- Jemele Hill, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine
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The New York Knicks just figured out a way to give up everything but the coasters for a borderline franchise player and still be a couple of years away from being ready to compete for an NBA championship.
In this case, a three-team, nine-player trade isn't worth what some are going to try to make you believe. The Knicks gave Denver a king's haul of three starters (Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari), a raw (but promising) 24-year-old 7-footer (Timofey Mozgov) and their 2014 first-round draft pick, yet the assumption will be that acquiring Carmelo Anthony will put New York right there with the Miami Heat in challenging the Boston Celtics for Eastern Conference supremacy.
But instead, the Knicks didn't get a savior in Anthony, they got a big piece of bait. And in the process, they relinquished some of their most encouraging talent.
Yes, Anthony gives Amare Stoudemire a bona fide partner, one who can be a big help in matchups against the superstar-heavy Celtics and Heat. He finally gives the Knicks the relevancy they've craved.
But let's briefly allow the facts to intrude on the fantasy. The Knicks already are the second-highest-scoring team in the NBA, and they just traded away half their roster for another offensive-minded player.
Right now, New York is slightly better than a .500 team, and it likely will stay that way for the rest of the season because the trade leaves it with a thin bench, an aging point guard (Chauncey Billups, who comes along with Anthony from Denver) to run a fast-paced offense and a nonexistent defense.
Supposedly, one of the biggest reasons Anthony was worth getting at any cost was that it's assumed he'll coax Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Dwight Howard to come to New York when they become free agents next year.
But while we don't know what the salary cap will be in the next collective bargaining agreement, it's very likely the Knicks will have limited payroll space if the cap is anywhere near what it is now. No matter how trendy it becomes for stars to join up with other stars, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did in Miami, I can't see any quality superstar giving the Knicks the kind of discount they might need to complete a Heat-like triumvirate.
I'm not ready to call the Anthony trade a bad deal for New York, but I am saying it's less than ideal. The Knicks' reality is selling another fantasy.
For the Nuggets, this was a best-case scenario. They didn't receive equal value for Anthony, but they got more than enough, including second-round picks in 2012 and 2013, which the Knicks had acquired from Golden State when the Warriors signed David Lee last summer.
Anthony, by the way, deserves credit for that. By making his intentions known to the Nuggets from the beginning, Denver had the opportunity to recoup its losses.
Just ask Cleveland how important a heads-up from a superstar can be.
I'm not suggesting the Knicks don't need Anthony. Who can't use a 25-points-per-game scorer who can fill up the basket from any spot on the floor?
But I question their strategy. I'm just not convinced this is the best way for the Knicks to make themselves championship contenders.
And their own history proves it.
When they were consistent competitors in the 1990s, they put a terrific group of role players around their superstar, Patrick Ewing. Those Knicks teams had ferocious defenders who exuded toughness. The Knicks' championship team in 1970, revered for winning the franchise's first title, was built around Willis Reed and also had the NBA's top-ranked defense.
Prior to the Melo deal, the Knicks seemed to be building their team in that mold. Felton and Chandler have become very solid players. Gallinari is finally proving why he was the sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft; he leaves the Knicks averaging a career-best 15.9 points per game. Of course, none of them have Melo's star power or his individual offensive ability, but they are better pieces in a team's whole than people realize.
The Melo deal is troubling because it seems as if New York is more concerned with restoring its reputation as a franchise that can attract big stars than setting up a viable long-range plan.
Remember, the Knicks were once convinced they would get James, too. Despite the now-infamous toast Paul made at Anthony's wedding last year, which indicated he was open to joining Stoudemire and Anthony in New York, a lot can happen between now and the summer of 2012.
There's no question it played to Melo's advantage when James shunned New York for Miami. It made the Knicks desperate, and I'm not so sure they needed to be.
As special as Anthony is, he isn't James. He doesn't have the kind of game, leadership or charisma that can instantly transform a team. There's a reason Anthony's teams have been eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs six times in seven years, including once by the Clippers.
But let's not let those inconvenient facts spoil this for New Yorkers.
They've landed their bait.
Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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