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.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.