“Should we have kept all those pieces, signed Deron Williams in two years, brought in a couple beastly bigs? Tell me ‘no.’ Tell me we’re going to build a good enough team around the supers and be elite.”
Those were the words of my colleague and fellow Knicks fan Mr. Joice not a day ago. And those are the burning questions that consistently rattle around the minds of Knicks fans around the country. The answer is complex, incomplete, impossible to truly know and highly debatable on every level. But I’ll tell you this: trading for Carmelo Anthony at the deadline was a move that was made primarily to mitigate the nearly 50% ticket price increase next season.
Donnie Walsh, based on his past history as a GM, would NEVER have made that move without James Dolan forcing his hand. Think about it: the organization KNEW that Melo wanted to come to the Knicks and only the Knicks, giving us every bit of leverage in the off-season. Yes, I realize that the new CBA and it’s potentially severely-shrunken salary cap is looming, but even if Melo had signed elsewhere in order to secure his $65 million dollar extension, we still would have had options-galore for the next two years, a la Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and a number of b-level free agents, AND we would have had the chips in place to trade for them THIS coming summer (yes, I know I’ve already said Howard is going to the Lakers. This is all theoretical). We now have virtually no chips (in fact, one could argue that we literally have zero chips: Shawne Williams maybe? Landry Fields, but the organization appears intent on keeping him) in place and a team with SERIOUS defensive deficiencies and an aging point guard with a $14 million dollar option for next season. We’re hamstrung. Horrendously hamstrung.
What needs to happen starts in one place: the coach. So long as Mike D’Antoni is our head coach – and this is based on pure fact and his history as an NBA head coach, not merely my opinion – this team will NOT compete for a championship. D’Antoni simply doesn’t coach D and when he does, it falls on deaf ears because he doesn’t punish his players for not playing D. Great coaches not only berate their players for missing defensive assignments, they also punish them by benching them, which is the only way to punish a multi-millionaire NBA star. D’Antoni does none of that and he will be incapable of turning this team into a defensive juggernaut so long as he doesn’t practice what he preaches, because he certainly talks about defense a bunch to the media. This team needs an old school, truly tough, defensive-minded coach in order to win. Furthermore, with Chauncey, Melo and Amar’e as the focal points, the Knicks are no longer a run-and-gun team anyway. To go back to the original question as to whether or not the Melo move should have been made, the answer is, it doesn’t matter, because it was made and now we have to adjust, and that starts by changing the coach.
Let’s get back to ticket prices. In case you missed it, the Knicks issued a seemingly-seventy-seven paragraph statement announcing major price increases to go along with the arena’s major renovations for next season last week. My first thought – along with most-every journalist in the city – was that Dolan made the Melo-move specifically to ensure that the grossly overpriced seats will have grossly overpaying behinds in them come November 2011. And that point, my friends, appears to be nearly inarguable. Carmelo Anthony in a Knicks uniform gives you a sellout every single night no matter the outcome, and that was surely Dolan’s line of thinking in February.
Does the Melo-move make us better this season, give us a shot at getting deeper in this year’s playoffs? Yes, it most certainly does. But what it’s done to the future is not, in theory anyway, a pretty picture. What are the two most important positions on an NBA team? Point guard and center. Had we not gotten Melo, we would have gone after CP3 or Deron Williams – perhaps even as early as last month as evidenced by Williams getting shipped to the Nyets – paired them with Amar’e, gotten a number of bigs and a great supporting cast. Instead, we have our two best players occupying the small and power forward positions and we’re going to have to do a lot of work to get the right point guard in here. Again, so much depends on the new CBA, but at this point, I challenge you to come up with a trade that nets us Chris Paul or Deron Williams and doesn’t include Melo or Amar’e either in the off-season or next season at the deadline.
So what are our options? In my opinion, we should keep Chauncey next season, but we should restructure his deal entirely as giving him $14 million would essentially take up all of our money. Thing is, I think Chauncey’s the kind of guy who would be open to taking significantly less for the betterment of the team and in order to ensure that he finishes his career here. If we can do that, then object number two NEEDS to be getting bigger, stronger and more defensive-minded in the off-season. Come next January, you can bet the farm that either Paul or Williams will be forcing their way out of their respective cities and Chauncey will be our only real piece in any trade that has even a remote chance of happening. Hate to say it, but he’s perhaps our only asset not named Melo or Amar’e at this point (again, the Knicks do not appear willing to part with Fields, but that can, and likely will change). As I mentioned earlier, even a package including Chauncey, Fields, draft picks and whomever else has but a remote chance of making a deal happen with either New Orleans or New Jersey, and if CP3 and Williams pull a Melo, you can all-but guarantee the their respective clubs will trade them rather then lose them for nothing in 2012.
So what’s my answer here? Well, at the end of the day, I stand exactly where I stood before the trade: we should never have made this deal. Have I tried to rationalize it? Yes. Have I contradicted myself in previous posts? Absolutely. Am I a huge Melo fan? HELL NO. But do I believe that we’re going to make the best of this as an organization and do I believe that with the right coaching staff we WILL become a better defensive team? Absolutely. I’m done being a pessimistic Knicks fan. Gone are the days of Al Harrington and Nate Robinson. James Dolan, despite the fact that he’s all about the bottom line and filling the stands, has led me to believe that he’ll do anything and everything necessary to win (PLEASE DON’T LET THAT INCLUDE ISIAH!!!!!) and Melo appears to be willing to change his game, too. He’s already passing more, taking slightly better shots, working harder on the defensive end. Again, not in love with the dude’s game, but watching and listening to him, I believe that with the right coaching staff – not D’Antoni and crew – he can become one of the best all-around players in the league. He has the ability and the brains, he just needs to be better-coached. Sure, that begs the question, “why didn’t he do it under Karl,” but that’s simply not our problem nor is it an answerable question.
So in the end, no, the trade shouldn’t have been made. But it was. And at the end of the day, I firmly believe that, despite the massive personnel challenges that face us in the off-season and beyond, we will be competing for a title by 2012 and we will be a far-better defensive team. Like I said, new coach, Chauncey-on-the (relatively)-cheap, money spent on defensive-minded bigs and we’re on our way.
-by Jamie Fedorko