We’re less than a month into the 2013-14 NBA season, but the New York Knicks have already seen a year’s worth of negative storylines. They’ve quickly plummeted to the bottom of a bad Atlantic Division; J.R. Smith has been up to his usual antics (a five-game suspension to start the season followed by a $25,000 fine for threatening tweets towards Brandon Jennings); there have been chants calling for the firing of Mike Woodson at recent home games; and Carmelo Anthony accused the team of “not even trying” after the 20-point loss to the Hawks last Saturday night.
It’s early, sure, but the problems that the Knicks have aren’t going to fix themselves over time. Even with Tyson Chandler coming back some time next month, New York just doesn’t have the personnel to compete with Indiana or Miami, the real contenders in the East. Andrea Bargnani is lost on the defensive end. Amar’e Stoudemire looks like he aged about 10 years in the offseason. Raymond Felton is suddenly one of the league’s worst starting point guards, making the decision to let Jeremy Lin walk without getting anything in return during the summer of 2012 look more and more foolish by the day. J.R. Smith’s shot selection is, somehow, even worse than it was last season.
If the Knicks really want to compete for a championship this season, then they’ll have to bolster their roster — A.K.A make a trade. And, fittingly enough, they already discussed trades with the Boston Celtics, and those talks have reportedly revolved around Iman Shumpert and Rajon Rondo. At 23 years of age and with solid upside, Shumpert is pretty much the only trade asset the Knicks have.
But if the Knicks decide they aren’t willing to deal Shumpert, then it’s officially time to blow it up and build for the future. And as crazy as it sounds, that would mean trading Carmelo Anthony. In return, the Knicks would, ideally, get as many draft picks as possible (since they seemingly have none for the next 50 years) and some expiring contracts. The expiring contracts would, obviously, allow New York to chase LeBron James and other big-name free agents next summer.
So, I came up with five different trade scenarios for New York. The first three are deals that would, presumably, make the Knicks contenders this season, and the last two are blow-it-up trades.
Okay, here we go:
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Trade Scenario No. 1
Knicks receive: Rajon Rondo, Gerald Wallace
Celtics receive: Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr., Amar’e Stoudemire
Why it makes sense: If this trade were to fall through, the Knicks would get exactly what they need — a star point guard to pair with Carmelo. Rondo could make his return from ACL surgery at some point in December, perhaps around the same time that Tyson Chandler’s sprained knee is fully recovered. If the Knicks could just tread water until that point, they would still be in decent position to make a run at a top-four seed in the East.
They wouldn’t be as talented as Miami’s Big Three, but Rondo, Anthony and Chandler would perfectly complement one another. A great passer and floor leader? Check. One of the NBA’s most potent and efficient scorers on the wing? Check. A big man that dominates on the glass and on the defensive end? Check. Couple that with a supporting cast of Metta World Peace, J.R. Smith, Bargnani, Pablo Prigioni and Kenyon Martin, and the Knicks would have a legitimate chance in a seven-game series against the Heat or Pacers.
For the Celtics, it’s become pretty apparent that they aren’t willing to do Rondo/Wallace for Shumpert/Raymond Felton/Stoudemire. Well, how about getting another young asset in addition to Iman Shumpert? Tim Hardaway Jr. was the Knicks’ first-round pick in the 2013 Draft, and he’s already begun to show promise in his rookie season, averaging around eight points per game in just 18 minutes of action per night.
The Celtics have to realize that once Rondo comes back, they will immediately be better than most of the other teams that are also clearly tanking this season. And, in today’s NBA, that’s a bad thing. The Cs should and probably do want to lose as many games as possible this season in order to get in good position to draft Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins or one of the other coveted 2014 Draft class members. Dealing Rondo in this package would not only help them do just that, but it would also immediately give them two young pieces (Shump and Hardaway Jr.) to begin to build around.
And, while Amare’s max deal looks terrible, it would actually be better for the Celtics to take on his contract than it would be to keep Gerald Wallace, who is under contract until the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, one year longer than Stoudemire. If the Celtics plan on being players during the 2015 free agency period, swapping Wallace for Amar’e makes sense.
Potential problems: Unfortunately for the Knicks, there are plenty of underlying problems here. First off, Shumpert and Hardaway Jr. are each natural two-guards. Why should the Celtics want to trade one of the NBA’s top-three point guards for two young players that play the same position? The best case scenario is that they both pan out and the Celtics are thus forced to trade one of them.
Danny Ainge also knows that he can get something much better in return for Rondo than what the Knicks are able to offer. Like any team going through a rebuilding period, the Celtics want to hoard as many draft picks as they can, and the Knicks — thanks in large part to the Carmelo and Bargnani trades — have been completely depleted of those.
Trade Scenario No 2
Knicks receive: Kenneth Faried
Nuggets receive: Iman Shumpert
Why it makes sense: This exact trade has, reportedly at least, already been discussed, and that’s really the only reason I decided to mention it.
For the Knicks, Faried would provide some of the things they’ve been missing since Chandler went down — lots of energy and hustle, and a rebounding presence inside.
On the other hand, the Nuggets would be getting one of the league’s best up-and-coming guards to add to what is currently a pretty weak backcourt. (Denver has been starting Randy Foye at the shooting guard spot this year.)
Potential problems: If you simply look at the length of the previous section versus the length of the “why it makes sense” section for the Rondo trade, you’ll see that I’m not really in love with this deal.
I just don’t see how this helps the Knicks. Faried is fun to watch and a high-energy player, but he wouldn’t be a great fit, especially not at the expense of Shumpert. New York has struggled all season on the defensive end, so why trade one of the game’s best perimeter defenders for an awful on-ball defender like Faried? It isn’t as if he’s a great offensive talent, either. At 6-8 and playing the power forward position, his field goal percentage of 49 percent through 10 games this season is pretty dismal.
Faried has plenty of upside, but so does Shump, so it’s like the Knicks are assuming that Faried will pan out to be better than Iman, which really makes no sense. I’d make the argument that if Shumpert didn’t have to play alongside ball-stoppers like Anthony and Smith, he could average 15 points per night. His offensive game isn’t so much raw as it is just unexploited.
If I’m the Knicks, I’m not making this trade. No way, no how. Luckily for them, it sounds like these talks died a while ago.
Trade Scenario No. 3
Knicks receive: Zach Randolph, Tayshaun Prince
Grizzlies receive: Iman Shumpert, Amar’e Stoudemire
Why it makes sense: A mere five or six months removed from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies are suddenly non-contenders in the Western Conference. They have the same core as they did a year ago, but unlike the Rockets, Warriors and Clippers, the Grizzlies didn’t get any better during the offseason, and they just don’t have the pieces to compete in a stacked Western Conference. They could enjoy a 44-win season or something of the sort and ease their way to a six or seven seed, but why not deal Zach Randolph, who’s 32 and probably nearing the tail-end of his prime? Memphis could potentially have a Mike Conley-Iman Shumpert duo in the backcourt for the next five to 10 years. If the Grizzlies could find one more piece in the draft to combine with them and Marc Gasol (who’s only 28), then they could again be real players in the West in a few years.
For the Knicks, adding Randolph would be perfect for the short-term. It’s a much different angle to success than getting Rondo, but it wouldn’t be much less effective. Is there any frontcourt in the league that would even compare to Carmelo, Randolph and Tyson? The only one that might be better is the Pacers’ trio of Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert, but I’d take my chances with that potential New York frontcourt in a playoff series.
Potential problems: It’s just hard to envision the Grizzlies taking on Amar’e Stoudemire, Amare’ Stoudemire’s knees, and Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract, even if it means getting Iman Shumpert in return. To a loyal fanbase, how do you explain trading one of the league’s best power forwards for a washed-up power forward and a young player that might not even turn out to be all that great?
My guess is that the Grizzlies are going to stick with the core they have and do everything they can to make another run at a Western Conference Finals appearance. If there’s a trade in their forecast, it’s probably one that makes them better right now.
Trade Scenario No. 4
Knicks receive: Luol Deng, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Kirk Hinrich, 1st-round picks
Thunder receive: Thaddeus Young
Bulls receive: Carmelo Anthony
Sixers receive: Amar’e Stoudemire, Kendrick Perkins, 1st-round pick
Why it makes sense: This one’s overwhelming, but work with me here.
By trading Carmelo and Amar’e in return for four expiring contracts, the Knicks do themselves a couple of favors. Most importantly, and as I touched on to begin this article, it would free up the cap space necessary for them to chase LeBron James and other big-name free agents in the upcoming 2014 free agency period. The Knicks could also be getting two future first-round selections, picks that they are in desperate need of at the moment.
For the Thunder, this deal makes sense for obvious reasons. They get rid of Kendrick Perkins and his contract, and, in exchange, they receive Thaddeus Young, one of the league’s more underrated forwards. He’s a mismatch nightmare on offense — Young is too tall for small forwards and too quick for power forwards. On an Oklahoma City team that lacks depth, adding him would be pretty ideal.
For the Bulls, getting Carmelo might make them the favorites to win the Eastern Conference this year. A Derrick Rose-Jimmy Butler-Carmelo-Carlos Boozer-Joakim Noah starting lineup would be the best starting lineup in the NBA, bar none. As long as Carmelo could realize that this would be Rose’s team and not his, then I don’t think that group loses in a seven-game series, not even to the Heat.
Lastly, and surely least, are the Sixers. I realize that Evan Turner and Thad Young are both just 25, but that doesn’t mean the Sixers have to keep them. Trading those two would almost guarantee Philadelphia finishing with the league’s worst record, which would guarantee a top-four pick in the draft. In turn, a top-four pick in the draft guarantees being able to draft either Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins or Marcus Smart. Pair one of those four with Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, and you might just have the NBA’s next version of what the Thunder had in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden: a big three produced entirely through the draft.
Potential problems: Are the Knicks really willing to part ways with Carmelo Anthony, even if it would be a good move in the long-term? Probably not. Would the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau really support trading one of the league’s best defensive players in exchange for Carmelo? Probably not.
To be clear, I do stand by my previous arguments and I do believe that this trade would help all four of the teams involved. It’s just a deal that I can’t envision the Knicks’ front office having the courage to pull off, nor is it one that I can imagine Thibodeau would be a supporter of. For as talented as he is, Carmelo has always had a reputation of a guy who doesn’t give maximum effort on defense, something that Thibodeau would have no time for.
Trade scenario No. 5
Knicks receive: Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, 1st-round draft pick
Lakers receive: Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Aaron Gray
Raptors receive: Steve Nash, Ryan Kelly
Why it makes sense: This trade has the same upside for the Knicks as did the fourth scenario. They trade Carmelo and Stoudemire and receive expiring contracts in order to free up cap space, and they also could get a first-round pick. And, speaking of that pick, it would almost certainly end up being in the lottery. The Lakers have gotten off to a terrible start, and even if Kobe were to come back, I’m not convinced that he and Carmelo could carry that roster to the playoffs this season.
The Lakers, who would clearly love to sign ‘Melo next summer, might make this deal for reasons similar to when the Knicks traded for him back in 2011. It eliminates any possibility of him either staying in New York or signing with a different team next summer. They would also be getting rid of Nash’s contract, and if they could somehow convince Amar’e to either retire or opt-out of his contract following this season, then the Lakers would not have any contracts on the books for the 2014-15 season, which is precisely the situation they would like to be in. That’s a very, very big if, though.
The Raptors might be willing to do this for three reasons: 1) they would have yet another high future draft pick, 2) it would make them a bit worse this season, giving them a better chance to tank and go after Wiggins, Parker, Randle or Smart, and 3) by bringing in Steve Nash, by far the best Canadian basketball player ever, their attendance could skyrocket. (O.K., maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.)
Potential problems: The Lakers, like all of us, see the problems that the Knicks are enduring. And, the worse things get, the less likely it is for Carmelo to want to stay in New York. If he leaves New York, the Lakers already seem to be the early frontrunner to sign him. Why would they take on Stoudemire’s contract and surrender at least one high draft pick just to get Carmelo when it’s becoming more and more probable that he will come to Los Angeles in free agency anyway next summer? Hint: they probably wouldn’t.
What should the Knicks do?
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