The NBA Playoffs are about to begin. The Knicks realized they would have more fun if they watched them rather than exert all that energy with no guarantee of taking home the Championship Trophy. That means there are a lot of uncomfortable questions that need to be addressed, without not much maneuvering available to the reputable Phil Jackson, Knicks overlord. Let's offseason.
Two firsts dominate the narrative of Carmelo Anthony's 2013-14 season. It's the first time that Carmelo Anthony has missed the playoffs in his 11 year career. It's also the first time he shot 40% from 3 point range. On the 37-45 Knicks, Melo not so quietly put up a 45/40/85 line, which is incredibly impressive. Only one other forward this season put up comparable lines, while playing 30+ minutes a game for over 70 games: Kyle Korver. Korver only attempts around 8 field goals a game, while well over 50% of his attempts are 3 pointers. Korver really is not a comparison for Melo, so no one else in the NBA did what he did this past season.
Melo has a player option on his contract that will pay him $23.53 million dollars if he chooses to opt in. He won't, most likely. There is the very, infinitesimally small chance he does because Phil Jackson got him hooked on Peyote or something, but Melo has said he won't opt in, and there is no reason money wise for NBA players to pick up their options unless they had a very, very poor year ahead of their options (paging Raymond Felton next year).
The Knicks can offer Carmelo the most money. $129 million over 5 years to be exact. That money would be for Carmelo's Age 30-34 seasons. Historically the age curve after 30 is not pretty. It's a fairly steep decline, which each year having a player decline even steeper. A 10% decline on Melo would put him at a 41/36/73 line, which puts him still in pretty good company. Only two players, Korver and Mike Dunleavy, are over 30, showing how much the NBA is a young man's game at the elite level.
It could be argued that Melo has already defied the age curve, by improving drastically in his 28 and 29 year old seasons. But once again, he has the potential to rapidly fall apart due to his minutes per game increasing the past three years, peaking this past year. That needs to be taken into account when giving someone $25+ million a season.
Melo will make around $26 million in the season where the Knicks salary cap gets totally reset. That's a lot of money to put into one max free-agent, with another probably receiving around $19-20 million. Sinking $45 million into two stars is a very risky strategy, because if it doesn't work out you're stuck in another cycle with those albatrosses. That, luckily for Melo, is not Carmelo Anthony's nor the Knicks' problem next offseason.
The more pressing question seems to be, "Can a team build a championship around a high volume shooter like Carmelo Anthony." The past 5 NBA championships have had at least one top 10-15 player on their roster:
2012-13 Miami Heat: LeBron, Wade/Bosh up for debate
2011-12 Miami Heat: LeBron, Wade, Bosh
2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol
Carmelo Anthony has always been in the conversation, but never put himself over the top to allow for that conversation to become more concrete. In order to win a championship the Knicks will likely need Carmelo Anthony or someone of his caliber. He's aged in the tail end of his prime like a fine wine, but the future will always remain uncertain.
What are the alternatives if we let him walk? The Knicks will have given up Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Danilo Galinari, half a year of Raymond Felton and a lottery pick (and the right to exchange 2016 nba first rounders, which many are anticipating won't happen due to a potential Knicks resurgence) for two playoff first round exits, one second round exit, and a 37-45 I told you so season from ESPN. That's a lot to give up to have to tank in 2014-15 and hope that your first round pick pays off.
The Knicks are not going to go through a long rebuild because they do not have to. They will have cap space in 2015, and Phil Jackson may be enough to lure a free agent. Without Carmelo Anthony the Knicks would have to gamble on being able to bring a max (or two) free agents that work out in whatever system the new coach will be running, and hope that the rookie that the Knicks draft in 2015 makes an immediate impact the next season. This is a lot to gamble.
With Carmelo Anthony you probably won't have a top 10 pick in the draft, but you do have a guaranteed superstar for at least one or two more seasons. The Knicks championship window with Carmelo Anthony will only stay open as long as he is consistently delivering seasons that are as good, or as close to being as good as the one's he is having now. The Knicks championship window without Carmelo Anthony exists right now in between the world of perfectly executed blog posts about what the Knicks should do and the grim reality of everything not working out in the Knicks favor in 2015.
As you can tell this isn't the best place to be. The Knicks will probably ask Carmelo Anthony to take less money, but realistically I just don't see him doing this. Can the Knicks win with giving Carmelo Anthony his $129 million? Probably, if the front office is savvy enough to work within the confines of what they have, and a lot of luck goes their way. It's really hard to win a championship in the NBA.
Let's at least try while having a superstar named Carmelo Anthony playing out of his mind in New York. What do you think? Let's offseason.