The Los Angeles Clippers have been trying to make an upgrade at small forward for years, and the New York Knicks are reportedly determined to trade Carmelo Anthony before the Feb. 23 deadline. Anthony is close friends with Clippers point guard Chris Paul, and, if you believe Knicks president Phil Jackson's buddy Charley Rosen, Los Angeles is one of the two teams for which the star would waive his no-trade clause.
In a simpler world without collective-bargaining agreement restrictions, maybe this would be easy. Unfortunately for both parties, a Clippers-Knicks trade just doesn't make any sense. New York would presumably want young players and draft picks, and Los Angeles would presumably want to maintain some semblance of depth. Go mess around with ESPN's trade machine, and you'll find that it's extremely difficult to construct a trade that works well for both sides -- if it wasn't, then it would have been done already.
With that in mind, the Knicks and Clippers are trying to recruit a third team to help facilitate a deal, via ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein:
Sources told ESPN that the Knicks continue to discuss the prospect of sending Anthony to Los Angeles without taking any of the Clippers' top three stars but have struggled to find a trade construction that works for both teams involving the other players on L.A.'s roster.
The most substantive talks between the teams took place last week, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions, but have continued into this week as the Clippers have maintained a consistent interest in Anthony, who has two years and roughly $53 million remaining on his contract.
The recent thumb injury suffered by Anthony's good friend Chris Paul has complicated matters, with the Clippers reluctant to part with two of their healthy guards -- Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and J.J. Redick -- in any trade while Paul is sidelined.
Sources said the Knicks are reluctant to absorb the three years and $42 million left on Crawford's contract after this season, which has led to the hunt for a third team that might be interested in Crawford. The Clippers, meanwhile, are hesitant to surrender the sharpshooting Redick even if they were at full strength in the backcourt, sources said.
Those various conflicting interests, sources said, have necessitated a search for a potential third team. Also complicating a potential Clippers-Knicks deal is the fact that L.A. is hard-capped this season, which would make it difficult for the club to handle the 15 percent trade kicker in Anthony's contract that would add nearly $10 million to his 2016-17 season if he is dealt.
If the Clippers are serious about acquiring Anthony, then this is probably their only path. The problem, of course, is that they're still limited in what they can do. Are they willing to give up J.J. Redick? Would the Knicks surrender a solid role player like Lance Thomas or a prospect like Willy Hernangomez in order to get rid of Anthony's contract? It's not as if either of these teams has a ton of financial flexibility or extra assets to offer another team, so it's tricky to even construct a hypothetical trade scenario that makes sense. (Not that I haven't used the trade machine to try.)
Los Angeles is right not to want to surrender Paul, Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan in any Anthony trade. They're all younger and better all-around players than Anthony at this point, and if their goal is to compete with the Golden State Warriors, losing any of them and adding Anthony would not help. I'd be impressed if the Clippers managed to pull something off here, and I'd suspect that they might need more than one other team involved to make it happen. The NBA's salary cap was designed to make it extremely difficult for a team like that to acquire another star like Anthony, even if both sides are motivated and trying to find other trade partners. If this doesn't go down, then it's an example of the system working exactly as it was supposed to.