To tank or not to tank...that's not really a question any more for the New York Knicks. It's more of a contingency that will swing on the decision of one Carmelo Anthony.
Here's a needlessly complicated mnemonic device to help you remember what the front office should do, depending on Melo's free agency decision:
If Melo wants to stay, these Knicks can play.
If Melo wants to bail, everyone's for sale.
The good news is that, even if the team loses their best player in free agency, they finally have leadership in place to execute a sensible rebuild.
The bad news is that the first step in any rebuilding process -- the dumping of any and all veteran assets -- is likely impossible.
This team has a roster full of attractive contracts to dump...if this were the mid-'00s. Oh, what I wouldn't give to be in the glory days of the old collective bargaining agreement, when vets like Theo Ratliff shuttled from team to team -- less a basketball player and more a physical manifestation of an expiring contract.
The halcyon days of "Theo Ratliff's expiring contract are regrettably a distant memory...which is a shame, because the Knicks have a butt-load of potential Theo Ratliffs.
Power forward Amar'e Stoudemire played an entire season (more or less) in 2013-14, which might have been enough to entice a suitor to take on his massive, uninsured contract. Even if the Knicks couldn't find a taker for STAT, they might have been able to mitigate some of the disastrous impact of the Andrea Bargnani trade by finding a club to take his expiring $11.5 million deal, despite numbers like this:
Because this game is boring... - NYK (40 games after Bargs injury): 109.4 O-Rtg, 106.8 D-Rtg - 2013-14 Suns: 109.5 O-Rtg, 106.7 D-Rtg— Joseph Flynn (@ChinaJoeFlynn) May 6, 2014
And then we come to center Tyson Chandler -- that rare, intriguing blend of expiring contract and actual useful player.
No, Chandler did not have a particularly good season in 2013-14. But he was by no means bad (16.4 PER, .143 win shares per 48 minutes), and he was very good before a fluke collision with Kemba Walker cost him much of the first half of the season (The title of Seth's first recap of the year: "Tyson just picked the team up by the neck and dragged them across the finish line.")
If anything, the weirdness surrounding Roy Hibbert in these playoffs has shown the value of a center like Chandler -- a defensive anchor with little-to-no interest in the Shaq-fueled "big man gotta go into the post and dominate" narrative. In March, Pacers coach Frank Vogel spoke of Hibbert's offensive funk affecting his defense, per the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner: "[Hibbert is] Struggling a little bit… If we get him involved a little more offensively, I think his defensive swagger will come back."
With Chandler, a coach doesn't have to worry about getting him involved offensively, outside of the occasional high-percentage pick-and-roll flush. That is a rare (and valuable) quality.
But in this brave new NBA world, even a useful vet like Chandler might not be worth a legitimate piece...at least not a draft pick. Both The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring and Hardwood Paroxysm's Jared Dubin -- two gentlemen who know much more than I -- doubt the Knicks would be able to get a first-round pick for Chandler.
The sad fact of the matter may be that the Knicks have joined the rational NBA world too late in the game -- the majority of front offices have ventured into the final frontiers of human rationality. They are, in other words, basketball Spocks. In this new world, even the lowest first-rounder is more valuable than a player like Chandler.
There are always exceptions, of course. The Pacers surrendered a haul -- their 2014 first-rounder, Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green -- for a veteran big man Luis Scola. That move was a disaster, and will likely give other general managers pause before dealing future for present.
Then there is the curious case of the Washington Wizards and Marcin Gortat. Former Knicks GM Ernie Grunfeld traded Washington's first-rounder to the Suns for Gortat after losing Emeka Okafor for the year during pre-season. The move was widely ridiculed, but the immediate payoff is hard to question. Gortat lead the team in win shares during the regular season (8.1) as the Wizards finished one game ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats. Now they have a good chance at making the conference finals for the first time since 1979. If Gortat leaves this summer in free agency, wouldn't this rare moment of success still be worth that pick for Washington?
Now, Grunfeld may be an incompetent GM, who mortgaged a piece of his team's future to save his job with a playoff run. He might be some kind of folk hero -- one of the few men left with the balls to play to win. For the Knicks' purposes, it doesn't matter which one he is -- they just need to hope for more GMs like him.
Which brings us to the Dallas Mavericks, who are already said to be eyeing Chandler, per ESPN's Marc Stein:
The most interesting whisper, at this early stage, is that the Mavs intend to be at the front of the line to try to reacquire Tyson Chandler should the Knicks make their defensive anchor available via trade. Letting
Chandler go remains the most fiercely debated aspect of Cuban's decision to break up the Mavs' championship team, but word is they'll indeed pursue what many will regard as an overdue reunion.
The Mavericks aren't dumb...but they aren't shy about trading picks, either. Most importantly, they are a veteran team coming off an impressive playoff loss who might be looking to throw caution to the wind when it comes to bringing back a well-known ex-Mav.
But Dallas has already dealt their 2014 first-rounder to Oklahoma City, meaning they can't trade another pick until 2016.
Nothing would please Knicks fans more than to get back into this loaded 2014 draft, especially if Carmelo Anthony heads out the door (taking the team's immediate future with him). Unfortunately, there isn't likely to be some generous benefactor beating down the doors of MSG, looking to trade. Phil Jackson will have to be patient -- and maybe even a little bit lucky -- to find a trading partner, even for Chandler.
As for the fans, they will just have to take solace in the fact that the organization is acting responsibly, for once. There might not be a sucker out there to exploit, but at least the sucker being exploited is no longer us.