When I sat down to write this column, my goal was to determine which NBA Prospect would be the best fit for the present-day New York Knicks. More specifically, it was an exercise to determine which young player would complement Carmelo Anthony, the center of the current Knicks universe (and everyone’s favorite Orangeman.)
After a lot of research and mentally re-watching the numerous college games I sat through this past year, the answer is simple: trade the pick.
It’s a very difficult conclusion for Knicks fans to accept, I’m sure, but thanks to some bad lottery luck, it’s the only viable option.
Had the Knicks landed a top-2 pick I’d be singing a different tune. Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are immediate difference makers. Towns is the complete package and an immediate starter, while Okafor is probably the most naturally-gifted offensive big to enter the draft in years. Either one of them would immediately be able to step in and play alongside Carmelo, Tim Hardway, Jr., and the free agents attracted to the idea of playing with Carmelo AND a #1 caliber draft pick.
BUT, the Knicks are not going to fill up the $28-$35 million in cap space they have this summer by dangling D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, Justice Winslow, or Willie Caulie-Stein in front of them.
That’s not to say any of those young men won’t become stars in this league. Every one of them has potential, but the problem for the Knicks –the bed they’ve made for themselves and now have to lie in— is there is no time to wait and see. Thanks to the combination of promises from Phil Jackson and management; the fans’ hunger and expectations; and Carmelo’s prime years quickly fading (if not already gone,) the Knicks need to find their way back to the playoffs next season. They didn’t leave themselves any leeway for any other scenario to play out.
The key to accomplishing their goal isn’t the draft, it’s the free agents. Unfortunately for the Knicks, Carmelo alone has not proven to be a major draw in the past. He’s not Lebron James, Kevin Durant, or even James Harden. He’s not someone other players look at and think “He’ll make me better, I can win with that guy.”
Also, contrary to what every New Yorker wants to believe, playing in the Garden isn’t the draw we think it is. Sure players shine under the bright lights…as visitors. But playing under the scrutiny of the New York media day after day takes a toll on you. Most players would rather avoid that kind of pressure. Miami, LA, and Texas are the preferred destinations these days, especially since you can brand yourself anywhere thanks to the multitude of social media outlets at one’s disposal. The top guys aren’t signing up for New York, especially when Carmelo “the ball-stopper” Anthony and a bunch of unproven rookies and sophomores are the only ones waiting for them.
So what’s going to happen? If the Knicks keep the pick, they’ll find somebody to spend their cap room on. It will probably be past-their-prime has-beens, or overvalued role players. As a team, they are either headed back to the lottery, or in a best-case scenario will enjoy a first round playoff exit.
If they trade the pick and are able to bring in an established young talent, someone like Demarcus Cousins for example, then suddenly the Big Apple becomes more enticing for other free agents. In that scenario there’s a foundation to build around, and a hope that Carmelo adapts next to another alpha player and key veteran signings. Based on who is available, perhaps a second round playoff run is a possibility, but championship aspiration are nothing more than a pipe dream.
There’s a third option that the win-now Knicks would never consider, but would probably be the best move for both the Knicks and Carmelo’s career: trade him to a contender or a team that would benefit from his scoring ability.
I know his contract makes any trade cumbersome, but exploring it should be considered. If there is a market for Melo and the Knicks could get back a first round pick this year, next year, and a couple of good young players, while taking back an unwanted contract for a year or two, wouldn’t that make the most sense? They could spend their cap dollars wisely, and worst case are back in the lottery next year with TWO first round picks AND all of that cap room. They could field a young, exciting team. They will learn together, mature, and become a contender. They can become the East Coast Warriors.
It will never happen because the Knicks don’t think long term and are destined to make the same mistakes over and over again. And since they are the Knicks, don’t be surprised if they end up drafting a European to stash overseas. At this point, anything is possible with the New York Knickerbockers. Well, anything except a championship team.