The 2011 mega trade sending Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks did not require Melo to forego any money in order to orchestrate changing teams. He told the Denver Nuggets at the beginning of the season that he wanted out and would not resign with the team. The Nuggets were forced to trade their superstar player and when they did so were able to acquire young talent and draft picks to remain a more than viable team. Now that three years have elapsed, the jury is still out on who get the better end of the deal.
Carmelo Anthony is now reaching 30 years of age and must win a championship or at least make some strong playoff runs to cement his legacy. To date, his teams have survived the first round of the playoffs only twice. In contrast, LeBron James and his teams are a lock to advance every year. LeBron currently enjoys two championship rings and his fingers could sport another ring when the playoffs conclude in June. Much of the difference in outcome is based on the quality of the supporting cast. Melo arrived on a stripped down Knicks team with the other superstar Amare Stoudemire suffering from career robbing knee injuries. Knicks fans will forever wonder what might have been if Amare remained at full strength during Melo’s tenure with the team. By all accounts, Carmelo is frustrated with the team and its lack of success this year. Unfortunately for Carmelo, the Knicks do not have the cap space this off-season to pursue marquee help for him.
Phil Jackson recently signed on with the Knicks to provide basketball acumen to the front office. The hope is that Jackson will be able to recruit Carmelo to remain in New York. Mr. Jackson’s collection of championship hardware is certainly a strong incentive to stay. Perhaps more interesting from a Knicks perspective is the championship pedigree earned by Phil Jackson allows him to provide a reassuring voice for Knicks fans to hear in the event Carmelo decides to take his game elsewhere. He can outline a championship blueprint for future success if this summer’s free agency season leaves the Knicks without Mr. Anthony. In other words, hope still lives with Phil Jackson on board even if Carmelo leaves.
The current NBA collective bargaining agreement contains incentives for players to remain with their current teams. Maximum contract compensation per year is reduced for a player signing with a new team and the contract length can only be for four years instead of five. Assuming another team will offer Carmelo a max deal, then he would likely give up about $30 million absent a sign and trade transaction. When Dwight Howard moved from the Lakers to the Rockets he was forced to leave similar dollars on the table. In all likelihood, the Knicks’ superstar Melo must also forego significant money to change teams and leave New York.
When New York consummated the Carmelo trade they gave up Raymond Felton, Danilo Gaillinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov, together with a first round draft pick in 2014, the right to swap first round picks in 2016 and second rounders in 2012 and 2013. In other words, they gutted the team’s midlevel talent to get their coveted superstar. If Carmelo wants to ensure a lasting legacy with any new team, he will need to allow them to keep their existing player assets so that he can add to a strong core instead of replacing a cast of good players. He needs to be the missing piece instead of the only piece.
The current NBA landscape allows players to band together to form super teams such as the Miami Heat. For players to do so, they have to leave some compensation on the table. LeBron James is in a position to play for less than his true value, and even the max contract is less than his worth, due to LeBron’s substantial endorsement income. Most other players do not enjoy their own brand name for advertising purposes. While Carmelo is a huge name, he is not in the same league as James when it comes to endorsement dollars.
If the Knicks are going to lose Carmelo, no doubt Mr. Jackson would be open to discussion regarding a sign and trade deal. The Knicks could restock their cupboard and Phil Jackson could provide a reassuring voice to Knicks fans that the team will be stronger than ever and will pursue another superstar once cap dollars become available after next season. From Melo’s point of view, he will probably be forced to forego money if he departs New York and changes teams. Another team sending away young talent to acquire him would leave Carmelo with another steep hill to climb for playoff success. Mr. Anthony’s career legacy probably requires that he join a team that is not gutted in order to obtain his services.
Commentary by William Costolo