When a team is 9-19, it’s hard to do anything other than question the franchise player. Even when it’s not their fault—and in the New York Knicks’ case, it’s not Carmelo Anthony‘s fault—the player that’s supposed to be good enough to lead a team to a championship will be forced to shoulder the blame.
That’s life for a franchise player; they receive too much praise for team success and too much fault for failure. Nevertheless, the question has been raised: should the Knicks trade ‘Melo?
Allow me to defend that crazy notion.
Color me skeptical of every writer and fan who has ever suggested blowing up a roster before the month of January can even commence. Unfortunately for my conventional line of thinking, the Knicks are in an unparalleled predicament with a roster that’s built for filling seats with high-profile players instead of competing for an NBA championship.
With the Knicks sitting at 9-19, it’s time to consider blowing up this high-cost, low-reward roster. And that starts with the franchise player.
As someone who grew up in New York City, I know the horror that strikes every person when it comes to the Knicks entering a proverbial rebuilding period. For far too long, the Knicks were the laughing stock of the NBA, and a lack of commitment to the draft suggests that such a label will soon return, if it hasn’t already.
At this point, the only noteworthy thing about the Knicks’ star-studded roster is how poorly they perform when the lights are shining.
For that reason, it’s time that the Knicks acknowledge that a team filled with aging stars and impenetrable egos aren’t going to come together for sustainable success. Instead, they need to start from scratch, unload lofty salaries and build a team that has a legitimate opportunity to bring the first NBA title to New York since 1973.
Yes, it’s been that long.
Who to Keep
It’s necessary to state that, while blowing up the roster, New York needs to hold onto a select few players to properly build a contender. Madison Square Garden is still the Mecca of Basketball and the Knicks are still an attractive team to play for due to the city in which they reside.
As for who New York needs to hold onto to properly capitalize on the next two periods of free agency, the common theme is that the players worth keeping are either young or strong on defense.
The only player who truly deserves the label of untouchable is center Tyson Chandler. Chandler is a former Defensive Player of the Year and despite his recent injury woes, remains one of the NBA’s premier rim protectors and defensive leaders.
For that reason, the Knicks should display no hesitation in holding onto him and eventually re-signing him after his contract expires in 2015.
The player who is closest to an untouchable outside of Chandler is rookie shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. The 21-year-old has been a revelation, displaying a smooth stroke from beyond the arc and providing something that the Knicks have very little of: youth and promise.
Hardaway is one of six players on the roster who are younger than 28. The others are Cole Aldrich, Toure’ Murry, Iman Shumpert and Chris Smith. If you’re anything close to familiar with NBA, the only player on that list that is close to noteworthy is Shumpert.
That’s why he’s the other player New York needs to hold onto.
Shumpert is moveable if the return is strong enough, such as the previously rumored deal in which he’d be sent to the Denver Nuggets for Kenneth Faried. If the Knicks are unable to bring back a legitimate building block, however, Shumpert isn’t worth trading. His upside is that of a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
With Chandler, Hardaway and Shumpert in place, the Knicks must now address the elephant in the room: the one-dimensional stars.
Highly Paid, One-Dimensional
Outside of Chandler, there are four stars on the Knicks’ roster. All four have received mountains of praise for their work on the offensive end of the floor, and all four have yet to earn the slightest shred of credibility on defense.
Anthony, Bargnani and Stoudemire are all eligible to become free agents after this season, but only ‘Melo is likely to explore free agency. Bargnani has an early termination option, but is due $11.5 million in 2014-15. STAT would make $23,410,988 if he opts to remain in New York for that same season.
Neither player would make that much money on a new contract, which makes Bargnani and Stoudemire virtual guarantees to remain in New York if untraded.
Bargnani will be very difficult to trade, even in the midst of a strong rebound season. His contract isn’t attractive and his areas of expertise are limited to the offensive end of the floor. As a defender and rebounder, he leaves quite a bit of room for improvement.
At 28, that improvement isn’t likely to come in the near future.
The Knicks could potentially free up to $10 million in cap space by trading Stoudemire. Per Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report, the Boston Celtics were previously interested in a deal that would’ve sent Kris Humphries‘ expiring contract and Gerald Wallace‘s deal worth roughly $11 million per year to New York for STAT.
The issue is, Wallace is under contract through 2015-16. That’s two full seasons of Wallace’s dreadful deal as opposed to one more with STAT’s.
Keep in mind, Stoudemire did score 22 points on Christmas Day and is averaging 10.4 points on .581 shooting in 21.5 minutes during the month of December. If he can stay healthy, he can provide quality minutes.
There just isn’t room for his contributions with the current roster.
What this all adds up to is the Knicks needing to accept a 2014-15 season in which virtually the entire roster that they currently possess will remain in place, albeit with a few differences. The most significant step that the Knicks can take towards rebuilding, however, is the most unfavorable one of all: trading the franchise player.
With Bargnani and Stoudemire’s contracts all but certain to remain in place for at least one more year, the Knicks have one opportunity to create a significantly brighter future, albeit by a subtraction of the present day: trading Carmelo Anthony.
Time to Trade ‘Melo
At the end of the 2013-14 season, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony will have the option of becoming an unrestricted free agent. New York is expected to re-sign the reigning scoring champion, but there’s a legitimate possibility that he ends up going somewhere else and that’s a truth that must be accepted.
Even if he does re-sign, the Knicks must ask themselves one true question: what would be different with ‘Melo in 2014-15 as opposed to the 2013-14 season? The answer: not much.
Hardaway and Shumpert are the only players on the roster who aren’t in, exiting or well-beyond their respective primes. The Knicks would be in line for the No. 6 overall draft choice, which would open the door to land Andrew Wiggins due to the draft lottery.
Unfortunately, there’s one major issue: New York gave that draft choice up to land ‘Melo. The Knicks also dealt their second-round pick.
Call it the gift that keeps on taking away.
By trading Anthony, the Knicks would open the door to land both a first-round draft choice and a promising young player with quality upside. Fans may have soured on ‘Melo’s status as a franchise player and he does possess what could be an expiring contract, but that’s not the whole story.
Anthony is still one of the top five scorers in the league, and some general manager in some city will gamble on him. He’s a perennial All-NBA force and, by dealing him, the Knicks would be losing one of the top 15 players of his generation, if not better.
If New York is looking to build sustainable success, however, the best option is to trade Anthony now, receive multiple building blocks in return and take a shot at a superstar in free agency. Otherwise, the Knicks will continue suffering from the same problematic symptoms.
New York has mountains of money tied up in offensive-minded players under a defensive-minded head coach who’s being forced to work with an absence of athletes or young players who can be bred for the future. That’s close to the definition of “shambles.”
That’s why teams trade superstars for brighter tomorrows. That’s why New York trading ‘Melo isn’t so crazy after all.