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:
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.