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.

Barrier to entry for NBA playoff race is historically low

NBA playoff race includes Grizzlies, Nets
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As free agency neared last summer, Andre Iguodala told his wife he suspected he’d get traded. She asked, where?

“I’ll probably end up in Memphis or some s—,” Iguodala replied.

The tone seemed apt. The Grizzlies were in the initial stages of a rebuild. Hardly a fit for 35-year-old Iguodala. In fact, Memphis – which of course traded for Iguodala – has agreed to let Iguodala sit out since training camp began. The Grizzlies could search for a trade. Iguodala could stay fresh for a team ready to win now.

But a funny thing happened: Halfway through the NBA season, Memphis is in playoff position.

The Grizzlies are exceeding expectations, of course. Ja Morant and a young core are thriving far sooner than expected. That isn’t the whole story, though.

Memphis (19-22) has won just 46% of its games. That would have been good for 11th place last season. In the East.

The Grizzlies are fortunate to play in Western Conference with a weak middle class. Memphis on pace to become the first sub-.500 Western Conference playoff teams since the conference expanded to 15 teams.

And it’s not as if the Grizzlies are getting pushed hard from behind. The ninth-place Spurs (17-22) are on pace for the worst ninth-place finish in the West in this era (since 2004-05).

It’s a similar story in the East.

The Nets (18-22) are in playoff position with a winning percentage barely ahead of the 2003-04 Celtics, who went 36-46 and made the postseason. That Boston team set the low watermark since the Eastern Conference expanded to 15 teams (since 1995-96).

Like Memphis in the West, Brooklyn faces uninspiring competition. The ninth-place Bulls (15-27), 10th-place Pistons (15-27) AND 11th-place Hornets (15-29) are all on pace for the worst finish for their spot in the standings in this era.

Here’s how each team’s win percentage in each conference compares to teams in the same place in the standings in prior 15-team conferences. The 2019-20 teams are shown by their logo. Prior teams are marked with a dot. Columns are sorted by place within a conference, 1-15. After the graphics, 2018-19 teams are compared to the worst, average and best teams ever to finish in each place, 1-15.

Western Conference

NBA Western Conference standings

NBA Western Conference standings

Eastern Conference

NBA Eastern Conference standings

NBA Eastern Conference standings

At least several decent teams are lurking in the West. Even the 14th-place Kings would rank ninth in the East. Between the Grizzlies, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Suns, Pelicans, Timberwolves and Kings, one probably emerges with a winning record.

Both conferences feature relative strength in the 3-6 range. That could mean a high-quality first-round series or two in each conference.

So, why do the conferences look how they do? I wouldn’t rush to ascribe meaning.

The NBA implemented lottery reform last season, and that might have something to do with a lack of teams deeply bottoming out. But it’s too soon to say with certainty how the new lottery odds will affect things. After all, the shape of the standings looked quite different around this time last season.

The league getting further removed from the 2016 cap spike might also play a part in producing parity among good teams. Again, though, it’s too early to carve conclusions into stone.

Mostly, I think there’s just a randomness to it. Some years, the standings shake out a certain way. Other years, it’s a different way.

But now that we know how this year looks, we can see that only a few teams are out of the playoff race. Twelve teams ought to believe they have at least a fair chance of winning a postseason series. That could produce more buyers than usual before the trade deadline.

PBT mid-season awards: Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and more

Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and Ja Morant
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The 2019-20 NBA season reached its midpoint by games played last night. So, we’re naming winners for mid-season awards. Yesterday, we picked Most Valuable Player and All-NBA. Now, we’re onto the other major honors.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kurt Helin: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

This is the hardest award for me to pick mid-season, but the Jazz put more on the plate of Gobert this season and he has responded amazingly (even if the Jazz’s defense is a little off from its usual highs this season). A lot of other players still in the mix here for me including Joel Embiid (if he plays enough games), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Marcus Smart.

Dan Feldman: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Even as reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert doesn’t have the final award sewn up. Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Kawhi Leonard are in the mix. But in a tight race, Gobert gets the benefit of the doubt. Utah’s strong defense is built entirely around Gobert’s rim protection.

Rookie of the Year

Kurt Helin: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)

This is a runaway award, but not for the guy we expected to run away with it. Zion Williamson makes his debut next week and maybe he could climb to third in this race, but he’s not winning the award. Morant and his fluid athleticism have turned Grizzlies into must-watch television, and he looks every bit the franchise player. Kendrick Nunn is a clear second in this race.

Dan Feldman: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)

Some rookie point guards put up big numbers. Some rookie point guards produce electric highlights. Some rookie point guards show promising flashes of winning basketball. Few rookie point guards are actually good. Morant is actually good. His athleticism, shooting and overall offensive control form an incredible package for his age. Sure, Morant is sometimes too reckless. He doesn’t completely break the mold of a young point guard. But Memphis has a gem.

Most Improved Player

Kurt Helin: Devonte' Graham (Hornets)

Last season, Graham was an end-of-the-bench guy in Charlotte. This season, he’s averaging 18.7 points a game, hitting 38.7 percent from three and is the team’s best player. Nobody saw that coming and it’s a radical improvement. Also in the mix for this award are Bam Adebayo and Luka Doncic — yes, the MVP candidate, he as made a massive leap this season.

Dan Feldman: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

It’s a two-man race between Doncic and Devonte’ Graham. As the reigning Rookie of the Year, Doncic will get overlooked. He’s a second-year player. He was supposed to be this good. BS. The leap into superstardom is generally more difficult than the climb from non-rotation player to good starter, which Graham made. For Doncic to get this good this quickly is unprecedented.

Sixth Man of the Year

Kurt Helin: Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

Harrell was in the mix for this award last season and came back this season as a better defender and more efficient on offense. He’s a critical element for a contending Clippers team, and closes games for them at the five. However, this is not a decided race by any means, both Derrick Rose and George Hill deserve serious consideration. Also, Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn could be in the mix, but likely starts too many games to qualify.

Dan Feldman: Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

I nearly chose Harrell for this award last season. Since, he has improved his offensive skill and defensive effectiveness. His big role in L.A. gives Harrell the edge over another highly productive reserve, the Bucks’ George Hill. Derrick Rose and Harrell’s teammate, Lou Williams, also warrant consideration.

Coach of the Year

Kurt Helin: Erik Spoelstra (Heat)

This is a wide-open race and my spreadsheet goes eight deep with worthy candidates: Nick Nurse has done an impressive job in Toronto, same with Brad Stevens in Boston and Frank Vogel with the Lakers, and the list goes on. Spoelstra, however, leads for me because of a combination of player development — Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, etc. — and smart utilization of the players’ he has. Plus, Spoelstra is getting it all to mesh around Jimmy Butler.

Dan Feldman: Nick Nurse (Raptors)

Nurse kept Toronto humming when Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left. Nurse kept Toronto humming when key players, including breakout star Pascal Siakam, got hurt. Nurse kept Toronto humming when unproven young players had to join the rotation. Nurse’s defenses are particularly exemplary – both his creativity and ability to get everyone up to speed. The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and the Pacers’ Nate McMillan aren’t far behind.

DeAndre Ayton got the start for Phoenix, put up 26 and 21 (VIDEO)

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Coach Monty Williams changed things up as Phoenix went into Madison Square Garden Thursday:

Deandre Ayton got the start at center and Aron Baynes came off the bench.

The result? Ayton had his first-ever 20/20 game — 26 points and 21 rebounds — as the Suns blew out the Knicks 121-98.

Phoenix also got a big night from Ricky Rubio, 25 points and 13 assists. He kept finding Ayton in places the second-year big man could do damage.

It’s one step in a long road for the Suns’ big man, but it was good to see.

Here’s video of Klay Thompson getting up shots in an empty Chase Center

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“I would love to get out there… But I’m trying to make sure this type of injury never happens to me again. So, I’ll be very patient because I want to play at a high level until I’m in my late-30s.”

That’s how Klay Thompson recently described his recovery, making sure there was no specific timeline mentioned. He’ll be back when the doctors clear him to be back — which could be next season. He will be re-evaluated next month. 

That said, Thompson is getting in work on the court and putting up shots. As you can see from the video above, he’s doing it headband on in the Chase Center pregame.

What does that mean? Nothing. It’s not like Thompson is moving at NBA speeds in this video, and ultimately it’s the people who spent years in medical school who get to make this call. Considering where the Warriors are in the standings, management may decide to give Thompson the entire season off. Even if he wants to return.

For now, just enjoy the video.