Last summer, the New York Knicks faced a difficult decision with Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony was a free agent, and the Knicks had to decide whether to re-sign him or try to get something back for him in a trade if he decided to leave for a contender.
He ultimately stayed with the Knicks, who used their biggest advantage: money. He signed a five-year, $US124 million deal.
It wasn’t entirely a bad decision. Anthony was coming off one of the best seasons of his career, and the Knicks, entering a new era under president Phil Jackson, wanted a centrepiece around which to build a contender.
However, one year into the deal, Anthony, now 31 years old, and his contract are becoming a problem for the Knicks as they try to rebuild the team. Anthony is ageing, coming off knee surgery, and requires a very specific roster construction around him that makes it difficult to add players. With over $US100 million committed to Anthony in the final years of his prime, the Knicks are stuck between making a quick turnaround to appease him, or going for a full-scale rebuild with young players.
The Knicks virtually fell into the latter option when after a 17-65 season, they were awarded the fourth pick in the draft and took 19-year-old Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis. While Porzingis is said to have the highest ceiling in the draft, he figures to be a project and probably won’t be a contributor right away. Anthony was reportedly mad about the pick, though he later called Porzingis a “steal.”
Regardless of Anthony’s feelings about the pick, the Knicks still haven’t gotten Anthony any immediate help for next season.
The opportunity to get Anthony some immediate help would come in free agency, but if most reports are to be believed, the biggest names in free agency don’t have the Knicks at the top of their list. Though nothing is certain until contracts are signed, players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, and several of the top restricted free agents seem unlikely to join the Knicks.
That means the Knicks have to look at the next tier of free agents and get creative to fit several players into their ~$US26 million in cap space. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday afternoon that the Knicks are front-runners to sign guard Arron Afflalo and big man Greg Monroe:
For months, the Knicks and rival executives have believed that New York is the likely destination for Detroit fre- agent forward Greg Monroe, and now it appears that Afflalo is the most likely target to potentially join him with Carmelo Anthony in New York, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
With Monroe expecting to command a maximum contract on the market, Afflalo could earn a deal in the neighbourhood of three years, $US36 million-$US38 million, league sources said.
For the Knicks, this isn’t a great rebuilding plan. While Monroe is one of the best post scorers in the NBA and Afflalo is a serviceable wing, neither fit the Knicks’ plans to rebuild, particularly Monroe.
With Anthony and Monroe on the court together, the Knicks would lack spacing, as Anthony likes to operate from the elbows in the midrange, while Monroe likes the post. They could theoretically survive on offence if Anthony moved to power forward, Monroe to center, and surrounded them with shooters. However, the Knicks and Anthony seem to resist playing Anthony at stretch-4, and Monroe struggles with rim protection. If they play their preferred positions at small forward and power forward, the Knicks need a center, and unless that center can shoot three-pointers, it will only further clog spacing on offence.
This is where the Knicks stand — they can’t sign the top free agents, their next targets don’t fit well with Anthony, and their draft pick probably isn’t NBA-ready.
The Knicks are essentially stuck in a place between a lengthy rebuild with developmental projects (Porzingis) and win-now mode with Anthony ageing past his prime. They seem unable to get Anthony the immediate help he needs to vault the Knicks into championship contention, but the other route would be trading Anthony for draft picks and going into a full rebuild — a sensible, albeit undesirable option.
Again, not all of this is Anthony’s (or the Knicks’) fault. Part of it has been bad luck — a far worse-than-expected roster and an injury to Anthony — but the Knicks now owe an ageing superstar coming off knee surgery millions of dollars, and they lack any easy way to unify these two rebuilding directions.
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