This is a bit late, but it’s actually a pretty fitting time to write this piece, as the Knicks are currently on a six-game winning streak after dropping six in a row right before it. During the losing streak, all hell broke loose. Haters began emerging from the woodwork, either doubling back on their initial euphoria of pairing Melo with Amar’e, or using the losses as further proof that the Knicks “gave up way too much.” Me? My view has remained constant from the start. With the new CBA likely to drastically slash the cap, Anthony wasn’t going to wait for free agency to sign with New York, allowing the Knicks to keep all their young assets and boast two superstars. Wasn’t happening. We’ll never know what would have happened if the Knicks had refused to blink on their original offer, which didn’t include Danilo Gallinari, but I think he would have either buckled and accepted the trade to the Nets, or inked the extension with Denver after all. For all the bluster about it “not being about the money,” athletes are really…all about the money. Would ‘Melo have passed up 4-5 mil to play for the Knicks? Probably. 20+? Not a chance.
So, that left New York with two options: stay firm and hope either Denver caved first in the game of chicken, relinquishing Anthony to his preferred destination for .40 on the dollar, or up the ante and ensure that they’d have two superstars to go to war with for the next 3-4 years. For me, it was a no-brainer. Suppose the Knicks didn’t bite, and Denver dealt Carmelo to New Jersey (yes, yes, I know New York would have theoretically had a chance to get Deron Williams in a trade, but nobody knew he was available until after the Carmelo deal, and I’m not convinced Utah would have parted with him for a package like Denver dealt Carmelo for). Where would the Knicks have stood? They’d still have a fun young core, but one that was basically a .500 team. They would have been forced to overpay Wilson Chandler in restricted free agency, clogging up cap room on a very good player who’s really a 4th option on a great team. Raymond Felton is signed through 2011-2012, and then becomes an unrestricted FA: with inflated numbers from D’Antoni’ s system, the Knicks would have had to overpay him to keep him if they struck out on Chris Paul or Williams. And this coming summer, the cupboard is bare with regards to max-worthy players beyond ‘Melo. So New York would have gone to war in that year with the same core plus a few tweaks, and played the same game all over again, praying that Howard, Paul or Deron come to save the day…in 2012-2013? No thanks! Listen, Anthony isn’t LeBron. He’s not perfect by any means. But he’s probably the best pure scorer in basketball, and he and Amar’e are a load to stop. Get the two studs and build around them. It’s much easier to find excellent role players to fill out a roster bolstered by two superstars than finding that second superstar, as Knicks fans should have learned in the summer of 2010. So John Hollinger can break down Carmelo’s PER all he wants: it doesn’t change the fact that the Knicks are drastically better positioned to compete in the future than they were before the deal.
And what have we seen so far? Exactly what I expected to see: this trade wasn’t made with this year in mind. The Knicks knew that they’d have an unbalanced roster, woefully short on size and with little time to gel. And so we’ve seen a slew of woeful losses: twice to Cleveland, twice to Indiana, Detroit. But they’ve also hung in every single game against a contender until the very end, other than one in Dallas, and really should have beaten Orlando twice and Boston. No team is too big for this squad now, even with their flaws. And as Carmelo finds his rhythm, and motion becomes more prevalent, and the team starts to know where to find each other on the floors, we’re starting to see a hint of what to look forward to the next several years. This season? I expect an exciting 1st-round series with either Miami or Boston that ends with the Knicks going home losers in 6. But next year? Armed with a mid-1st round draft pick and cap space to add size (Marc Gasol would be perfect; Tyson Chandler would work too), and a full off-season for Landry Fields and Toney Douglas to continue to improve, the sky’s the limit. Boston’s window is closing, and Orlando’s lost its luster, so the door is wide open for a new team to join Chicago and Miami as the beasts of the East. With a smart offseason and good health, I expect that team to be the Knicks as soon 2011-2012, thanks to the trade. And kudos to Denver for their smooth adaption to life-after-’Melo: they’ve done a great job capitalizing on going ten-deep and reinventing themselves. Sometimes, trades really do work for both sides, and this is one of those times. See you in the playoffs!