10:27 am Feb. 18, 20111
The odd part of the trade discussions between the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks over Carmelo Anthony is that the value of Anthony is apparently being determined by virtually everything other than his on-court ability.
The Knicks reportedly balked at a trade this week that would have sent Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, a third starter (Landry Fields or Wilson Chandler), along with Eddy Curry's expiring contract (valuable for the receiving team under NBA salary cap rules) and at least one first-round draft pick to Denver for Anthony and guard Chauncey Billups, an aging veteran who doesn't play New York's style of offense.
That's fine. Whether Anthony is worth that much in a bidding war among many teams is debatable. But Anthony is set to become a free agent following the season, the NBA's trading deadline is February 24, and Anthony has made it known that his preference is to sign with the Knicks. So the question is actually this: Why would New York give anything up at all for Anthony?
There are a few reasons they might be tempted, but Anthony isn't making the prospect of a deal any more enticing. For one thing, he seems to want to play in New York, but he's been reluctant to say so publicly. In fact, he caused a stir last week by intimating that if Denver doesn't trade him, he'd consider signing an extension with the Nuggets. This makes no practical sense—it gives additional leverage to the team he's requested a trade from, at the expense of the team he ostensibly wishes to join.
The Knicks would essentially be paying for the certainty of getting Anthony into the fold. They'd also add a second star to what is already a playoff team for 2010-11, with the considerable proviso that the current Denver demands would dismantle that very same playoff team.
In fact, almost nobody involved here seems to be acting rationally. The Nuggets have been victimized by meddlesome management, with owner Stan Kroenke firing NBA executive of the year Mark Warkentien in order to create a role for his son Josh. (Warkentien, incidentally, was just hired by the Knicks.)
Then there's the Knicks, whose owner, James Dolan, has engaged Kroenke directly in Anthony trade talks, despite having a team president, Donnie Walsh, whose job is to do just that. Walsh has taken an utterly broken franchise and revitalized it on-court while putting it on a strong long-term financial footing off the court. He's pulled off a miracle, considering the decade the Knicks spent rendered helpless by salaries that exceeded the cap.
And Dolan hasn't picked up Walsh's option for next year, while continually consulting with Isiah Thomas, the man who broke the Knicks in the first place (and cost the team $11.6 million in a sexual harassment while he doing so).
Anthony's desire to find a team via a trade now, rather than via free agency this summer, apparently stems from a fear that with the NBA collective bargaining agreement about to expire, maximum salaries could potentially come down. The problem is that no one believes the NBA is about to significantly impact its star salaries, so Anthony is giving up all of his leverage, and putting his new team in a significant talent hole, on the basis of a chimerical idea that he'll be forced to earn far less than the three-year, $65 million extension the current rules allow.
The only one making any sense right now is Walsh, whose calm poker-playing could win the day for the Knicks. Walsh has demurred from making any negative comments about Thomas, who has openly pined for Walsh's job. He won't rip Dolan for interfering, or for failing to reward him for resuscitating the team. He continues to wait Denver out, knowing the Nuggets have few options at this point, assuming Anthony doesn't blink.
Walsh is the team's only hope, and if he fails to get Anthony by February 24, it might cost him his job. But Walsh would apparently rather go down for doing his job right than accede to the ill-formed wishes of Dolan and a vocal segment of the fan base. At 69, with a tremendous career behind him, Walsh has nothing to prove. And even at his age, he'll have no trouble finding another job if he wants one.
So over the next week, those will be the players in the mix. Every minute Denver spends on the phone with the New Jersey Nets, who publicly declared themselves finished with trade negotiations weeks ago, then re-engaged this week, is wasted time. The Nets are prepared to give up far more than the Knicks are, with no functional team to worry about destroying. But Anthony hasn't approved a deal to the Nets, making those talks, in essence, meaningless.
Eventually, Denver will need to come back to Walsh to make a deal. And unlike everyone else involved, Walsh seems to realize that the package he needs to give up isn't in exchange for Carmelo Anthony—it is for the ephemeral peace of mind that will come with ending the uncertainty surrounding Carmelo Anthony.
If that ends up costing the Knicks more than a draft pick, Curry's contract, and whoever Anthony will replace in the rotation, they will have paid too much.