I can only imagine that Knicks fans thought it couldn’t get any worse. A 17-65 season (worst in almost seventy years of Franchise History), that included a late two-game win streak. Normally a good thing, that streak may or not have not resulted in the team losing a top three pick, falling to fourth in a three-man draft. Ouch.
Well, it’s going to get better next year, but in turn, that means it’s actually going to get worse. That sentence does make sense, believe it or not. Hear me out.
The Knicks, with a healthy Carmelo Anthony, will not be as terrible again on the court. Carmelo’s presence alone over a full season is a guaranteed 25-30 wins. He’s not in the same category as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, etc. who bring you a playoff birth and likely more, but he does ensure you’ll be in the hunt. Without using the plethora of expletives that a lot of the Knicks fans I know would like me to, let’s just say the Knicks are in NBA No Man’s Land.
Which is funny, because for the first time in a long time, the Knicks had a good off-season. Yes, it’s true. Beneath the headline-making surface of striking out on the big free agents, they landed a solid shooting wing in Arron Affalo, got a steal with Kyle O’Quinn, added a very serviceable center in Robin Lopez, and found an athletic wing in former No. 2 overall pick in Derrick Williams. All of those deals were for relatively reasonable amounts, with Lopez being the most questionable, and Williams and Affalo being low-risk bargains.
They drafted a good young point guard in Jerian Grant to back up Jose Calderon, who will actually get a chance to play with some weapons, versus the depleted roster he helmed for only 42 games last season due to injuries. I won’t talk about their other draftee here. That’s been discussed enough at this point.
They have two other solid players, Cleanthony Early and Langston Galloway (poised for even bigger breakout) on rookie contracts.
Put that all together and you have a team that can be competitive while it builds for the future. They didn’t spend on stupid contacts or over the hill players – granted they still have some roster spots to fill so let’s not celebrate just yet— and they have a good nucleus of role players surrounding a prolific scorer who can win some games and be exciting.
Knicks fans would be amped if Carmelo was a few years younger and the future of the Knicks. The problem is he isn’t the future of the Knicks anymore. He’s the past, and in the present he’s hindering the growth of the team.
Whether it was bad management, underperformance, or just bad timing, the blame
game isn’t important. The bottom line is the Carmelo era in New York failed. It was exciting when he was traded there, even more exciting as they made the playoffs for three straight years, and of course, nearly euphoric when they won a playoff series for the first time in 13 years. But then it all came apart. Two losing seasons later and Carmelo needs to go.
Another problem: there are four years and 100+ million left on his contract. A mid-season trade would mean a team taking on 3 and a half years of max money for a guy who is incapable of simply filling a role. He needs to be the star, yet he doesn’t deliver like the upper tier NBA stars do. He, like, the Knicks, is in No Man’s Land.
So what does this all mean? It mean’s Carmelo is going to play for the Knicks all season, play well with a decent cast of role players around him, and lead the Knicks into the playoff hunt. They could even sneak into the playoffs in the perennially under-talented Eastern Conference. It’d be a first round exit for sure, but that’s the ceiling.
That means a mid first round pick next season, and the inability to draw marquee free agents will continue. It’s been detailed before and sad to say, much like the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant, guys don’t want to play with ball stoppers like that anymore. The NBA game has shifted, and in today’s pace and space league, Melo and Kobe are overpaid dinosaurs.
In an ideal world, the Knicks would trade Melo ASAP, give their young guys a chance to play and take on larger roles within the offense, instead of watching Melo do his thing for 38 minutes per night, and be bad enough to get high draft picks. Young talent plus New York could still be a draw for free agents. But not while Carmelo is there.
By the 2016-2017 season, as the salary cap continues to rise and Melo’s contract isn’t quite as extravagant, someone might trade for him. It’s more likely to happen two years from now when the cap is projected to be $108 million, $30 million more than the upcoming season.
Still, a contender who needs a scorer, and believes they have the right staff and players in place to reign in the ego and maximize the talent, might take the gamble sooner. That’s the only hope for the Knicks right now.
But, even if that does happen, which is certainly not a guarantee, that’s at least a year away. For now, next season will produce more wins than the previous, but the Knicks will lose the chance for a top pick in 2016, and continue to be hampered with personnel moves available.
A smart offseason shows there is hope for the Knicks, but the overbearing presence of Carmelo Anthony is going to make things worse until he’s gone.