In New York, a concrete jungle with no grip on sports reality, the common theme over the past few weeks has been that Knicks president Donnie Walsh must move heaven and Earth to get Carmelo Anthony by Feb. 24 or his regime will have been a failure.
That chuckling you hear in the background is coming from Walsh, who at almost 70 has been around too long to take note of such absurdities. Despite the incoherent reasoning of those who ascribe to the Melo-or-bust theory, Walsh knows you don't panic when you hold all the cards.
Walsh knows what I've told you for months, that the Nuggets essentially are negotiating with one team. Walsh is not budging in his refusal to gut his roster to acquire a player he can simply sign as a free agent after the season. And despite some hysterical calculations from amateur capologists everywhere, sources say it's inconceivable that the Knicks wouldn't have enough room for free-agent Melo regardless of how the collective bargaining agreement turns out.
"I don't care what the cap comes in at, they can get the guy," one rival executive said. "I've done the math a million times."
The Knicks have $44 million in salary committed for 2011-12, and that includes $8 million to $10 million in non-expiring contracts that would be going to Denver in an Anthony trade. It also includes Anthony Randolph ($2.9 million), who either will be going to Denver or Minnesota in the next week. If the Knicks get Anthony in an extend-and-trade before June 30, cap space for him is a non-issue; Anthony's $18.5 million salary for next season would kick in. The issue would be having flexibility to put more pieces around Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire -- which is yet another item the short-sighted Melo-now crowd ignores.
In many ways, it would be more advantageous to Anthony and the Knicks to unite via free agency. For one, Walsh wouldn't have to give up any pieces of a young nucleus that has shown promise at times this season. For another, a max free-agent deal that presumably will start a few million shy of the $18.5 million Anthony is on the books for next season would help the Knicks add to the roster over the next two years.
For illustrative purposes, I give the floor to Chris Paul, who recently explained how determined today's NBA stars are to follow the blueprint set forth by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last summer.
"Guys just want to try to win a championship," Paul said. "No reason more than that. In this league, a lot of times what people fail to realize is that, at times it's less about the money and more about winning. Sometimes it's overlooked. Those guys this summer gave up a lot of money to try to play together on the same team."
Which brings us to another fallacy in the Melo-mania that has engulfed New York. There are those blabbing on the radio, scribbling in print, and yakking away in taxicabs all over the city who believe the Knicks would be a championship-caliber team simply by pairing Anthony with Stoudemire -- regardless of how many players they had to give up. These people are beyond hope. Unfortunately for Walsh, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan may be one of them.
|Melo-Amar'e pair is great offensively. But defensively? Not so much. (Getty Images)|
Even if that doesn't work, others theorize that it will be former Knicks president Isiah Thomas -- and not Walsh -- who will get the credit when the Knicks finally get Anthony as a free agent over the summer. Thomas still has Dolan's ear, is as power-hungry as ever and would love nothing more than being able to paint himself as the savior in New York. Even if it meant undercutting the man who saved his career in Indiana and who treated him with dignity and respect upon replacing him with the Knicks.
"What'll happen is, Isiah will ride in and take credit for this due to his relationship with Carmelo, which is non-existent," a rival executive said. "It'll be, 'Donnie couldn't get it done, but thank God for Isiah and William Wesley and Carmelo!'"
Internal Garden politics notwithstanding, the upshot here is that the negotiating table is tilted decidedly in the Knicks' favor. Walsh isn't going to bow to Denver's demands because he knows he can get his guy in a way that will allow him to fill other more pressing needs on the roster -- such as a capable defensive center to protect the $100 million investment Walsh made last summer in Stoudemire. Yes, that's another item lost in all the Melo-centric hysteria. Anthony will take some of the scoring load away from Stoudemire, but won't help him in the paint on the defensive end.
In the meantime, Walsh gazes in amazement at the alternate reality around him, while the Nuggets continue to live in their own.
"Denver's got to be getting nervous here pretty soon," a rival executive said. "You can only play poker with [New York] so much before you become Toronto or Cleveland."
Hours before the NBA converges on Los Angeles for All-Star weekend -- and eight days before the Feb. 24 trade deadline -- here's the latest buzz on the trade front from conversations with executives, agents, and others in the know:
• One of the most active teams on the trade market has been New Orleans, a development that rival executives are closely monitoring. Hornets GM Dell Demps is said to be seeking a big man who can give New Orleans a little more post presence on the offensive end, and executives are openly wondering if Demps will be so bold as to chase Cleveland's Antawn Jamison. Despite financial struggles that have resulted in the team being taken over by NBA ownership, the Hornets have cornered the market in the area of taking on future money for short-term improvements (i.e. Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack). Execs expect them to make another such move, but getting Jamison from Cleveland -- either via a trade or an unlikely buyout -- likely would yield a flood of complaints from many of the 29 teams that essentially own the Hornets. Jamison is owed $15.1 million next season, an obligation that would seem to be pushing whatever boundaries are inherent in the league's cooperative stewardship of the franchise.
The Cavs would have to be incentivized to part with Jamison, who isn't said to be pushing an exit strategy and whose leadership will be needed to guide the Cavs through the rest of this trying season. The Hornets have the ability to seek more modest improvements, given their multiple trade exceptions and the $4.6 million they have to spend up to the luxury-tax threshold.
• The Cavs are aggressively testing the waters to see what kind of assets they can expect to accumulate by volunteering to use their $14.6 million trade exception from LeBron's departure as a parking lot for other teams' unwanted contracts. Cleveland is seeking to use that cap space to acquire draft picks and young players -- a sound strategy, especially considering that the Cavs can use all the room without putting themselves in luxury-tax jeopardy.
• Sources say the Bulls and Celtics are widely expected to make a move before the deadline, and each is seeking wing help. The Cavs' Anthony Parker would be an ideal fit in both places. Wizards guard Kirk Hinrich would be a good fit, too, but his $8 million salary next season would make such a transaction troublesome.
• The Hawks are looking for guard help, and sources say they may be interested in the Cavs' Ramon Sessions. The feeling among rival execs is that the Hawks may be willing to spend up to or perhaps even a bit beyond the luxury-tax threshold if there's a deal that would significantly improve their chances in a playoff series with Boston, Orlando or Miami.
• Memphis has been a frequent caller on the trade market, and owner Michael Heisley is said to be adamant that the team make the playoffs, sources say. Some of the Grizzlies' focus remains on trying to move O.J. Mayo for a more traditional two-guard; some execs believe the Rockets' Courtney Lee would make sense, with the wild card being how highly Houston GM Daryl Morey regards Mayo. The Grizzlies have indicated that they don't want to give up Mayo without getting back a player who can help them down the stretch this season and an asset that can help them in the future.
• Execs are monitoring the intentions of Houston, Portland and Utah -- all tax-paying teams that will be deciding whether to go deeper into the tax or pull back from it. Money is no object to the Rockets, as long as it makes them better -- and sources say their top priority is a young center to build around now that they can no longer rely on Yao Ming.
• One exec said he believes Portland GM Rich Cho is "poised for a pretty significant 24th." Given the grim prognosis for star guard Brandon Roy and the uncertainty about what cap space will be worth under the new labor rules, Cho is seriously considering cashing in on the expiring contract of Joel Przybilla and the essentially expiring deal of Andre Miller, whose 2011-12 salary is fully non-guaranteed. Marcus Camby, who has a year left at $12.9 million, could be enticing to one of the few deep-pocketed contenders not shy about taking on future money with CBA changes looming. The Mavericks, for example, will "listen to anything," according to a source.
• Equally intriguing are the playoff bubble teams in the East, such as Philadelphia, Charlotte and Indiana. On one hand, a trade that helps them maximize home playoff revenues makes sense since that could be the last chance to fill the lockout war chest. On the other, executives wonder if the Sixers, for example, would opt for a couple million in playoff revenues over the tens of millions in potential savings from trading Andre Iguodala.
The Pacers, meanwhile, have backed away from trade talks since going on a winning spree under new coach Frank Vogel after having been extremely active for several weeks. Prior to Vogel getting off to a 7-2 start as interim coach, the Pacers were willing to discuss anyone on the roster -- up to and including Danny Granger. Sources still expect Indiana to trade at least one of its expiring contracts -- Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy or T.J. Ford -- to a contender.