How do you salvage a sinking ship? That’s the question that faces the New York Knicks’ front office as the trade deadline draws ever nearer. Having only pulled themselves back into relevance as a playoff contender in the last couple of years, the Knicks now appear to be staring into a black hole.
It’s often said that the worst place to be in the NBA is the middle of the pack, but New York could yet find themselves in a place to argue otherwise. Long-term mismanagement and what could only be described as a compulsion to trade away draft picks leaves the Knicks in a position where they could find themselves off the pace for a long time to come.
With rumors of Carmelo Anthony‘s departure in free agency intensifying by the day, general manager Steve Mills has big decisions to make. Mills took the reins as head honcho in the Knicks front office in September and he wasn’t blessed with inheriting endless riches. The Knicks roster is currently lumbered with overpaid/injury-prone stars and their closet of future draft picks is frighteningly bare. Let’s take a look at some of the problems Mills inherited, and some potential methods of damage limitation.
The Knicks have already traded their first- and second-round picks away for an upcoming draft stacked with talent, one which it now appears they would have found themselves in the lottery. The same applies for 2016, when both picks are sent elsewhere. Meanwhile, 2015 and 2017′s second-round picks now belong to Houston and Toronto respectively, with the first-round picks only spared due to league regulations forbidding first-rounders being traded away in consecutive years.
The biggest problem with the Knicks current group of players is undoubtedly Amar’e Stoudemire. A one-time superstar in the league, Stoudemire has seen his productivity drop dramatically in recent years as injury has taken its toll.
In his first season in New York, mostly without Melo, Stoudemire averaged 25.3 points in 36.3 minutes. This season he’s tracking for 9.6 points in 19.4 minutes per game. Not great numbers for a guy earning $2.6 million more than LeBron James this year. The 31-year-old has never quite been able to mesh offensively with Anthony and with his knees more and more brittle by the day, the obvious option would be to trade him. The problem is that Stoudemire has arguably the most immovable contract in the NBA, being paid approximately $22 million a year.
This leaves the Knicks with a difficult decision. They could decide to cut their losses, take a hit and waive Stoudemire, but as his contract was signed under the old CBA the payout could vary drastically. Do the Knicks really want to pay for a player they don’t even have though? Perhaps more importantly, can they afford to with the potential shape of their roster next year?
Andrea Bargnani joined the Knicks last summer as part of a trade with Toronto that must still have Raptors GM Masai Ujiri smiling. In exchange for Bargnani, New York gave up Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first round pick and second rounders in 2014 and 2017.
A baffling haul for a jump shooting big man renowned for lacking defensive effort and awareness. Since the trade, Bargnani is taking less 3s, while also making a lower percentage than ever before. As a result, the Knicks must be asking why they moved heaven and earth for a big who averages 13.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, while earning more than $11 million a year.
Until last year, the New York Knicks had gone 13 years without getting past the first round of the playoffs. There were many reasons for this, but it wouldn’t be inaccurate to pin it primarily on their lack of star power in a league where it’s all important. With no Bernard King or Patrick Ewing, the franchise’s results weren’t living up to the legends of years past.
With the arrival of Carmelo Anthony in 2010, there was hope in the Garden once again though. In the time since, Melo has done all he could with a fairly limited supporting cast. He’s not the greatest defender in the world, but the Knicks signed him to be an explosive and varied scorer and that’s exactly what he has done.
In his time as a Knick, Anthony has averaged 26 points shooting 44.3 percent from the field, adding 7.1 boards a night also. Although not the most efficient numbers in the league, he is undoubtedly an elite scorer. Last season he even picked up a scoring title en route to leading the Knicks to their first divisional title in 19 years. There are now signs that Melo is growing tired of the same old frustrations in New York, though.
In the last three games, against teams they would have hoped to be competing with, the Knicks were blown out by the Pacers, Clippers and Nets. If it’s money he’s after in free agency, Anthony’s best bet will be to stay with the Knicks, but there’s a growing sense that he now wants to win. He has watched as the odd man out as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, all drafted alongside Melo in the 2003 draft’s top five, have challenged for and won championships in South Beach. This, combined with his body language, makes it seem like Anthony will want his next move to be one that gives him the best chance to contend for titles.
With their current situation in mind, New York need to make moves that will work as solid rebuilding, while also showing Anthony that, if he does choose to stay, he will be surrounded by capable young talent.
Let’s take a closer look at this one so.
The Knicks have long been rumored to be shopping Iman Shumpert around, a capable defender/shooter who can play at either the 2 or 3 spot. He could be the perfect complement to Drummond and Smith as a front 3, under a new defensive identity in the Motor City.
Beno Udrih has requested a trade and Detroit would be the ideal type of situation for him to land in. Brandon Jennings would be the undoubted starter, but on those nights when he goes off the boil, which do happen, Udrih would be perfect as the steady experienced veteran ready to step in.
Then finally, J.R. Smith. The Knicks have plenty of reasons to want to move Smith on, but most of all he has become too much of a loose cannon and a disruptive influence in the dressing room.
What would make Detroit want to take that on? He is still a potentially explosive scorer and the reigning Sixth Man of the year. Away from the bright lights of the Big Apple, there’s no reason to believe that Smith’s career couldn’t be rehabilitated again. On his game, there aren’t many men in the NBA better at leading a second unit offensively.
On the New York side of the deal, Greg Monroe would offer a top class young big man that future Knicks teams could be built around. For his career Monroe averages 13.6 points and 8.8 rebounds, shooting 51.1 percent from the field. An athletic 6’11″, Monroe is an excellent finisher inside and has shown potential of stretching his game out to the mid-range. Defensively he is still a bit raw, but has all the physical tools as well as the basketball IQ to become a consistent two way force. Also “Moose,” as he is affectionately known, is a free agent this summer, giving the Knicks the flexibility to assess their options before committing to anything long term.
Although he didn’t necessarily enjoy the most illustrious spell as a Knick the first time around, Chauncey Billups is the sort of solid and steady backcourt presence that would do the Knicks no harm. In the second unit, a backcourt of Prigioni and Billups could use all of their wisdom to pick opposition defenses apart. Even towards the tail end of his career, if paired with an intelligent point guard, there’s no reason why “Mr. Big Shot” can’t be a force in limited minutes.
Peyton Siva showed during his time at Louisville that he is a highly talented young guard. He helped the Cardinals to consecutive Final Four appearances, including their NCAA championship victory last year. At only 6’0″, Siva is undoubtedly on the small side for the pro game, but with the right guidance he could become a solid NBA player. His fast hands are a particular asset, as he left Louisville as the school’s all-time leader in steals.
This trade would allow the Pistons to move Josh Smith to the power forward spot where there isn’t a need for him to take jump shots to spread the floor. A potential starting five for Detroit would be Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt, with a front three of Shumpert, Smith and Andre Drummond. With the exception of Jennings, this would be a lineup of players who thrive on the defensive end of the floor, giving the Pistons a key ingredient that they have been lacking: an indentity.
For New York, it gets rid of players who don’t want to be on the team, and aren’t wanted on the team. With Monroe, they have a future All-Star power forward/center if they should decide to extend his contract, Billups offers veteran leadership off the bench, while Siva is a youngster with real potential.
To Philadelphia: Tyson Chandler
To New York: Thaddeus Young
Tyson Chandler is an All-Star caliber center with a championship ring to his name. He’s an outstanding player who is a perennial contender for Defensive Player of the Year. This makes him almost as valuable to the Knicks in trade scenarios as Carmelo Anthony. An experienced center like Chandler would be an ideal fit in Philadelphia, as they are not only one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, but they have some of the most talented big men also.
A big man rotation of Chandler, Spencer Hawes and Nerlens Noel would act as a formidable and dynamic trio. Chandler could help mentor some of the 76ers young talent, while if they wanted to, he could always be shopped in the future as a player who could push contenders over the finish line, and I’m sure yielding a rich return in the process. Or, if the Sixers wanted to keep him long term, they could explore trade options for Hawes, a player who’s increased minutes this season will have improved his trade value to no end.
For the Knicks, receiving Thaddeus Young in exchange would give them one of the most underrated young forwards in the NBA. Young can finish inside, shoot long jumpers and the three ball, as well as being a solid defender. Just like Monroe, he has the potential to be a regular feature in the All-Star game for years to come, and paired alongside Monroe, and potentially still, Anthony, would give the Knicks their best front court in years.
Aside from acquiring a talented player like Young, who is tied down to a reasonable three year contract, the Knicks would save just under $6 million on this trade. This is money that could be put towards recruiting free agents, or even if they decided to go that way, waiving Stoudemire.
If they could persuade Melo to stay, the Knicks could go with a dynamic and energetic starting five of Raymond Felton, Tim Hardaway Jr, Anthony, Young and Monroe. While veterans like Prigioni, Billups, Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin and Bargnani could offer depth off the bench.
Although it still wouldn’t be the finished product, and a point guard would likely be a high priority, that group would have a much higher ceiling over the coming years than the current Knicks squad.
All of this is just hypothetical of course, but this is exactly how Steve Mills and Knicks owner James Dolan need to be thinking. There are potential trades that could help the Knicks to retool sooner rather than later, and with plenty of teams open to offers at the moment, they need to fearlessly pull the trigger. With the loss of the franchise cornerstone possibly just over the horizon, New York can’t stand still and get left behind. They need to make their case to Melo, and retool their roster, and they’d be best served as approaching the two issues as linked for now.