When you have a chance to acquire a player that is capable of being the best player on the floor on most nights, and in the conversation on the others, you simply have to do it.
The universal consensus over the past few years has been that in order to win the Finals, or even to get deep into the playoffs, a team must have at least two of the absolute best players in the NBA.
Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire have their deficiencies that prevent them from consistently being top-five players in the entire NBA, but they are each generally top-15 players and each has the capacity to outplay their counterparts who are universally considered in that top-five.
The one offensive element separating Anthony from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who are the two best all-around wings in the game is as a passer. Anthony's assist rate has typically been half as high as Wade and LeBron despite having the ball in his hands with as much frequency. LeBron and Wade also give a more consistent effort defensively, though I expect that to change for Anthony with New York (at least for home games).
But Anthony is a better pure scorer than LeBron and should have significantly more NBA minutes remaining in his career in comparison to Wade. Carmelo uses his athleticism in a way that is more Muhammad Ali than Bo Jackson and because he already is a gifted scorer in the post, he should perform at relatively the same level as where he is today for another six or seven seasons.
The ancillary benefit of having Anthony and Amar'e on the floor together is the freedom that is created for New York's other scorers because of how difficult those two players are to cover without double-teams.
The Seven Seconds or Less system is all about finding the first open shot available and if they can acquire the right blend of spot-up shooters who can defend and rebound to go with Anthony and Amar'e, their potential will be maximized and this should be a team that ranks in the top three or four in points scored per 100 possessions on a consistent basis.
But the Knicks already rank eighth in this category, but just 20th in defense. Teams that compete for titles typically need to at least be in the top-10 in both areas, otherwise the deficiency is too easily exploitable in a seven-game series against those high quality teams.
Now that the two-star formula has been squared away for the Knicks in just a matter of eight months after striking out on LeBron, the remainder of their roster is problematic.
After dealing Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler and multiple picks (plus Eddy Curry) for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Corey Brewer, the Knicks have considerably less depth in the present and less assets to acquire functional players in the future.
For the sake of sorting through one thing at a time, let's assume the Knicks are able to plug some holes with the likes of Earl Barron and move on to the key components.
One of the key elements from New York's perspective is how things compare between Billups and Felton.
Felton is having the finest season of his career and enjoyed a sizable bump playing in SSoL, and with Stoudemire as his pick-and-roll partner. But Felton also tailed off from his excellent shooting in the beginning of the season, hitting 36.7% of his three-point attempts and 47.5% from the field in November down to a three-point/field goal split of 29.0% and 37.3% in January.
Billups, on the other hand, has shot 44.1% from distance this season and only one season below 38.5% since becoming a regular a decade ago.
With Anthony and Amar'e dominating the ball around the bucket, floor-spreading shooting is essential and Billups is the better shooter without question.
Billups also is the better pick-and-roll player, makes better decisions in transition (particularly with controlling tempo) and also can exploit occasional mismatches in the post, which is not part of Felton's game whatsoever.
Defensively, neither player is very effective at this point in their careers, but I think there is a greater inherent trust in Billups, though Felton's younger legs would be preferred against the likes of Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo.
By nearly every metric, Billups is the better player right now and particularly improves New York's chances in the playoffs where his pedigree is self-explanatory.
The only drawback is present continuity and that Billups is almost certainly a rental over the next 16 months. We will need to see where the salary cap goes for 2012 when Chris Paul and Deron Williams become free agents and if it is not promising for New York, finding a long-term solution at point guard becomes an absolute imperative that becomes difficult. The center position is also an area where they will need to get lucky as they did with Landry Fields, and Mozgov (who was signed as a free agent). Stoudemire is much more effective at power forward and that also ensure Anthony remains a big small forward instead of a small power forward.
The Knicks are in a similar situation in the middle of the season that the Heat faced after acquiring LeBron and Chris Bosh, as over-30 veteran minimums are needed to fill out the roster. New York has to hope for a veteran buyout at center, or perhaps get lucky with a 10-day contract D-League player.
The need for legitimate bigs is beyond crucial for the Knicks, but rebounding shouldn't be a huge issue. Anthony and Fields lead their respective positions in rebound rates amongst players with at least 30 minutes per game.
The Knicks aren't expecting anything out Balkman and Carter, but the addition of Brewer has some promise and Williams is a functional rotation player.
Wing players with athleticism and anything resembling a decent jumper have historically thrived with D'Antoni and perhaps that formula could work with Brewer since he will receive consistent minutes backing up Fields.
Williams is not a very good offensive player and has a TS% of 49.2% this season, but he can rebound well (particularly offensive) and block a shot here and there. Defensively, he is far from exceptional in the post but does well against the pick and roll. Mozgov has the better future, that is unquestionable, but he should give equivalent value presently.
Pragmatically speaking, the key losses for the Knicks are Gallinari and Mozgov.
Chandler has blossomed into a nice player, but they would have been unable to keep him this summer if they would have been forced to sign Anthony outright. Felton had a nice 50-game run with the Knicks, but he knew what he was getting into when he signed a two-year contract.
Gallinari has been a better perimeter shooter than expected when he was drafted sixth overall in the 2008 NBA Draft. His rookie season was almost lost entirely due to a back injury, but he has been durable ever since and has shown some glimpses of the playmaking off the dribble that made him such a highly coveted prospect in the first place. In a rebuilding situation where his usage increases and he gets to play off the dribble, Gallinari has the potential to become the kind of player that can average 20 points, three assists and six rebounds per 36 minutes.
Mozgov is the great unknown of the trade and was the sticking point over the final 24 hours of negotiations. He already is a serviceable center with his ability on the offensive glass and shotblocking, plus he has considerable room for improvement. His inclusion wasn't something that should have been a deal-breaker for either side and clearly the Knicks weren't prepared to wait Denver out.
Anthony gets to play for the team he strongly preferred all along and he also gets his extension. From those two vantage points in a vacuum, he is a big winner.
But he could have quite easily given the Knicks considerably more leverage by being more transparent in his absolute reluctance to sign an extension with the Nets. The deal made by the Knicks isn't an outright bloodbath, but they are trading away considerably more than what would have been necessary otherwise.
On Sunday after the All-Star Game, Anthony told me he wasn't "mad at Denver for asking for everything and the kitchen sink". Less than 24 hours later, the Nuggets pretty much received the kitchen sink.
In terms of trading away assets, the only players of consequence the Knicks didn't trade were Stoudemire and Fields. Considering they could have signed Anthony outright as soon as the offseason begins (after the CBA is agreed upon), the price they paid has to be classified as steep. But it was also a price that has to be classified as ultimately worth it.
Regardless of what one might think about Latrell Sprewell, Stephon Marbury or Allan Houston, the Knicks unquestionably now have their best player and second best player (however you want to rate them) since Patrick Ewing.
Grade for Knicks: B-
The Nuggets had very little leverage in this entire situation and have been saved by labor uncertainty, so David Stern's quest for greater NBA parity has its first winner.
Dealing with the Nuggets over the past few months, by all accounts, has been a grueling process with the front office consistently changing the finish line on their trade partners. They played the media very well, consistently stirring up the Nets and even bringing in the Lakers as innocent bystanders.
The package of Gallinari, Mozgov and Chandler lacks the potential for star power that Derrick Favors would have yielded, but these are multiple players worth considering as members of your core moving forward, or to be packaged in other moves.
It appears as though Felton (and possibly Mozgov) will be flipped in a side trade, so the Nuggets have several more steps ahead of them before their true trajectory becomes clear, but this is an excellent first step.
They may extend Nene, which would be a wise move since centers still in their twenties that can score as well as he can are extremely valuable. A trio of Ty Lawson, Nene and Gallinari could win 30 games per season until they are able to find an elite scorer to truly replace Anthony, but keeping Gallinari appears unlikely.
If Anthony were two years away from free agency, the return would have undeniably been much better but this is about as good as humanly possible considering the circumstances. But the Nuggets also were a few days away from going down the summer sign-and-trade route that only nets a TPE and a future pick or two.
Furthermore, the financial savings Denver receives is enormous because they were able to send out so much salary without needing to absorb the contract of Curry. Between the savings in salary and luxury tax, the Kroenke family is very happy that this trade was consummated in this way. Stan Kroenke has that Wal-Mart and real estate money, plus Arsenal, so he's had plenty of very profitable days in his lifetime already, but this is about as good as it gets from a sports perspective short of selling a team outright or signing a $3 billion television deal as the Lakers did last week.
Denver will receive the largest traded player exception in NBA history, in addition to three other small ones. With their asset accumulation and TPE, the Nuggets will have a year to flip them for a potential star.
The only thing the Nuggets were unable to accomplish with this trade is to unload the burdensome contract of Al Harrington.
Grade for Nuggets: A
Despite a limited NBA resume, Anthony Randolph is one of the more enigmatic players we have seen in recent memory. He was stuck in Don Nelson's doghouse with the Warriors and then Mike D'Antoni's with the Knicks, but he is a unique talent with elite shotblocking capabilities and a versatile offensive game.
Similar to his acquisition of Michael Beasley last summer, David Kahn has won a trade in terms of talent acquisition even if the mental part of Randolph's game and long-term fit is questionable.
Grade for Wolves: B+