Sports

In Denver, the MeloDrama is over; in New York, it's just beginning…

After months and months of wrangling, speculation, posing, posturing, misdirection and strategery, wheeling and dealing, and fear and loathing, the Carmelo Anthony circus has finally departed the 5280 bound for the Big Apple. Praise Jebus, and may we never have to hear the term “MeloDrama” again.

So, who got the better of the deal? We’ll know for sure in two or three years, but that’s no reason not to pontificate a bit now. There are all kinds of opinions, as you’d imagine. Many people think New York gave up way too much, especially since they believe that the Knicks could have waited and signed him as a free agent this summer. There are problems with this view, though – mainly, waiting could have cost Anthony $40-50 million, depending on the new collective bargaining agreement. Also, the way they’re constructed right now the Knicks wouldn’t have had room to make him a max offer, so they’d have had to offload salary, anyway.

Others don’t think NY gave up anything crucial, and they think tat when you get a crack at an alpha-scorer like Melo, you do whatever you have to do, period.

Here’s how I see it.

  • I’m desperately happy I’m not a Knicks fan. Yeah, they just got a top-tier scorer, but I’ve been watching Melo for years, and top-tier scorer isn’t the same as top-tier player. I’ll allow that he may be one of the top five scorers in the league, but I’d have no problem coming up with 10-15 players I’d take ahead of him.
  • He doesn’t make those around him better (he’s even less impressive in this category than Kobe was for most of his career), and when you look at the Nuggets’ greatest success during the Carmelo years (the conference finals run two years ago), it’s easy to argue that it resulted not from Anthony’s efforts, but from the over-performing members of the supporting cast. Specifically, you take away Chauncey Billups and that team doesn’t get out of the first round alive.
  • Melo isn’t Batman. In many ways, he’s Robin. Although, unfortunately, he has a Robin temperament with a Joker-sized ego. Amare ain’t Batman, either, although he thinks he is. So who’s going to lead this team? Well, Billups is the guy with the game, the personality and the experience, but nobody who’s watched Amare or Carmelo lately can possibly expect them to do a lot of deferring.
  • Neither Amare nor Melo plays a lot of D or rebounds with much fervor, and Ronny Turiaf can’t guard everybody.
  • The Knicks just shipped out a lot of important supporting cast-type pieces. The starting five better make a habit of outscoring the opponent two-to-one, because you can’t hope for a lot of domination out of the bench.

Of course, this is all short-term thinking. Analysts like Jeff van Gundy and Tim Legler agree that the Knicks didn’t offload anything that they can’t replace easily enough. If you want to win a title, lock in the core stars and build from there, goes that line of thinking. If you’re New York, especially, you have cash, you have the center-of-the-universe mystique of Madison Square Garden and you have two superstars. Those are serious magnets that allow you to solve any problems that this trade created in due course, right?

Maybe. But this is an argument that makes a lot of assumptions. For instance:

  • Melo says he wants to go to New York to win a title, which is kind of like majoring in Engineering for the chicks. Put directly, way too much is made of that Knicks mystique I mentioned earlier. The franchise has managed precisely two titles since 1946 and the last time they won anything Richard Nixon was still President.
  • Isiah Thomas is on the way back. May already be back, depending on who you believe. Want to scare the shizzizzle out of New York sports fans? Next Halloween dress up like Zeke and go door-to-door. Panic and screaming and crowds running for their lives? Bitch, it’ll be like the return of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. So that whole process of putting the right pieces in place around the core of stars won’t be in the hands of probable NBA Exec of the Year Donnie Walsh, it’ll be in the hands of James Dolan (worst owner this side of Donald Sterling) and Isiah Thomas (worst GM this side of the Crab Nebula).
  • There’s the nagging issue of the new collective bargaining agreement to be considered. Or maybe I should says issues, plural. For starters, that salary cap is coming down dramatically. If the numbers being tossed around at this point are valid, we’re looking at a cap reduction of maybe 40% – or something like $22.4 million per team from this year’s max. Now, the extension Melo is signing will pay him an average of $21.6M and Amare will make $18.2M next year and that keeps climbing to $23.4 in 2014-15, which I think is also the final year of Melo’s deal. So that’s a commitment to two players for $45 million or so that year – when the cap may well be in the $35 million range. Hypothetically.
  • In addition, the owners seem to want a hard cap – which means no Larry Bird rule, no luxury tax, nothing. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that it might be tricky putting that supporting cast in place.
  • Of course, whatever the CBA does, it will have to make some allowances for existing contracts, but…
  • …no way in hell Amare and Carmelo win without a lot of help. And there has been much speculation (well justified speculation, at that) over Chris Paul and Deron Williams, who will be free agents after next season. If you put a legit superstar point guard in the mix, all of a sudden the Knicks do get a lot scarier. But those are both max contract guys, period. And given how the owners are talking right now, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Knicks, at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, have anything like the room to pay their current stars and that critical third piece.
  • Even if you could make the money work, how damned dumb would CP3 or Williams have to be to put their career hopes and dreams in the hands of the guy who … oh hell, just read it for yourself.
  • And even if you did get one of the two into one of those godawful ugly-ass NY uniforms, how do they stack up in the East? Is Amare as good as Bosh? (I don’t think so.) Is Melo as good as LeBron? (Can I get a hell no?) Paul/Williams vs. Wade? Not really an apples-to-apples comparison, but let’s call it a push for the sake of argument. Assuming that nobody else in the East gets any better, I don’t see Amare + Melo + anybody matching the Heat for talent, and I don’t see them building a superior team-first chemistry around those two personalities, either.
  • The second issue is that the owners are feeling like they’ve been clowned a couple times in a row. Last summer’s LeBron debacle had to be absolutely humiliating for them – these are by god billionaires and they got taken to school by three spoiled kids. Now it has happened again, and with Paul, Williams and Dwight Howard entering the last year of their deals next season, there’s every reason to think that the curtain will be rising on Act III as soon as the Finals are over. Even if there weren’t valid questions about competitive balance (and there are), you can just about guarantee that the owners are going to be adamant about structuring a CBA that allows them to retake control of their league. Whether that’s through mechanisms like a hard cap, or something like the NFL’s franchise tag, or even something more complex and innovative (and entirely unworkable) like a player-focused anti-collusion clause, expect something to happen that’s going to get in the way of the Knicks’ master plan. (Which might be a shame, because few things in all of sports are more entertaining than watching Isiah Thomas execute a master plan.)

Van Gundy and Legler are probably right on paper and if the new CBA looks more or less like the current one. But there’s a lot of if in that equation, and you have to dumber than James Dolan to bet on it going down that way. Oh, wait – Dolan already did bet on it, didn’t he?

Prediction: The Melo/Amare incarnation of the New York will win precisely as many NBA titles as every other version of the franchise has won since Willis Reed was around.

None of this makes my Nuggets any better, sadly, although if they’re smart and get lucky maybe one of those picks turns into something. And it sounds as if they may not be through dealing. There’s talk that they may move Gallinari and/or Felton and if they can’t sign Nene to an extension you have to figure he’ll be gone over the summer, too. They’re going to have scads of cap room, but can they find talent willing to take it? Or will it be like the ’90s all over again, when Dan Motherfucking Issel (the original Isiah Thomas) overpaid for the likes of Tariq Abdul-Wahad, James Posey, Raef LaFrentz, Antonio McDyess and Nick Van Exel, apparently on the theory that the team had money and they had to spend it on somebody.

So again, we have an equation with more variables than constants.

Sadly, Denver isn’t regarded as a destination – it’s an awesome place to live, but where A-list hoopsters are concerned it’s regarded as a cow town, far far away from the bright lights and nightlife of New York, LA and South Beach. And there’s nothing about our management to inspire awe, either. So whereas the Knicks have all those attractors – cash, star players, the city – Denver has a set of advantages more likely to attract world-class cyclists or freestyle skiers. Which is great, but it’s not going to get you a lot of NBA titles.

So I’m honestly not sure that there is a winner in this deal, aside from Carmelo. He gets the big-money extension, he gets to play in MSG, and let’s be honest, that’s all that mattered. If he really cared about winning he’d have shoehorned his way into Chicago instead of New York.

Update: The four newest Nuggets were in the building for tonight’s game vs. Les Grizz and received a warm welcome from the fans. High point of the evening: sideline reporter Maya Starks attempting to interview Capt. Ivan Drago Timofey Mozgov, who was wholly unprepared to comment on the altitude, his initial impressions of Denver, or anything else involving the English language.

Update 2: The nine remaining members of the Denver Nuggets (none of the players involved in the trade were available) tonight stomped an absolute mudhole in a Memphis team that has been very hot lately. I know it’s just one game, but Denver looked better without Carmelo than they did with him in at least a couple of months. 28 assists in 41 made baskets – are you kidding me?

You got the impression that guys like Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo and JR Smith in particular were, for the first time, playing without shackles. There’s talent coming in the door and while I don’t expect the Nugs to win the title, this is a playoff-caliber team. Not only that, it may well be a team that nobody wants any part of in the post-season. The team as it was constituted before the trade wasn’t going anywhere, anyway…

Like I said above, time will tell. For the moment, though, I don’t see any reason for despair.

Categories: Sports

11 replies »

  1. Without a player as good as Melo, you can’t usually win a championship and there are only, probably only 8 players in the league demonstrably better than Melo: Lebron, Kobe, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, Dirk and Chris Paul

    The Knicks now have two of the best players from the second tier in Melo and Stoudemire which puts them in the realm of a perennial 2nd round-and-out team who might get lucky. However, while the Nuggets were always one star AND one really good role player away from being a champion the Knicks really only now need the latter.

    Melo never played with somebody as good as Stoudemire on Nuggets (except Iverson, but that was way-past-his-prime Iverson) so I think its sort of fallacious to assume New York will simply spin its wheels the way Denver did for the past 7 years.

    We’re 1 Andre Miller or Josh Smith away from being a perennial contender and 1 Chris Paul away from being probably the best team in the league. Short of getting one of those 8 player I mentioned above, Melo (or apparently Deron, who nobody knew was available) was the only ticket available to the next level up.

    Don’t let yourself fall prey to the cliche that juts because you haven’t yet, means you never will, even if it does come from a place of hurt. ; )

    Go Knicks

    • Without a player as good as Melo, you can’t usually win a championship and there are only, probably only 8 players in the league demonstrably better than Melo: Lebron, Kobe, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, Dirk and Chris Paul

      Deron Williams. And if I’m putting the team together, I’ll also take Gasol over Melo. Given Melo’s weaknesses at everything besides scoring, there are other players I’d be willing to consider – Aldridge is awesome, a healthy Roy, Blake Griffin and in another year Kevin Love. And if Duncan, Garnett and Nash were a little younger, I’d take them over Melo in a heartbeat (not that Nash is a defensive wizard, of course). If you believe in PER, Melo isn’t even in the top 20 players in the NBA right now.

      Melo never played with somebody as good as Stoudemire on Nuggets (except Iverson, but that was way-past-his-prime Iverson) so I think its sort of fallacious to assume New York will simply spin its wheels the way Denver did for the past 7 years.

      Dear lord – if I were an NBA GM I’d dream every night about making trades with execs who think Iverson is good. Iverson was the reason the Nuggets weren’t a lot better while he was here, and you’d do well to study closely what happened when he was shipped out in favor of a guy wasn’t regarded as nearly the same level of talent in Billups.

      We’re 1 Andre Miller or Josh Smith away from being a perennial contender…

      Who’s going to coach this team, by the way? Ain’t going to be D’Antoni.

      …and 1 Chris Paul away from being probably the best team in the league.

      This is a nice fantasy, but you’ll notice that this was already addressed in some detail in the post. If all you care about is magic wand/what if scenarios, then sure – go ahead and add Dwight Howard in there while you’re at it. But the league operates within real-world constraints, and it looks like Amare and Melo all by themselves are going to put the Knicks over the cap. And I’m pretty sure CP3 isn’t going to play for free.

  2. “Deron Williams. And if I’m putting the team together, I’ll also take Gasol over Melo. Given Melo’s weaknesses at everything besides scoring, there are other players I’d be willing to consider – Aldridge is awesome, a healthy Roy, Blake Griffin and in another year Kevin Love. And if Duncan, Garnett and Nash were a little younger, I’d take them over Melo in a heartbeat (not that Nash is a defensive wizard, of course). If you believe in PER”

    You’re making a pretty comprehensive list of players on the same level as Carmelo, I didn’t say Melo was better than all the players you named above… they’re on about the same level each with some fairly large weakness in their game like Melo’s weakness on inside D. The fact that you’d take every single one of them over Melo is again, I think informed my by you being a jilted fan than any objective metric (seriously, Blake Griffin is exciting but if you’re arguing that Melo hasn’t done anything…) I’m also reasonably certain that Nash, Duncan and Garnett can’t get a little younger but I’m going to double check my Bio textbook on that. Because if we can do that I’d like to order up a little 99-00 Shaw to play the 5 for us. As far as Gasol goes, I mean, Gasol did much less than Melo ever did without a true superstar with an arguably better supporting cast. Seriously, I think saying Gasol is more of a net gain for any given team than Melo I think really strains credulity

    “Dear lord – if I were an NBA GM I’d dream every night about making trades with execs who think Iverson is good. Iverson was the reason the Nuggets weren’t a lot better while he was here…”

    This seems to be a refutation of a hypothetical argument where I said that Iverson was good, I don’t think I said that. I brought up Iverson as an example of the only even superstar NAME Melo ever played with. Usually the best player on his team besides him was Nene, or Martin or Camby… underperforming third bananas, competent bangers and past their prime perimeter players (Iverson, Billups). This isn’t in any way predictive of the future, simply something to keep in mind. Melo took a pretty bad team to the conference final and that’s all Lebron has ever done either.

    “go ahead and add Dwight Howard in there while you’re at it. But the league operates within real-world constraints, and it looks like Amare and Melo all by themselves are going to put the Knicks over the cap”

    I mean, I’m not counting on getting Paul but I didn’t make up that name out of nowhere. Its been rumored for some time that he was interested in joining an Anthony/Stoudemire tandem in NY. The Knicks are only on the hook for about 4 mil more in two years than the Heat are for any 2 combination of Bron, Wade and Bosh and don’t have any bad contracts that don’t come off the books in the interim… there’s nothing institutional preventing the Knicks from getting Paul (Howard’s skillset overlaps with Stoudemire’s skillset too much to really be considered but with how much he’s been complaining lately I have a hard time believing he’s going to stick it out with the Magic)… that all being said, I don’t think the Knicks will get Paul nor do I think they have to to compete.

    The Heat are better than the Knicks and will remain so until the Knicks sign a Chris Paul-esque elite player or get lucky in the draft. However, I do genuinely believe — and I’m sure this is with rose-colored glasses — that the Knicks, right now, are the best team Anthony has ever played on and can compete, with a lot of luck, for a title. Unless you’re team name is the Lakers, Celtics or Hear that’s pretty much the best you can hope for anyway right now.

  3. Jilted fan? That would have more credibility if I hadn’t been saying it for several years before he left. I grew up in NC, Matt, and have been a hardcore student of the game my whole life. I know how to separate the analyst from the fan because, well, it’s just who I am.

    On the flip side, I notice that you ignored the PER rankings.

    As for Melo vs LeBron, I have my problems where LBJ is concerned, too. But you’re factually off a little. Melo never took a team to the Final – he was on a team that went to the Conference Final. LBJ put a team on his back and went to the Final. That’s a step further. Also, as I noted, if you watched that team the way I did, you’re not arguing that Melo took them anywhere. Melo was Melo – they went that far because the rest of the team stepped up. Which is the opposite of what happened in Cleveland.

  4. Melo’s been in the top 20 PER every year for 5 years except one… which doesn’t make him an elite player but it makes him very, very good.

    As far as saying Melo only happened to be on a team that went to the conference finals, I mean, I don’t think its a stretch to say he was the best player on that team by a pretty wide margin and it certainly seemed like most things in Denver revolved around Melo in a similar way to how Cleveland revolved around Bron. I mean there’s no objective argument for that one way or another, but it certainly didn’t seem out of line for giving Melo the lions share of the credit for getting them that far in a stacked West. Melo did have an off year and was hurt for a bit in the regular season but he had a very good playoffs.

    Looking back and now, of course, knowing D-Will was available I’d rather have him (although there’s no way to know if Utah would have accepted the Melo package, NJ gave up A LOT) but still, its rare to be able to get a player as good as Melo to add to a player as a good as Amare.

    As long as Amare can deal with Melo getting the media attention even though he’s the one who’s truly the elite player on the team I think it will work out well. Might be a big if but it’s a risk worth taking

    • There is no question that Melo is a great scorer. And there’s no question that being a great scorer counts for a lot in hoops, especially at the pro level. Great scorers are hard to find and if you have one to build around you can find ways of minimizing their deficits in other areas.

      However, great scorer isn’t great player. Melo is uninterested defensively and is half the rebounder he could be if he cared. Which means that the team has to spend lots of energy compensating for these weaknesses. Times two, since he’s playing beside Stoudamire, who’s the same kind of problem. The more energy you spend overcompensating, the harder it is to make the pieces work, and when you look at the great teams of the past, you don’t find many where the organization had to devote this much attention to plugging holes. If you’re Miami, LBJ is a great defensive player (or at least a pretty good one, and he’s somebody who has worked to improve at it). Kobe? Outstanding defender. As was Jordan, now that I think of it.

      I think the Denver experience is one Melo fans should acquaint themselves with, because it’s going to be the same in NY. Lots of exciting games. Lots of points scored. On both ends. Playoff appearances every year.

      And zero titles. Drop me a line and let me know how much you’re willing to wager on the proposition that he wins a ring with the Knicks. I’ll cover any bet you want to make.

  5. Without adding another piece, I put the Knicks chances of getting a ring in any given year the next 5 years at about 5-10%, or maybe 20-25% overall that they get one ring in the next 5 which is probably about as long as one can expect Amare and Melo to remain among this best players in the league.

    So, you’d be giving me 4 to 1 over a period of 5 years. I’m in for $20

    If they manage to draft another top 20 player or end up with a Chris Paul (not a likely proposition, I grant you) or the like in free agency, I think the Knicks than have the best chance every year to get a ring once Kobe and the Big 3 in Boston stop producing at an elite level which should be, like, yesterday.

    Either way, its hope and we haven’t had hope in New York basketball for a long, long time.

    I’ve also greatly enjoyed this war of attrition on the comments board, Sam. Lets do it again some time.

    • Without adding another piece their chances are somewhere south of zero. Chauncey probably can’t get them there at this point of his career and his contract is up after next year.

      Their ability to draft a top player is going to be hampered by the fact that they’re now too good to get in the lottery, so they need a stroke of blind luck. And if Zeke comes back, YOU might go to NY in the first round.

      Consider your $20 covered. Sure you don’t want to up that number? You know, give yourself some real hope… 🙂

      • Although, something must be said for your optimism. I simply can’t imagine how somebody could still be a Knicks fan after all that has happened to that franchise through the years. That they have such a loyal fan base is mystifying. But good for the league, arguably….

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