Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded by the New York Knicks, putting to an end a stalemate that saw Phil Jackson and Anthony wage a standoff that ultimately cost Jackson his job. But the damage was done and there was no fixing the relationship between Anthony and the Knicks.
To make a trade when you have no leverage is almost always a losing proposition. Anthony possessed a no trade clause and threatened to wield it unless New York sent him to one of his preferred destinations. A player requesting a trade already reduces leverage. When that player also controls where he goes, the leverage is gone.
Anthony was a difficult player to trade for reasons beyond the lack of leverage and his no trade clause, as well. He makes over $26 million in 17-18 and shade under $28 million in 18-19, in a season where he possesses a player option that he’ll surely exercise. In addition, he had a 15 percent trade bonus. Anthony ultimately waived the trade bonus to push the deal through, but the large salary made finding a match more difficult than your average trade. Add to it that Anthony is 33 years old, has a history of nagging injuries and has seen his stats and efficiency drop off over the last two years, and the market isn’t as good as one might think for a player of his assumed caliber.
Add it all up and the Knicks did alright. Neither Enes Kanter nor Doug McDermott are likely to ever fill the superstar shoes of Anthony, either separately or when combined. But both are solid players already and still young enough to expect some level of improvement. Kanter is one of the best offensive centers in the league. Few can match his ability to score on the block. He’s also a plus rebounder. His Per 36 minutes numbers last year are All-Star level at 24.3 points per game and 11.3 rebound per game. Considering he may merit that sort of playing time in New York, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him average a double-double this coming season.
On the other hand, Kanter is a weak defender. When paired with Kristaps Porzingis, teams might pick and roll the Knicks to death. If you have quick ball handlers and mobile bigs, New York won’t stand a chance. But the trade-off is two players who should mesh incredibly well on the offensive end. If you can’t stop them, outscore them.
That is where McDermott comes in. Playing primarily in a bench role over his first three season, McDermott has proven to be a deadeye shooter, who can also rebound well for his position. His defense, like Kanter’s, leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s a career 39.4 percent shooter from behind the arc. If the Knicks can stomach the losses on the defensive end, they can put together a solid offensive lineup of Porzingis, Kanter, McDermott, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ron Baker or Frank Ntilikina at point guard. That group will be awful on defense, but will be fun to watch on offense.
The pick New York got at first glance might seem like it is a just a second round pick, but don’t discount it so easily. That pick is coming from the Chicago Bulls via the Thunder. The Bulls project to be one of the worst teams in the NBA. High second round picks are significant assets and the Knicks should be able to get a player at the draft, or use it in trade.
There are two other keys to this trade for New York. First is that the drama that threatened to overshadow everything had they entered the season with Anthony on the squad is now gone. Anthony was still their best player, but that type of negativity, no matter how professionally everyone handles it, can drag a team down. Now the Knicks can move forward without having to worry about it.
And that brings us to the second key: moving forward. New York is now unquestionably Kristaps Porzingis’ team, with a sprinkling of Frank Ntilikina thrown in. After Phil Jackson shockingly disparaged his future franchise player, the Knicks hung on to Porzingis. That might prove to have saved the franchise. He’s one of the NBA’s most unique talents and he’s far from a finished product. He’ll only continue to grow and now he can do it knowing that he’s the future.
As for Ntilikina, the old adage says that the best thing you can do for a young point guard is give him shooters and finishers. The Knicks now have both. As one of the youngest players in the league, having just turned 19, Ntilikina can now grow into his role without the pressure of having to keep Anthony happy while learning the NBA game.
It wasn’t a great return for New York, but a great return could hardly be expected. They did OK. Sometimes OK is just fine, and oftentimes what looks OK initially ends up being far better when you look back on it.
Grade for the Knicks: C+
With the specter of the unbeatable Golden State Warriors hanging over the NBA, many expected some teams to punt the season and wait for the inevitable breakup of the champs. In reality, no one chose that path this summer, but no team eschewed it more than the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder kicked off the summer by trading for Paul George, in what many saw (and still see) as a one year rental before he heads off to Los Angeles. Then the Thunder added savvy veterans in Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton to help round out the rotation. But Sam Presti wasn’t done yet.
Presti completed a remarkable makeover by swinging for the fences in acquiring Anthony. It cost him two valuable bench players in Kanter and McDermott, but that is hardly something that can’t be overcome. In years past, we’d laud a team for trading two reserves to acquire a career 20+ points per game scorer. In this new world where we are more educated and analyze things like efficiency, depth and chemistry, there are some questions that come along with this acquisition.
Chief among them is: how do three players who are used to being the primary scorer, and taking every big shot, function together on the same team? The pessimist says “Not well and this will fail, because none of the three have complementary type of games.” The optimist says “It has worked in the past with teams like the Heat and Warriors and it can work again.”
For the Thunder to reach the heights they are aiming for, someone out of Russell Westbrook, George and Anthony has to not only accept a secondary role, but a tertiary one. With the Heat, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh happily slid down in the pecking order. On the Warriors, the players behind Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have specific skillsets that allow them to fit with just about anyone. In Oklahoma City, you have three scorers who are used to playing a style of “Give me the ball and get out of my way.” That style allowed Russell Westbrook to win the MVP, while averaging a triple-double for an entire season, and has lifted Anthony and George to their current positions.
But while it is fair to question if they can step back, don’t make the mistake of forgetting that all three have done so already. Westbrook spent every year of his career before last playing Robin to Durant’s Batman. He is more than capable of ceding some shots and focusing on being a playmaker. He’s done it before and he’ll do it again.
George spent the early years of his ascension to superstardom paired with Danny Granger. He ultimately blossomed after Granger's injury issues, but George has a versatile skillset he’s been waiting to unleash. He’s an underrated passer and generally a far better defender than he showed last season. George witnessed the Heat making it work first hand in back-to-back playoff defeats. He’s smart enough to know what to do to make this work.
That leaves Anthony. For his entire career, he’s been the man. Sure, there was a brief interlude where he teamed with Allen Iverson, but Iverson was on the backside of his career by that point. In New York, he was supposed to form a duo with Amar’e Stoudemire, but Stoudemire was never healthy enough to pull that off. These failures are far from Anthony’s fault, and he’s excelled on just as big of a stage being a complementary piece.
The Melo we love most is Olympics Melo. The deadly sniper who gladly accepted a bench role and helped lead Team USA back on top of the international basketball world. In those competitions we got to see arguably the best version of Anthony we’ve ever seen: a scoring weapon who excelled when unburdened of the pressure to carry a squad on his own. In Oklahoma City, paired with two All-Star level players, Anthony can focus on being Olympics Melo. He’ll play a lot at the 4, as he does on Team USA, which is something we’ve all begged to see him do in the NBA for years now. At power forward, his defensive deficiencies aren’t nearly as pronounced. He lacks the quickness to stay with top tier wings, but he has the smarts and bulk to bang with bigs. Playing alongside one of the premier defensive big men in Steven Adams, Anthony’s lack of shot blocking isn’t a concern. And with four capable and willing rebounders, Anthony won’t be lacking there either, and he might even prove to excel in that category.
The Thunder probably aren’t good enough to beat the Warriors, but they are closer than they were before this trade. They can go big with Adams and Patterson up front, Anthony and George on the wings and Westbrook running the show. They can go small, taking Adams out and inserting Andre’ Roberson. They can use Adams and Roberson with the three stars when they need defense. Or pull both for Patterson and Alex Abrines, who will have to perform on a short bench, when they need offense. That short bench will likely be fortified in season, as Oklahoma City is now a prime destination for buyout candidates.
The only way a team can hope to beat Golden State is by reasonably matching their versatility. Before this trade, the Thunder couldn’t do that. Maybe they can now. The future is still unclear, as Westbrook has yet to sign the Designated Player Veteran Extension that is waiting for him. George hasn’t committed to anything beyond this year. Anthony is older and could be an almost $29 million albatross next year if this fails. But Sam Presti sent a message with his moves this summer. He’s not going to sit around waiting for things to come his way. He’s making things happen and we’re all better off for it as NBA fans.
Grade for the Thunder: A-