The three-year disaster that was the Phil Jackson era in New York ended last week, when he and the organization mutually agreed to part ways, according to reports. Jackson left town with just 80 wins to his name, and nearly just as many public embarrassments. There was the LeBron James “posse” debacle in 2016, the implementation of the triangle, and most recently, the threat of trading franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis, seemingly over nothing more than a missed exit meeting.
While the Knicks escaped Jackson’s tenure with their star center still on the roster, the future of their other superstar, Carmelo Anthony, is still very much in doubt. Anthony has been in and out of trade rumors for the past two seasons, and now is rumored to be a possible buyout candidate. His current status with the Knicks is shaky at best.
Jackson created a mess of mammoth proportions for the Knicks’ incoming President—Raptors’ President Masai Ujiri and former Cavs GM David Griffin have been rumored as potential candidates—but there are still reasons for optimism. Porzingis is a bona-fide stud, and New York has all of its first round picks moving forward. Add in the (albeit faded) appeal of playing at MSG, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
So what should the Knicks do moving forward? Well, there are two distinct paths. Trade Carmelo and embrace a rebuild, or keep the 15-year pro and compete for playoff positioning. Here is the Knicks roadmap back to relevancy, with or without Carmelo Anthony.
With Carmelo Anthony
There’s a compelling case for keeping Carmelo in the Big Apple. He’s still one of the league’s premier scorers, one whose gravity demands extra defensive attention. Anthony is a prototypical small-ball four at this point in his career, a punishing post presence who can extend the floor with a deadly mid-range jumper and quality three-point shot. His eventual plaque in Springfield should read “Carmelo Anthony: Professional Scorer.”
Returning the same cast of characters around Carmelo and Kristaps doesn’t look to be enough on the surface to snag a playoff spot in 2017–18. But with 2017 playoff teams Atlanta and Indiana shedding their stars, the East is now wide open, and New York’s offseason isn’t over just yet.
The most pressing concern right now is at point guard. Derrick Rose had a resurgent year in 2016–17, but it’s still unclear as to if New York will commit to him long-term. If Rose heads elsewhere, the point guard market is thin, with few viable options remaining after Jrue Holliday and Patty Mills both opted to stay with their current teams, as did Kyle Lowry and his $100 million deal with Toronto.
One option still available: Jazz floor general George Hill. The nine-year vet posted a career-high in points per game this season, averaging 16.9 PPG on 40% shooting from three. Hill is a lanky distributor, and a calming presence with plenty of experience. He doesn’t project to be out of New York’s price range, and Hill can provide mentorship to first-round pick Frank Ntilikina as the young Frenchman develops.
New York also needs added scoring punch on the wing. The cadre of Courtney Lee and Ron Baker just won’t cut it, especially with Lee’s $35 million on the books over the next three years. Unloading his deal could free up additional money to chase a quality role player such as Bojan Bogdanovic or Aaron Afflalo, a former Knick and longtime teammate of Anthony. There also may be opportunities on the trade market. Look for Suns’ guard Eric Bledsoe to come up in trade rumors over the next few weeks.
While the Knicks are certainly far from Finals contention, a postseason run is still very much in play. If they can find a way to solidify the roster around their two franchise cornerstones, the lights may stay on at MSG past the end of April for the first time since 2013. Anthony’s stardom may have faded over the past few years, but he can still carry a roster in crunch time. With no premium offers on the table, New York might as well keep Anthony and hope he can elevate his team to the playoffs.
Without Carmelo Anthony
Seven years of Carmelo Anthony has gifted the Knicks just one playoff series victory and four seasons under .500. And with one year left on his contract before an early termination option in 2018–19, this off-season is the perfect time to ship the former scoring champion.
Melo’s no-trade clause certainly limits the number of suitors. There’s no chance he’d agree to spend his season in Sacramento, Detroit or Memphis, but there are a few teams who could conceivably convince Anthony to relocate and receive a fresh start.
While the Clippers might have taken themselves out of the Carmelo sweepstakes by reportedly pursuing Danilo Gallinari, the Rockets and Cavs are now the two teams left pursuing Anthony. Neither team has the assets to acquire Carmelo—unless Cleveland agrees to swap Kevin Love for Anthony straight-up—but a third organization could come in and help facilitate a deal.
Phoenix and it’s basket of young talent certainly comes to mind. Maybe they’d be on-board to ship a few unproven prospects New York’s way in a three-team deal to acquire Love. Send some combination of Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and TJ Warren along with a future pick and we might have a deal. The same logic applies to the Kings if they strike out in free agency. There is no simple path aside from a buyout that gets Anthony out of New York, but the Knicks brass should be able to conjure up a deal to acquire at least a modicum of young talent in exchange for Anthony.
It’s become increasingly likely over the past year that Anthony won’t finish his career in New York. There’s no point in delaying the inevitable. It’s better to trade Melo now and acquire future building blocks than to lose him after next year for nothing. The Knicks will be worse off next season, but well positioned for a thorough rebuild moving forward without Anthony. They already have a foundational piece in Porzingis, young assets in Hernangomez and Ntilikina, and each of their first-round picks over the next five seasons. It will be a long process, but the Knicks’ best plan moving forward is to trade Anthony, shed long-term contracts, and fully embrace the tank. It’s their only route back to relevancy.
Related slideshow: A way-too-early look at the massive 2018 NBA free agent class (Provided by Yardbarker)