Something kind of magical happened over the weekend. The Knicks won a game of basketball! On the road no less against the type of young, athletic rebuilding squad that are so used to overachieving and kicking some orange and blue ass. But despite our 4th quarter sorrows and a furious rally from Jeff Green we came away with a huge emotional victory, snapping our 10 game losing streak and an even worse 11 game road losing streak dating all the way back to our 2nd game of the season in Cleveland. (God I wish we could go back to that time. Everything was so much simpler then…) Unfortunately, the only real highlight that came out of Friday night’s action was Marcus Thornton blowing a wide open layup by wedging the ball in the rim.
Less fortunate still was Sunday’s overtime loss to 1st place Toronto. Once again, I bared my soul and put my heart out on the line, abandoning an exciting Sunday night football matchup to watch my team lose another close one. To be fair, the Knicks did an excellent job of closing out the fourth quarter. They played some great defense, led by the ballsy 2 guard lineup of Shane and Pablo who forced about 3 steals in 2 minutes and they made enough shots to keep up with (let’s be fair) a much better Raptors team. And the Raptors had chances to win it down the stretch too. Lou Williams shook Pablo for an open 3 pointer, which he clanged, and then Terrence Ross grabbed an incredible offensive rebound to give Kyle Lowry another opportunity with 2.4 seconds left (god I was ready for us to lose the game right there. Also sorry for all of these devastating clips). But the Knicks hung tough and sent this bad boy right into OT.
Then the wheels fell off. The Knicks looked like all of the life had been sucked out of them during the brief commercial break, and no amount of Derrick Fisher timeouts was able to rally these guys back into playing for the win. One would think that the home team should be able to ride the energy of the crowd and grind out the last 5 minutes, but the Knicks fell apart like so much wet tissue paper and the Raptors hit that next gear, which is responsible for their 18 wins and fun league-pass-worthy style of play. The only Knick who really looked like he was fighting out there was Stoudemire, who repeatedly missed free throws down the stretch to punctuate how poorly those 5 minutes went. And now, another one in the loss column and the lovely realization that our boys are now 2-10 in games decided by 5 points or less. Great.
This could have been any other close loss, but it becomes all the more disturbing in the wake of a recent report that mentioned Carmelo Anthony would be “open” to waiving his no-trade clause if Phil Jackson could strike a deal with a team he would like to play for. In case you missed some of the Summer, Melo re-signed with a 5 year, $124 million deal which is about 3% less than what he could have earned as a max contract player. That tiny sliver of “generosity” from Anthony means the Knicks will have an additional $1.5 million in space this summer, possibly to pursue someone at the veteran’s minimum. However, Anthony also had a tremendous amount of leverage and included a no-trade clause in his contract, meaning the organization would not be allowed to trade him to another team. He came back to the Big Apple and he is here to stay.
Or is he? The Knicks’ dumpster fire worst start in franchise history, combined with the kind of internal combustion that comes with a losing team has to make someone like Carmelo think about what could have been in Chicago. (especially for someone as concerned with his legacy as Melo). And, while Melo did issue another statement saying he was not going to be leaving New York, analysts were quick to jump on his use of the word “today” to suggest he may have still yet to hit absolute rock bottom and could try to jump ship if the situation escalates further.
This really leaves us with two outcomes. Any way you slice it, the Knicks suck. They’ve struggled with learning the triangle offense and seem to abandon it entirely towards the end of close games. Their defense is laughable; if you listen closely you can actually hear Steve Kerr cracking up all the way from California where he remembers that he almost took the New York job over Golden State. Fisher has also really struggled as a rookie coach; the players have called him out for not sticking up for them on the court and his lineup choices can be shockingly poor, particularly when trying to close out games.
BUUUTTT, all that being said, the Knicks don’t necessarily have to be good this season. They actually own their first rounder this year (WOW!), which is starting to look more and more like a lottery pick. They also get to shed about $35 million worth of salary between Stoudemire and Bargnani’s expiring contracts (God, Bargnani. What a move. That’s what this team is really missing. He’s that final piece that’s gonna make all of this click.) Personally, I hope we can convince Stoudemire to stick around on a cheap contract, but either way you slice it, after retaining Shumpert (PLEASE), the Knicks will have enough money for a max level contract and possibly another rotation player. Marc Gasol has been mentioned a million plus times as the kind of smart-passing big the triangle needs, but the way Memphis is playing… I don’t see it happening. Even if we can’t pull Big Spain, though, its clear that the Knicks will be in a much better situation after this year is over. So, can Melo be patient and wait it out? Maybe just bite down and swallow that pride? Realize the team is effectively tanking and maybe sit out a few games he otherwise wouldn’t because he feels “banged up”?
Because if he can’t, the only other option is to find a trade partner and embrace full-on tank mode. Personally, I don’t think its gonna happen. Someone wrote this RIDICULOUS article listing possible destinations for Melo (this dude actually thought the Pelicans would consider letting Anthony Davis go! GM Dell Demps would’ve laughed in Phil Jackson’s face, before remembering he was talking to the Zen master and apologizing profusely.) Out of all of those, the only one I can realistically see happening is L.A. Melo likes the West Coast, loves Kobe, and it would be intriguing to welcome Jeremy Lin back to the Garden. Unfortunately, the Lakers are almost as bad as the Knicks this year and Melo’s only moving if there’s a chance of winning a ring. (Though the Lakers did pull off a KILLER OT win in San Antonio this Friday).
Melo needing to win a ring, though, eliminates most of the potential trade partners out there. Most teams locked into playoff spots either have fun young cores (Raptors, Warriors, Blazers) or have groups who have been together FOREVER (Grizzlies, Spurs). No one is going to interfere with that kind of chemistry, not even for a talent like Melo’s (and, more importantly, his massive contract). It also means, if Anthony is serious about this, that Western Conference teams represent a much bigger hurdle to jump over in reaching the Finals. That kind of messes with the two teams that I do see as having a realistic need for a player at his position: the Suns and the Rockets. Phoenix does have the three PG rotation and could easily include one of them in a deal, though I’m not sure if Big City Melo wants to move out to the desert. And, as for Dork Elvis, Daryl Morey already took a swing at Anthony over the Summer and has since jettisoned both the draft picks and the trade chips that would be required for this kind of move.
It gets worse if you look back East. Chicago moved on from Carmelo, and used that money on Pau Gasol; a choice they seem to be feeling very happy about. Cleveland isn’t going to mess with their experiment just yet, especially because Love would most likely be the man to move in that situation. Other than that, the only team with a realistic shot of scratching the Finals (with Melo’s help) would be the Wizards, and they are all-in on saving that cap space to make a run at Durant in 2016.
Simply put, there isn’t a good landing spot for #7. And, taken with the tremendous amount of backlash that would come from abandoning New York, I can’t see him forcing another trade. So, glamorous as it may be to pontificate on alternate universes and fire up ESPN’s trade machine, I think Carmelo Anthony is just gonna have to do the same thing as the rest of us: suck it up and wait for 2015.