Carmelo Anthony, D.J. Augustin

The Knicks can still trade Carmelo Anthony – if he lets them. Maybe he should.

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Carmelo Anthony is not long for the New York Knicks, it seems.

The Bulls, Rockets, Mavericks and Heat are circling. Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher couldn’t persuade him to play out the final year of his contract, and though their meeting with Melo went well, I bet Melo’s meeting with other suitors will also go well.

The writing is on the wall.

At minimum, Melo wants to become a free agent, and at that point, he could leave New York in the dust. But to do that, he’d have to leave more than $33 million on the table.

Maybe the Knicks and Melo could help each other avoid those undesirable outcomes by working together to trade the star.

Players can’t be traded after a season when they’ll become free agents or might become free agents due to an option that offseason. So, Melo is currently untradable because he holds an early termination option (the functional equivalent of a player option). But he can become tradable by amending his contract to remove the option, guaranteeing his deal extends through next season.

That essentially gives him power to approve any trade.

Like where the Knicks would send him? Waive the option.

Don’t like where the Knicks would send him? Refuse to waive the option.

A trade could allow Melo to make more money and the Knicks to guarantee themselves compensation, maybe even netting them a 2014 draft pick. If they want to pursue this route, the clock is ticking. Melo must decide on his option by Monday.

What’s in it for Melo?

As soon as Melo terminates his contract, he’s committing to a salary reduction for next season. His max starting salary as a free agent is $875,003 less than his option-year salary.

That’s a relative small amount to relinquish in order to secure a long-term contract – a max of more than $129 million re-signing with the Knicks or $95 million elsewhere.

But the $875,003 matters, because if Melo were to opt in, the value of a max deal he signs next summer would be determined by his salary this season. Comparing deals signed after playing out the option year to max deals signed this summer, he’d make $11.7 million more if he re-signs or $8.7 million more if he leaves – and don’t forget about the $ 23,333,405 he’d make this season.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Melo would command a max contract next offseason.

Melo is coming off the two best seasons of his career. He’ll definitely draw max offers now.

But he’s also 30, and most players begin to decline around this age.

If Melo wants to simply terminate his contract and secure a long-term deal while he knows he can get one, I definitely wouldn’t blame him. That’s the safe route and the one he seems set to travel.

However, if he wants to leave New York, agreeing to a trade would net him an extra $68 million – as long as he still gets a max contract in 2015. It’s a risk, but the reward exists.

The best money is in re-signing with your current team, and it’s not too late for Melo to change his current team.

It might be too late for him to get the “Dwight Howard treatment,” but Melo can still cause a stir this weekend.

Melo has never been a free agent. He signed an extension with the Nuggets and another extension when traded to the Knicks.

I think Melo wants teams woo him, to line up at his door and one-by-one make their pitches. No doubt, it would be a fun experience.

The Knicks have already started the process, and they can grant teams permission to negotiate with Melo as part of a trade. Remember, trade partners must sell Melo, because he’s untradable without his consent.

And why would he give consent to a trade rather than just signing with that new team in a month?

Here’s the most Melo could earn by terminating his contract (orange) or agreeing to a trade and then signing a new contract in 2015 (blue). Both scenarios show re-signing with his current team and leaving his current team.

Path 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
Waive ETO for trade, re-sign $23,333,405 $24,500,075 $26,337,581 $28,175,087 $30,012,592 $31,850,098 $164,208,838
Waive ETO for trade, leave $23,333,405 $24,500,075 $25,602,579 $26,705,082 $27,807,585   $127,948,726
Exercise ETO, re-sign $22,458,402 $24,142,782 $25,827,162 $27,511,542 $29,195,922   $129,135,810
Exercise ETO, leave $22,458,402 $23,469,030 $24,479,658 $25,490,286     $95,897,375

The most Melo could make by leaving the Knicks now is $95,897,375

But if he gets traded to a new team and re-sign there in 2015, a new max contract would be worth $140,875,433 over five years – bringing his six-year total, including this year’s option salary, to $164,208,838.

And if Melo chooses poorly on where he’s traded now and wants to leave his next team in 2015, he could still get four years and $104,615,321 on a max contract – a total of $127,948,726 with this year’s option salary.

Again, deferring a new contract for a year carries major risk. That’s offset by a small bump in guaranteed salary next season and the potential for an even larger payday as a free agent next year than he could get this year. But it is a gamble.

What’s in it for the Knicks? 

If the Knicks lose Melo, they’d like something in return.

They’ll obviously have to weigh the odds he walks as a free agent, the possibility of a sign-and-trade and and what they’re offered in a trade before June 23. But that equation is increasingly pointing to trying to trade him now.

The first step would be granting other teams permission to pitch Melo. After all, he must consent to a deal by waiving his early-termination option.

Simultaneously, New York would negotiate with potential trader partners. Unlike a sign-and-trade, which couldn’t happen until July, this type of trade could land the Knicks a first-round pick in next week’s draft. If they’re rebuilding without Melo, it would be extremely helpful to begin that process now rather than wasting a year.

Finding a workable trade will be difficult, because the team trading for Melo gets him for only one year guaranteed. That will limit New York’s return, but something is better than nothing.

Making matters more difficult is the current trade climate. 

It’s still technically the 2013-14 season through June 30, so 2013-14 salaries are used in trades. Though several teams can easily create cap space when the clock turns over to 2014-15 in July, few have space now.

Plus, because teams can’t trade players who will become free agents this summer or might become free agents due to an option, a ton of players are off the table. The Heat, with only Norris Cole and Justin Hamilton available to deal, would be completely out of the picture in these discussions.

And nearly everyone with a player option has veto power. The standard deadline for a player option or early-termination option is June 30, so as Melo must agree to a deal, so must nearly any player who holds one of those options.

Want to go to New York? Remove the option now. Don’t want to go to New York? Wait to opt in until after Melo’s early deadline.

Because of these restrictions, trades can be very difficult to cobble together. Here are a few examples of what could work:

  • Bulls: Melo for Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson, No. 16 and No. 19 picks in 2014 draft
  • Rockets: Melo for Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, No. 25 pick in 2014 draft, 2016 first-round pick
  • Mavericks: Melo and Raymond Felton for Jose Calderon, Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, Jae Crowder, 2016 first-round pick, 2018 first-round pick
  • Warriors: Melo for David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green
  • Celtics: Melo for Jeff Green, Keith Bogans, Joel Anthony, No. 6 pick in 2014 draft

What’s in it for the trade partner?

Well, you get Melo, one of the NBA’s best scorers.

That’s not without risk, though.

If those above offers seem low, it’s because a team acquiring Melo this way would get him for only one year before he becomes a free agent. That should be a concern, but not as large as it might initially appear.

By agreeing to a trade, Melo would be signaling his interest in re-signing with his new team. Plus, his new team can offer him more money in 2015 free agency than anyone else. It would be relationship set up to succeed.

No team should trade for Melo unless it plans to re-sign him next summer, but if everything goes south quickly, his new team could always flip him before the trade deadline and cut its losses.

Will it happen?

Probably not.

There are a lot moving parts. The Knicks, another team and Melo must all satisfy each other to reach a deal – and there isn’t much time left.

But in all the Melo options being discussed, a trade is overlooked. It’s worth examining.

If, after this process, Melo wanted to stay with the Knicks, he could either terminate his contract and re-sign for $129 million or opt in and then re-sign for up to $164 million. He’s previously ruled out the second option, but that was probably at least partially based on the desire to explore his options. With his options explored in this scenario, maybe he takes his chances on staying in Ne York and earning a larger payday next year.

There’s really no risk in Melo and the Knicks pursuing a trade now. If they don’t find a suitable deal, Melo can opt out Monday as originally planned and hit the ground running in free agency come July 1.

But for the potential of an extra $68 million to Melo and a 2014 draft pick for New York, it’s probably worth the effort to try to find a deal.

Isaiah Thomas’ big fourth quarter carries Celtics past Hornets 108-98

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) raises his arms as he celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. Thomas had 35 points as the Celtics defeated the Hornets 108-98. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Associated Press
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BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas’ 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He’s been putting up big final quarters of late – scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams had 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight – all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 1/2 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period.

TIP-INS

Hornets: Entered averaging the second-fewest turnovers in the league at 12.1 per game. They had 11.

Celtics: G Avery Bradley returned after missing four straight games because of a strained right Achilles. He scored five points on 2-of -9 shooting. … Thomas scored a team-record 29 points in the final quarter of a victory against Miami on Dec. 30 to finish with 52.

INSPIRING WORDS

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown addressed the crowd before the game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Without notes, he quoted King in saying: “The day our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.”

NICE CATCH

New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount sat courtside behind a basket and made a two-handed grab of a ball flying out of bounds.

SPORTS TRANSITION

It was the nightcap of a hockey/basketball doubleheader, and 6-foot-4 Celtics guard Marcus Smart entered TD Garden wearing a winter jacket and hat. He paused and stood seemingly unnoticed as a group of youngsters and parents – most wearing Boston Bruins colors – walked down a hall to meet some of the hockey players.

Smart smiled when a media member said, “I don’t think anyone noticed you.”

Later, 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara headed past folks walking in for the basketball game.

 

Clippers guard Chris Paul leaves game with sprained thumb, more tests coming

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The Clippers have now won seven games in a row, but if they don’t have Chris Paul in the lineup that streak is going to turn around very quickly (remember just a couple of weeks ago when he missed seven games with a hamstring strain?).

Which is why Paul leaving the game with what the team has called a sprained thumb is potentially troubling news. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook who had pulled up to take a three, Paul’s hand hitting Westbrook’s hip and seemingly getting caught up in his shorts. Paul walked off the court and went straight to the locker room, making it seem worse than the team said it is so far.

From the press release from the Clippers:

X-rays during the game were negative, but further tests still need to be done to determine the extent of the injury, which occurred in the second quarter after Paul jammed his left hand on Russell Westbrook’s right leg.

The Clippers held on without Paul for the comfortable win over the Thunder, 120-98.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but could fall down that ladder if Paul is out for any stretch of time. Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s going to be a tough run of games even with Paul.

Kevin Durant scores 21, Stephen Curry 20 to help Warriors cruise past Cavs (VIDEOS)

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Pretty much everything the Warriors did Monday against the Cavaliers worked — transition buckets, pull-up threes, drive-and-dish plays, curls off screens, you name it and the Warriors got enough space to get a shot they wanted. Then they knocked them down. Which is why the Warriors won going away.

Stephen Curry had a big night with 20 points and 11 assists, which you can see highlights of above. It was a big night for Curry’s confidence: In the Cavaliers four-straight wins against the Warriors, Cleveland trapped Curry off picks, were physical, and when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams Cavaliers’ help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. Monday night Curry took the pressure in stride, used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers in the first half.

Kevin Durant benefitted from some of those passes and had 21 points on the night, and he chipped in three blocks.

 

Get out of my head: Golden State routs Cleveland in last regular season meeting before Finals

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No regular season game is going to erase the memory of blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead.

No January game is an accurate crystal ball into an NBA Finals matchup.

But the Warriors can put to rest the “Cleveland is in their heads” rhetoric and take a little confidence away from an absolute drubbing of the NBA Champions on national television Monday night.

Golden State caught fire midway through the first quarter and led by 15 after one, put up 78 points in the first half to lead by 29 at the break, and it all happened so fast it left Tyronn Lue’s face as the meme of the night.

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From there, the Warriors cruised in (sloppily at times, but cruised) for the 126-91 win.

“It was very important to come out and get off to a good start, but more importantly to hold on to that, to continue to keep our foot on the gas,” Draymond Green, speaking to the blown leads issue in his postgame TNT interview. “We did that the entire night, they had one little stretch there, I think it was the end of the third quarter, but other than that we kept our foot on the gas the entire time.”

Everyone in a Warriors uniform looked sharp. Klay Thompson had 26 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. Kevin Durant had 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Stephen Curry had 20 points and 11 assists. Green had a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Conversely, for the Cavaliers LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love were a combined 13-of-43 (30.2 percent shooting), with just five assists to 13 turnovers between them. As a team, the Cavaliers shot 35.2 percent overall and 9-of-34 from three (26.5 percent). Love didn’t play in the second half due to lower back soreness.

The Cavaliers looked like the team on the last night of a six-game road trip counting the minutes until they got back home, which is exactly what they were.

Neither side thinks this game portends anything going forward.

“It wasn’t about sending a message,” Green said in his interview. “At the end of the day, that’s the defending champs, we played them guys in two straight Finals, you’re not sending a message with a regular season win.”

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good for the Warriors (and is cathartic for their fans).

The only real moment of drama in the game was when Green shouldered LeBron to the ground in the second quarter and picked up a Flagrant 1 for his efforts.

Golden State started the game slow, getting good looks but shooting just 1-of-7 from three. Still, it felt like with the looks they were getting the shots would fall at some point, and they did as the Warriors hit six of their next eight from deep. Cleveland tried to match that but found no rhythm, shooting 2-of-12 from three early. With the hot shooting continuing for them, the Warriors stretched the lead up as high as 22, but the Cavaliers had Richard Jefferson come in and muck the game up, LeBron started attacking off the drive, and the Cavaliers cut the lead down to 14.

Then the Warriors got a couple of live-ball turnovers — including Curry stripping LeBron — and converted those to fast-break buckets the other way, then all that was left was Lue looking dazed. The Warriors were moving the ball and not getting sucked into isolation, racking up 26 first half assists. The Warriors also were out and running and had 34 fast break points in the first half — credit Golden State for pushing the tempo, but the Cavaliers transition defense was a horror show. And not in a cool, “Let the Right One In” kind of way, but in the “Cavs fans never want to see that again” kind of way. Dazed Lue is right there with them.

No more meetings between these teams until the Finals we all expect to see. It’s six months of these teams getting better, trying to stay healthy, and gaining confidence going into that series. Cleveland has plenty of confidence. Golden State just got a little more.