The most overlooked – and maybe most significant – reason Carmelo Anthony won’t waive his no-trade clause this season

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Carmelo Anthony says he’s committed to the Knicks, says he trusts Phil Jackson, says he believes in Kristaps Porzingis.

And that might all be true.

But so is this: Anthony will get a bonus if he’s traded, and that bonus would be larger if he’s traded in 2016-17 or 2017-18 rather than this season. Anthony also has a no-trade clause, giving him final say in if and when he’s dealt.

Those circumstances – perhaps more than anything else – make it likely the star forward will remain with the Knicks this season.

Anthony’s contract contains a 15% trade kicker, which means if traded, he gets a bonus of 15% of the contract’s remaining value (including the season following his early termination option) from the Knicks. That bonus is allocated across the remaining years of his contract before the early termination option proportionate to the percentage of his salary that’s guarantee. Because Anthony’s deal is fully guaranteed, the trade bonus is allocated equally to each season.

But there’s the major catch: Anthony’s compensation – salary plus trade bonus – in the season of the trade can’t exceed his max salary as defined by years of service or 105% his previous salary, whichever is greater.

That’s why trade bonuses for max players have mattered only minimally. There just isn’t much room under the limit for their compensation to increase.

For example, Anthony has $101,606,280 remaining on his contract – 15% of which would be$15,240,942. But if Anthony is traded this year, his trade bonus would be just $2,118,963. That’s his room below the max –105% his previous salary ($23,581,321) minus his actual salary ($22,875,000) – multiplied by the number of years remaining before his early termination option (three).

And the bonus is only so high because Anthony took a smaller raise this season to give the Knicks extra cap space. If he had gotten his full 7.5% raise, as he does in other seasons, he would have already been above his applicable max. So, his trade bonus would have been $0.

But because the salary cap is skyrocketing in coming seasons due to the new national TV contracts, Anthony will be far below his max salary. That leaves room for the trade bonus to matter.

Next year, Anthony’s max projects to near $30 million while his salary will be shy of $25 million. He could accept a trade bonus of twice the difference (twice because he can allocate it over two years). That still won’t get him his full 15%, but it will come much closer than this season.

Remember, we won’t know 2016-17 max salaries until next July. If the cap comes in higher than expected, Anthony could get a higher portion of his potential trade bonus – up to the full 15% of $11,809,692.

If the cap isn’t quite high enough to get him that full amount, he could amend his contract to remove the early termination option just before the trade. That would allow him to allocate the bonus over three years rather than two, which should get him to the full 15%.

By 2017-18, the cap is projected to rise high enough that Anthony would get his full 15% if traded ($8,125,785). Obviously, though, each season Anthony plays reduces the amount of money left on his contract. In fact, the value shrinks even throughout the regular season.

Anthony has an early termination option before the 2018-19 season, so if he wants to leave the Knicks at that point and can still command so much money, he might as well terminate his contract and become a free agent.

Here is the projected trade bonus for Anthony if he’s traded before each season of his contract:

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Anthony’s bonus won’t change at any point this season. Even at the trade deadline, 15% of his contract’s remaining value will far surpass his potential bonus.

His bonus could begin to decline during the 2016-17 season, depending exactly where the cap lands and whether Anthony is willing to remove his early termination option. By 2017-18, it will matter when in the season he’s dealt.

Really, this whole conversation exposes the perverse incentive of trade bonuses. Anthony’s salary with the Knicks is set unless they renegotiate it upward (the only direction allowable, and why would they do that?), he accepts a buyout (why would he do that?) or he gets traded.

Simply, the only realistic way for Anthony to get a raise before 2018 is to get traded. And the way for him to maximize that raise to get traded in 2016-17 or 2017-18.

Of course, an NBA paycheck is not Anthony’s only concern. Playing in New York creates marketing opportunities he wouldn’t get elsewhere. He must also consider his family – his wife, La La, and son, Kiyan. Does he want to move to a new city? He also probably cares about his legacy, and many would look unfavorably on him bailing on the Knicks after forcing a trade from the Nuggets. There’s a lot to consider.

It’s also easy to see why Anthony would want to leave. The Knicks are (surprisingly patiently) rebuilding, and Anthony is on the wrong side of 30. His window could easily close before New York’s opens.

Don’t underestimate how good Anthony is now, though. Barring injury or major regression, teams will want to trade for him next summer. Remember how strongly he was courted just a year ago? The market for him will probably only expand.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside and Timofey Mozgov could all be free agents next summer. Even add potential restricted free agents like Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond. That’s just nine players. More than nine teams will have max cap room. The ones that strike out on that premier group could very well choose to deal for Anthony rather than splurge on lesser free agents.

Trade bonuses create difficulties in matching salaries, but that’s much easier for teams under the cap. The odds of the Knicks finding a viable trade partner are higher with the cap shooting up. They can probably get a nice package of young players and/or draft picks to enhance rebuilding. That’s especially important, because New York must send the Raptors a first-round pick next year.

This is all hypothetical, though – assessments based on what previous players like Anthony and teams like the Knicks have desired. Anthony and/or the Knicks might buck precedent.

Perhaps, Anthony is totally loyal to the Knicks. But, if he’s not, his trade bonus dictates he should give him the benefit of the doubt this season.

He can reevaluate next summer. He’ll be a year older, and if the Knicks aren’t a year better – and even that might not be enough to get on Anthony’s timeline – he can explore a trade then. And if they have improved, he’ll surely be credited for the turnaround.

It pays to wait.

Literally.

James Harden, Chris Paul lead Rockets to 13th straight victory

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HOUSTON (AP) — Nursing a sore knee, James Harden said he came close to not playing Saturday night.

When team doctors warned him that it would be painful, but he could play through it, he said, “Let’s go.”

Harden scored 31 points and Chris Paul had 25 and the Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-111 for their 13th straight victory.

The winning streak is the Rockets’ longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in 2007-08.

Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer over Malcolm Brogdon and was fouled, giving Houston an 11-point lead with less than six minutes remaining. In the last two minutes, Paul hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers on consecutive possessions to put the game out of reach.

“Mentally, this was a big win for us,” Paul said. “We never let go of the rope. Every time they made a little push, we stayed right there down the stretch. James was out there, basically, on one leg. The mental toughness we showed as a team is what we take from this game.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton had 23 points, and Brogdon added 20. Milwaukee has lost three in a row after winning six of seven.

“Harden made some tough shots and Chris Paul made some big shots down the stretch as well,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We gave ourselves a chance, but we just came up short.”

The Rockets grinded through frustrations, 15 turnovers and a below-average shooting night. Paul had a technical foul, Harden had a delay of game warning, and the Rockets faced serious adversity for the first time in weeks. Entering Saturday, Houston had dominated teams in its streak, winning all but two games by double figures with an average margin of victory of 16.9 points.

“We just didn’t have our best stuff tonight,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But we found a way. It was one of those typical grind games where you’ve just got to find a way somehow.”

Paul scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, overcoming a rocky first half where he missed all five shots he attempted and turned the ball over five times.

“I had never coached him in a back-to-back, but I’m thinking he’s kind of dead,” D’Antoni said. “Then, all of a sudden, he comes out in the third quarter and turns into Superman.”

Paul made 7 of 8 shots in the second half, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, also making all eight free throws in the game.

Harden scored 20 points or more for the 29th straight game, matching Houston’s franchise record set by Moses Malone.

Both Harden and Clint Capela (left heel contusion) were game-time decisions after suffering injuries on different collision plays in Friday night’s win over San Antonio. Capela sat out the game, and P.J. Tucker started in his place, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Behind Tucker, Nene scored a season-high 16 points, largely on thunderous one-handed dunks. The Rockets were outscored by the Bucks 44-40 in the paint and outrebounded 40-38.

Milwaukee and Houston traded blows in the first half, with the Rockets leading by three at the end of the first quarter. They were tied at 55 at the half. The Rockets haven’t trailed at the half since Nov. 25 in a 117-102 win over the Knicks.

The Rockets took an 84-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

At 24-4, the Rockets are tied for their best 28-game start in franchise history, matching the 1993-94 season when they won their first championship.

 

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.

 

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.