Carmelo Anthony is a Knick.
How exciting is that? You can’t call yourself a true Knicks fan if the image of Amar’e Stoudemire tossing up an alley-oop to Carmelo doesn’t give you goosebumps. Heck, I haven’t been this excited to watch the Knicks play since Stephon Marbury was operating the pick-and-roll to perfection with fan favorite Keith! Van! Horn! I was at the Knicks last playoff game — a 6-point first-round loss to the New Jersey Nets in 2004. I’ve watched faithfully as the likes of Tim Thomas, Jerome James, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis and Jalen Rose have made their ways in and out of the Garden. After six years of Lenny Wilkins, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas, I just can’t help but be excited. This is Carmelo we’re talking about. The man is one of the five best scorers in the league. And he’s a Knick!
But this is the wrong move at the wrong time. I know it. Mike D’Antoni knows it. Spike Lee knows it. Sadly, the ever-faithful and well-informed Knicks fanbase knows it. Worst of all, we all know why.
The biggest problem with this deal was that the Knicks gave up more than they ever needed to. The team gave up some promising talent on the rise in Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. They gave up their inexpensive floor general in Raymond Felton. They gave up Timofey Mozgov. And Eddy Curry’s expiring contract. And Anthony Randolph. And their 2014 first-round pick. And the Warriors’ 2012 and 2013 second-round picks. And $3 million in cash. That’s an impressive haul for Denver, considering that the Knicks were probably bidding against themselves. In the end, Carmelo was going to end up in New York one way or another. Even ’Melo isn’t stupid enough to accept a trade from a middle-of-the-pack Nuggets squad to a completely-gutted Nets team. Carmelo never wanted to play in New Jersey, and even James Dolan knew that their involvement wasn’t more than a ploy to force New York’s hand. Had the Knicks not bit, Anthony would have rode out the next few months with Denver and wound up in New York as a free agent, costing them nothing but cash. As is, the Knicks find themselves with a gutted roster, having given up hordes of young talent in a bidding war with themselves.
Which brings me to my next point. The cash. Carmelo is now in position to sign a contract extension that pays him $83 million over the next four years. That’s a lot of money — money that’s going to burn the Knicks in the long-run. When the new collective bargaining agreement is written, it’s sure to include a cap on maximum contracts far below that threshold. Had ’Melo come to New York as a free agent under the new agreement, they would have paid him far less. That’s why it was so important to Carmelo to get traded, rather than riding out the rest of the season. He got his cake and he’s eating it too. New York is picking up the tab.
But cash wouldn’t matter to a lucrative franchise like the Knicks if it weren’t for one sticky issue — the salary cap. The annual cap is currently at $58 million, and it’s sure to go down under the new agreement. The Knicks now have two contracts (Amar’e and Carmelo’s) that total over $40 million per season. Sadly, when the salary cap comes down, those contracts will not. While other teams will be able to retain top talent for less than $20 million per season, the Knicks will be left with uniquely expensive contracts on their books. Those two players alone will likely eat up nearly 75% of the new salary cap, leaving the Knicks only $15 million of wiggle room for the other 10 players on their roster. Did I mention that Chauncey Billups’ price tag comes out to $28 million over the next two seasons?
This, of course, is highly relevant considering the recent trend in NBA team construction. The logic now goes that it takes three superstars to win a championship. The Lakers, Celtics and Heat are all blessed with three (or more) marquee players. Sure enough, mega-stars Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are all set to become free agents after the 2011-2012 season. But the Knicks won’t have the cap space to sign them. Even if they were to commit only minimum contracts to the rest of their roster and somehow unload Billups, the Knicks would have less than $10 million remaining to sign a third star. As wonderful as these players might be, no one is going to take a 50% pay cut to join up with Amar’e and Carmelo. And you can bet that those two won’t be re-negotiating their contracts. So Knicks fans will have to settle for the sad truth that these are their franchise players for the next 4+ seasons.
But the problem extends even further than that. Even if you could win with two superstars, which is entirely plausible, you certainly cannot win without useful role players and a deep bench. The Celtics have Shaq, Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. The Lakers have Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. Even the Heat have James Jones, Mike Miller and Big Z. The Knicks have Bill Walker, Sean Williams and one-time-great Renaldo Balkman? As new talent becomes available on the free agent market, the Knicks simply won’t have the cap space to sign impact players. I like Chauncy Billups and Landry Fields, but the sad truth is that the Knicks are nowhere near a complete team. Ronny Turiaf simply doesn’t cut it as the team’s only center. Toney Douglas isn’t a championship backup guard. As good as Carmelo may be, the Knicks don’t have the role players to make much of a splash, and they won’t have enough cap space to sign them.
Beyond this, I’m not convinced Anthony is a great fit in D’Antoni’s system. Most importantly, the man isn’t exactly known for his defense, something that doesn’t bode well for a roster that is already an embarrassment on D. On offense, his talents are maximized by the half-court offense, and I’m not sure how well he’ll perform in the Knick’s run-and-gun transition system. Finally, the Knicks don’t really need a scorer. While it’s true that the team needed to take the burden off of Amar’e before his knees gave way, the Knicks are already one of the most offensively-efficient teams in the league. I don’t think the marginal benefit of having Carmelo take 20 shots a game justifies the enormous price.
Finally, I’m not impressed by Anthony’s attitude. Let’s face it: the man’s been a prima donna throughout this whole process. He’s held the Denver Nuggets hostage for an entire season. He was the first player in NBA history to demand a trade — to a specific team. He wasn’t willing to wait out the season and then sign with the Knicks as a free agent — a move that would have left him playing for a MUCH better team — because he wasn’t willing to forego the few million dollars he would have to leave on the table. He wasn’t willing to compromise on anything. Say what you will about LeBron, but at least the man waited for the offseason to go shopping around the league. I’m worried Anthony’s attitude just won’t cut it in the tough New York spotlight.
In sum, this is not how you build a championship club. The Knicks will be a better team with Carmelo. Down the road, their two superstars could propel them to a top-four seed in the Eastern conference (provided their valuable assets stay healthy). But an NBA championship requires a lot more than two overpriced superstars. It requires the valuable pieces that the Knicks traded away in a bidding war against themselves. With the massive contracts to Stoudemire and Anthony, the Knicks have now sealed their fate for the next 4+ seasons. That said, it’s hard not to be at least a little excited. After all — it’s Carmelo!
John Ettinger is a junior in Saybrook College.