoHo and play sidekick during Anthony's golden years?

Replacing Anthony won't be easy, but what are the Knicks holding on to? A succession of 45- to 50-win regular seasons? There are places where Melo can make a difference, but he needs an established second star (preferably a point guard, like Cleveland's Kyrie Irving) or an aging one (like Dallas's Dirk Nowitzki) eager to share.

Flipping Anthony before the trade deadline guarantees a long, torturous rebuilding process. But that may be inevitable. Think an Anthony-led Knicks team gets by Miami in the next three years? Or Indiana in the next five? Trading Anthony could bring back a young player and some draft picks and put the Knicks back on the path ex-GM Donnie Walsh had them on.

It's not a guaranteed formula for success, but New York has not won a championship since 1973 and has won just one playoff series since 2000. A new formula might be in order.

AVERAGING 26.3 POINTS PER GAME, A CAREER- LOW 42.3%

IN 10 SEASONS HAS MADE THE PLAYOFFS 10 TIMES

{BUT ADVANCED PAST THE FIRST ROUND ONLY TWICE}

SIX-TIME ALL-STAR, THREE-TIME OLYMPIAN

HAS NEVER WON ANYTHING AT THE NBA LEVEL

PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)