NBA RUMORS: A Full Rundown Of The Carmelo Anthony Trade
Writing a no-trade clause into a player's contract is like dating someone with the stipulation that, if and when you want to break up, they get to pick when...and who you get to date afterwards. What a joyless relationship purgatory!
YOU: "Hey, I don't think this is working out."
THEM: "Ok, I'll let you know when I'm ready to end it."
This is what Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson are working through right now. Their relationship has become a case study in why you don't give players the option to pick who you can trade them to. It's a terrible idea, which is why there are currently only three NTCs in the entire league. As he desperately searches for an elusive trade partner that has Carmelo Anthony's blessing, you might find yourself feeling bad for the basketball god-turned-tragic figure. Don't, because he coaxed Melo back to the Knicks with this uniquely unmovable contract three years ago, thinking he could run him out of town with condescension if he had to. Phil figured he could just ramp up the asshole schtick until life became so unbearable for Melo that he'd waive the no-trade clause so long as he wasn't being traded to a burning building. Phil made this bed, now he has to sleep in -- even though when he made it, he also put a cute little jaguar kitten in it, then the thing grew into a scary monster, and now he's trying to get it to leave. Turns out, that's more difficult than he'd initially thought.
Carmelo Anthony isn't begging for a trade, seemingly content to ride out yet another disastrous season while his GM publicly insults him through media shills. Why? Most likely because Carmelo knows that Knicks owner James Dolan has the last say in all this, and James Dolan would pick his BFF Carmelo Anthony over Phil Jackson any day of the week. Unless Melo gets EXACTLY what he wants in a new team, he's fine with waiting out Phil's P.R. strongarm tactic until J.D. and the Straight Shot descend from a helicopter to buy out Phil's contract (or convince him to opt out after this season with that famous Dolan charm). In fact, given the way Phil has handled this whole situation, Melo might hold onto that new trade clause simply out of spite.
Long story short, Phil Jackson has to boot Carmelo Anthony before Carmelo Anthony boots Phil Jackson, and he has until the February 23 trade deadline.
How's that shaking out?
Synchronizing the moving parts of a Carmelo Anthony trade requires the kind of elite front office wheeling and dealing that Phil Jackson has never really proven he's capable of. If a deal has any chance of getting done, this 71-year-old (seemingly part-time employee) will have to work his ass off to finish the job he started when he began gaslighting his star player earlier this season. Is the motivation there to hit the phones day and night? Can he pull off the miracle deal that saves the franchise? Can he find a way to get first-round picks in a draft with a bumper crop of talented guards? Do other GMs think a volume shooter with an unimpressive playoff résumé can actually improve an existing roster?
Suffice it to say that Jackson's options are severely limited. There are teams with quality draft picks available (the Celtics), but they don't want a ball-dominant 32-year-old who struggles to carry his weight on the defensive end. There are championship contenders with superstars in the final year of their respective contracts (the Cavaliers and Raptors) who are optimistic about resigning them, leaving little room for the remaining two years, $50 million of Melo's deal. Some teams have an abundance of young talent and a dearth of reliable scorers (the Bucks, Pistons Timberwolves and 76ers) that don't play in a market attractive enough for an ego like Melo's, others are just one piece away from title contention (the Grizzlies and Raptors) with only late first-round picks, and others still with future lottery picks (the Nets) who aren't likely to trade them because they're still dealing with from the fallout from previous stars-for-picks deals.
Realistically, there are only two teams in play: the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers.
The Bulls seem to check off the most boxes. For starters, Melo has shown he'd be willing to live in Chicago (remember when he almost signed in 2014?) and now one of his best friends is there...and he desperately needs help. They're currently hovering around the NBA's worst position to be in -- the dreaded eight-seed -- meaning they need to either lose more games to secure a better pick or stock up for a playoff run. They have the cap room to accommodate a big contract ($22 million below next season's projected cap), young, redundant talent (Mirotic and McDermott) and the Sacramento Kings 2017 first-round pick (though it's protected).
The Clippers, on the other hand, have already expressed a openness to the deal, which shouldn't come as a surprise. They've got a new owner who's been looking to rescue the franchise since taking over what was perhaps the most pathetic franchise in American sports amidst a controversy everyone would like to forget. They've been on the verge of a title run for the last five seasons, the pervading wisdom being another superstar would put them over the edge. They've always lacked a true wing scorer. They have superstars who could walk in free agency this offseason (Blake Griffin, Chris Paul), expendable talent with relatively cheap contracts (J.J. Reddick, Jamaal Crawford, Austin Rivers) and only one win since Chris Paul went down. Adding Carmelo Anthony would seem like their best chance to prevent losing a playoff spot while Paul recovers from thumb surgery over the next six weeks.
Will either of these scenarios come to fruition? It would appear so, though it'd be naive to think the Knicks will come out of all this looking like the winners. After all, Phil Jackson lost a lot of leverage when he announced to the world that he really wanted to trade his most expensive, mercurial asset -- goading Melo out of town really telegraphed his desperation -- so he'll most likely end up having to settle for a few role players and an unexciting draft pick. That haul won't thrill Knicks fans, obviously, but as far as they're concerned, avoiding another bloated veteran contract might be enough, because that means the franchise would get the proper rebuild it's put off for decades. For all his misfires, if he manages to jump start that process, the Zen Master's tenure in the front office will be considered a success. That's how low the bar is, but it's also the exact reason he was brought in: to usurp power from the owner who refused rebuilding at every turn.
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