It’s plainly obvious why New Jersey wants Carmelo Anthony — they need a big star to sell their new Brooklyn home (opening in 2012, didn’t you see the pictures?). You don’t sell those luxury suits when the building’s doors open, you sell them this coming summer, a year out. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov needs his star now. Anthony is one of the brightest stars in the NBA firmament — and one of Brooklyn’s own. His name can sell suites and seats.
The fit is perfect. For marketing.
On the court, not so much.
The current proposed trade that brings Anthony to New Jersey makes the Nets a little better now, but leaves them a long way and a lot of moves away from really competing in the East. And with the salary they’d bring in — particularly if they foolishly accepted Al Harrington — they’d be less flexible to make the moves they need to make.
With all the contortions the Nets have made to make this move a reality, it is not a good basketball trade. The Nets would be better being patient, but with suites to sell this summer, that is not an option.
The trade being discussed is one of the biggest in NBA history. There are at least 15 players and three teams involved. The heart of the trade would send Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton to New Jersey (to reunite what could have been in Detroit); bring Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Anthony Morrow, some other players and a couple first-round picks to Denver; and send Troy Murphy and Johan Petro, some money saved and some picks to Detroit.
Some will try to sell it this way, but don’t confuse Anthony/Billups/Hamilton with the arrival of the big three in Boston and that turnaround. Boston’s turnaround was fueled by defense and Anthony is not bringing KG’s defensive intensity and leadership. He’s not bringing a quarter of it. What Anthony brings is scoring — he’s one of the best shooters of contested two-point shots in the league. But that is different than bringing victories. Also, Billups is 34 and Hamilton is 32 and showing signs of slowing down — these are not the players of the Nets’ future. They are a bridge to the next rebuilding around Anthony (26).
This move — which sends the promise of Derrick Favors out the door — would leave the Nets with a third-tier roster in the East. They would be nowhere near the level of Boston or Miami or Orlando (we can debate another day if Orlando is really on that level). The Nets would not be as good as the Bulls. They would still be chasing the Hawks.
That means even with this big trade, the Nets would be fighting the Knicks, Pacers, Bobcats, Bucks and Sixers for those final playoff spots in the East next season. Yes, next season — this season the Nets are five games out of the eighth seed in the East right now, with six teams between them and that spot. They aren’t going to the playoffs this year.
Over the coming several years the Nets will need to make a lot of moves to bring in more talent — but that won’t be easy. In part because they will have shipped out so many good draft picks to get Anthony. But in part because of the salaries this trade brings in.
The big talk will be going after Dwight Howard and/or Chris Paul in the summer of 2012 (when both can be free agents) — but with this trade the Nets will have $43 million in payroll already on the books that season. And that is without an extension for Brook Lopez (probably in the $10 million a year range). So they are already near the salary cap under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that cap probably will go down when they strike a new deal this summer (or this fall, or the coming winter). The Nets will have an older, not very athletic roster. Flat out, they will not be attractive to or have the money to throw at elite free agents. Not without a lot of other moves.
If this deal goes through it will look great in the power point that pitches companies on buying a suite in the new Barclay Center. But what fans will see from those suites is (as currently constructed) a pretty average team — one that is a step back (or two) from the Nuggets roster Anthony is leaving. One that will be more interesting to imagine trades for than to watch play. One that has no cap space this coming summer to make moves.
Anthony might get to go home, but you can’t always go home again.