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NBA Analysis: Carmelo-Knicks-Nuggets Drama Almost Done?

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The Carmelo Anthony trade drama is finally reaching the homestretch as the deadline approaches in a little less than three weeks and rumors are now surfacing of trade talks between the Knicks, Nuggets and Wolves.

As this saga mercifully reaches its crescendo, below is a rundown of some basic realities that I believe are emerging as inescapable. This isn’t gospel. I’m not going to pretend that I know how this situation is going to be resolved. I don’t have sources and of course there’s tons of pertinent information that isn’t out there for public consumption.  This is just one fan’s (hopefully, well) reasoned interpretation of the publicly available facts, such as they are:

1. The Nuggets are going to have to trade Anthony before the deadline. Even though the Nuggets continue to protest, they simply cannot afford to risk holding onto Anthony past the February 24th trade deadline and losing him for nothing after the season. Regardless of whether the Nuggets hold onto Anthony, they won’t be in any serious conversations about title contenders and it’s hard to fathom an in-season move they could make that would vault the team to that status. ESPN’s Larry Coon explained several weeks ago why an extend-and-trade after the season isn’t feasible in this instance because of idiosyncrasies in Anthony’s contract. And the prospect of a franchise tag in the new CBA, while potentially helpful to the Nuggets because it would allow them to exert continued control over Anthony’s rights even after his contract expires, is unlikely to ever materialize. Even if it did, the Nuggets would nevertheless still have to find a trade partner because they’d then be dealing with an angry superstar on their roster without any remaining incentive to play good soldier. Would a franchise tag widen the field of potential suitors? Perhaps. But because teams involved would understand the Nuggets still had to trade Melo, I doubt it would lead to substantially better offers.

And the fact that the Nuggets are even considering proposals like the rumored offer from the Knicks is an indication that they need to make a deadline trade. The bet here is he’s shipped out before the deadline.

2. The Knicks are the only game in town. As much as the Nuggets would love for a rental team to rescue them with an deal that trumps what the Knicks are presently offering and, at least, force the Knicks to improve their proposal, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that such a deal will materialize.

Melo’s people are finally becoming totally unified in their message to teams that he’ll only sign an extension with the Knicks and, in the event he’s traded elsewhere, he’ll walk away after the season. The Rockets in particular have shown significant interest in renting Melo and the Nuggets have often trumpeted Houston as the leader in the clubhouse because they have attractive assets. But Steve Kyler of HOOPSWORLD has reported that the Rockets’ interest stemmed from a belief that it could be possible to be persuade Melo to stay once he arrived in Houston. In the worst case scenario, the Rockets believed they could trade him around the draft. If there’s no chance that Melo would entertain an extension and he can’t be traded before free agency begins (See above per Larry Coon), it’s hard to imagine the Rockets having serious interest.

3. The Knicks know they need to make a trade for Anthony. Knicks’ sources often muse in the media about this supposed ongoing debate at 2 Penn Plaza regarding whether they should even bother trading for Anthony when they could conceivably just sign him in free agency and keep all their assets. I’m calling bullshit.

First, as Dan exhaustively explained in this space and now shouts constantly on twitter at those who continue to parrot this line, it’s simply not possible to add Melo while retaining all of the young talent. Even if the Knicks renounced Chandler at the start of free agency, depending on the limits in the new CBA it’s possible they would still have to make yet another small deal to free up enough space to sign Melo outright.

Moreover, don’t discount the fact that Melo wants the security of his $65 million contract extension. Even though he’s indicated that he’s wiling to forgo the extension if Denver refuses to give him what he wants, I doubt he’d take too kindly to the Knicks not making an earnest effort to complete a deal with Denver and get him his money. When Melo says he’ll take this into free agency, he’s showing Denver his best card, but it’s not like he actually wants to play it.

* * *

So there you go. In the weeks to follow there will surely be misinformation emerging that’s intended to muddy the waters and create leverage for the various parties involved. After all this is big business and there are numerous competing agendas. And of course, everyone involved in this story is human and humans don’t always behave rationally. But I think this is the basic landscape for a Melo trade, and these basics don’t seem likely to change very much.


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