Congratulations, Mr. Dolan! You’ve landed your prize! You have two, count ’em two, stars to fill the seats in Madison Square Garden. Carmelo Anthony joins Amar’e Stoudemire for the Knicks and the star power is through the roof now in New York. You have successfully acquired a second NBA All-Star, which is difficult to do and a testament to the power of the brand you acquired (and have largely run into the gutter for the past decade, but that’s beside the point). This is a huge day for you and you should be proud and happy. Bask in the glow of the media attention and the jersey sales for today through Wednesday night’s probable Melo debut.
Then get ready for some massive headaches.
After this move settles down, Dolan and his crew are going to be facing one of the tightest cap situations in the league, regardless of how the CBA works out. They now have close to $40 million on the books for next season and seasons going forward between just two players. That’s a whole lot of money in two guys, when you need a solid seven at the very least to compete for a championship. It’s been said that you can develop role players. That’s absolutely true, but it also takes draft picks to get those guys, and the Knicks are now missing their 2012 and 2014 picks. So how they’re going to get there is going to be a little bit tricky. And it’s going to take someone like Donnie Walsh, a shrewd evaluator of talent, to figure out how to get the support Melo and Amar’e will need.
But will Walsh even be around? Reports are rampant in the wake of this trade that this was Isiah’s work, pressing Dolan to intervene, and not Walsh. Walsh, consistently has played his cards tight to his chest, knowing he held leverage and could get Melo and keep the supporting pieces to put the Knicks on an advanced track. Instead, Dolan let Thomas get his ear, and now there indications that the shadow that held over the Garden for five years is creeping over the gates. Thomas is making a power play and Dolan is caving to it, even as it’s been Walsh who has guided the team back to relevance, being careful and considerate with his decisions.
The Knicks’ future won’t be decided on the floor with superstars with bright lights in their eyes balancing being cultural icons and All-Stars. It will be decided in boardrooms, both inside and outside the MSG Empire. Internally, if Dolan continues to seek out Isiah Thomas’ counsel, undercutting Walsh, that situation will become untenable. Walsh has been around too long to put up with that kind of circus act especially with his contract up at the end of the year. Getting Melo is an upgrade, but it came at a price and Walsh has to feel like if he’d been granted control, Anthony could have been had without giving up so much. If Isiah Thomas somehow works his way back into the driver’s seat of the Knicksmobile, expect the fans’ reaction to be nothing short of outrage.
Outside the Knicks, though, is another fight Dolan will be involved in. The CBA negotiations take place this summer, and while his fellow owners are pushing for a drastic reduction in the salary cap and possibly a hard cap, Dolan may have to try and politic his way into finding a base for compromise. In short, anything which restricts player movement and lowers the cap without rolling back the current contracts of Stoudemire and Anthony is going to keep the Knicks from being able to do what Dolan wants: buy their way into a championship. The next piece of this puzzle comes in 2012 for New York, as they attempt to chase Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams. But if the Knicks are cap strapped thanks to this move and a revamped CBA, that goes out the window and the Knicks are looking at a roster-limited team with no structure beneath the big jewels up top.
And guess what happens, then? Should the Knicks fail to contend for a championship because they can’t get the pieces around the two stars, it wont’ be Dolan admitting his mistake or allowing Walsh to work his magic. Instead it will be Mike D’Antoni’s job on the line as the idea will surface that it’s his fault the Knicks go further. We’ve seen this pattern before in the NBA.
The Knicks hit the big time. Now we have to see if the organization as a whole can survive under the lights.