In an interview with NBA TV recently, Carmelo Anthony called LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh “smart” for teaming up together in Miami. The interview with Anthony and Ahmad Rashad only just aired, but it was filmed earlier in November when the New York Knicks were 3-5. Anthony praised James, Wade, and Bosh, and reflecting on his own time with the Knicks, stated,
When I first got to New York, I always told myself it would be a three- to three-and-a-half-year plan just to rebuild. I knew we took a step backwards as an organization for me to get here. So we had to rebuild.
“You’re not going to build a mansion in a year or two years. It takes time. That’s where I’m at right now.”
If we want to read into Anthony’s words, is he suggesting he wants to lure big-name players to New York to accomplish what the Miami Heat have, or is Anthony suggesting that he’s willing to go elsewhere to reach the level of his peers? Anthony’s words seem pretty dedicated to New York — he understands they need to build and that it takes time, but at the end of this season, he’ll have been in New York for three-and-a-half years. Additionally, this is quite easily the worst Knicks roster he’s played with since the team acquired him in 2011.
It’s still a mystery what the Knicks will do when Anthony opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent at the end of the season. More than likely, they’ll offer him a contract. More than likely, they’ll offer him around the maximum that only they can offer him: 5-years, approximately $129 million. Maybe they won’t go for the full max, but it will likely be in that range, as other teams can only offer ‘Melo 4-years, approximately $96 million.
Anthony is the gem of the organization. James Dolan and the front office paid a hefty price to acquire him in that trade with the Denver Nuggets. They’ve attempted to build a team around him. They’ve signed players and other front office personnel who are represented by the same talent agency as Anthony. They hired and have stood by a coach that he likes. They replaced former GM Glen Grunwald — who Dolan described as “old-fashioned” earlier this season — and replaced him with Steve Mills, a business-savvy guy with connections across the league. None of those moves sound like a team that’s ready to start from scratch, rebuild, hoard assets, and suffer for a few years in the hopes that they can grow into a future contender. The Knicks like Carmelo Anthony, and they probably want him to stay.
So how will they face the future, exactly? A fully healthy Anthony, surrounded by the right pieces, could still compete for a championship, or at least the Eastern Conference. Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni… these players are all good, useful players if utilized properly and held within their roles (two things that haven’t happened much this season). This core could just need, say, an All-Star-level point guard, or an All-Star wing, some 3-and-D players, some additional depth from being real contenders in the Eastern Conference. But will the Knicks take that route? Recent history says, “no.”
The Knicks had some of those things in 2010. No one could have predicted Amar’e Stoudemire’s demise, but at the time, they had an elite, offensive center piece, capable point guards, and legitimately talented wings in Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields. In addition, they had cap space and draft picks. Had they been patient and continued to build upwards through cap space and draft picks, who knows what they could have grown into? Instead, the Knicks made the oft-discussed trade for Anthony, giving up Chandler, Gallinari, Felton, and multiple draft picks while eating up their future cap space for Anthony’s salary. These Knicks will have cap space in 2015, but they won’t have draft picks until 2018, and they’re currently debating trading even more of them, even after giving three away in the trade for Andrea Bargnani this summer.
The Knicks are probably going to re-sign Carmelo Anthony and they’re going to look for help, likely in the form of another All-Star. Could this work? Maybe. But is the super-team approach really the best route?
Despite Anthony’s praise for the Miami Heat, the super-team approach hasn’t worked for many. The Knicks, for one, are a primary example — Stoudemire’s body has failed him, Anthony hasn’t been able to carry the team on his own, and the lack of cap space and draft picks have hindered the team’s ability to acquire more assets.
The Brooklyn Nets mortgaged their future and cap space this season by acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to join their team. Now, age and injuries have dismantled the could-be contenders only a quarter of the way into the season. The Los Angeles Lakers assembled a super-team last year, paying a fairly high price to acquire Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to join Kobe Bryant and Paul Gasol. The Lakers gave up four future draft picks alone to acquire Nash. Injuries, old age, and poor coaching, too, dismantled that team, and the only one of those four actively playing for the Lakers now is Gasol.
The Heat have been the inspiration for these teams, but even the Heat’s super-team approach was different. The Heat weren’t taking much of a risk when they signed Wade and James — two of the top three players in the league in 2010 — and Bosh, who was likely the top power forward in the league in 2010. They didn’t give up draft picks, and they used minimum salaries and exceptions to get needed role players like Shane Battier, Ray Allen, and Chris Andersen. Players like Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, and of course, Wade, were all drafted by the Heat. It also helps, obviously, to still have the NBA’s best player in LeBrom James.
Most other NBA teams cannot guarantee they’re receiving a top five player in the NBA, let alone two of them, while also not giving up draft picks. The teams most likely to challenge the Heat for NBA supremacy this season were all built through the draft. The Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and San Antonio Spurs are all captained by extremely talented players that the organizations drafted themselves. As a result, these three teams have all played the Heat in the NBA Finals or the conference finals the last two years.
The Houston Rockets are perhaps the next-best super-team comparison to the Heat, but like the Heat, they build their super power in a much different route. GM Daryl Morey spent years hoarding draft picks and acquiring players on fairly cheap, short contracts. When the Thunder decided they wouldn’t extend James Harden’s contract, Morey and the Rockets swooped in with a bundle of assets to give the Thunder to acquire Harden. Suddenly, through picks and cheap signings, the Rockets had a core of Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik. They maintained cap space, and this summer, when Dwight Howard bolted from L.A., the Rockets were there with a young, promising core, and cap space to sign him. Now, this season, if they trade Asik, they’ll likely be able to acquire even more young, cheap players, and/or draft picks.
The Knicks haven’t built their desired super-team so cleverly. Succeeding in the draft has proven the best way to build a core group that can compete and potentially attract other free agents. Semi-contenders this season, like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, both struck gold in the draft with Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry, respectively. Since, they’ve attracted talented free agents — Chris Paul for the Clippers, Andre Iguodala for the Warriors — and have maintained assets to make smart maneuvers in trades — the Clippers landed J.J Redick and Jared Dudley this summer, while the Warriors netted Andrew Bogut two years ago. These teams are for more likely to compete for a championship than the Knicks, and they built competitive teams without selling the farm.
If the New York Knicks truly feel they can create a contending team with this current group, while adding some much-needed talent through free agency, then we can only watch to see how it plays out. Recent history, however, says otherwise.