After posting this piece last week, which advocated the New York Knicks making the risky decision to trade their best player, one of the most common responses we received was some variation of: “What could the Knicks realistically hope to get in return for Carmelo Anthony?”
So, today we’ll examine one potential deal that might make sense for both parties involved. (We will also examine a few other possible destinations in a follow-up piece.)
Again, as was detailed in the original story, if the Knicks decide to deal Anthony, they will have to enter trade talks with the full understanding that they’ll likely have to accept far less than market value in return. This is because Anthony holds a player option next summer that will allow him to become a free agent on July 1 and all indications point toward Anthony opting out.
Thus, any team trading for Anthony would be fully aware they may only be renting him for the final few months of this current season. However, if a team does trade for ‘Melo, they would hold a major trump card when it comes time to re-sign him, even if this new city is not necessarily Anthony’s preferred destination. If, after he opts out on July 1, he signs with the team that has his Bird Rights (the team that he was a member of on the final day of this 2013-14 season) he would be eligible to receive a five-year deal worth $129.1 million. If he instead chose to sign with any other team in the NBA, the max that team could offer would be a four-year deal at approximately $95.9 million.
Assuming his new team is willing to offer the full max, would Anthony really be willing to leave $33.2 million and an extra year on the table?
Keep in mind, Anthony will be 30 years old on the day he signs his new pact. He is fully aware this will likely be his final opportunity to cash in on a huge guaranteed contract.
This is a chip the Knicks can use to their advantage in negotiations. A team that trades for ‘Melo, even if they aren’t comfortable offering a maximum deal, can still offer far more (with more guaranteed years) than any other team in the NBA. This greatly increases the chances that Anthony would be a long-term cornerstone as opposed to a three-month rental. This reality could (and should) up New York’s asking price.
Another fact that could increase Anthony’s value is the fact that he is currently playing at an extremely high level. He put on a performance for the ages last Friday night, pouring in a jaw-dropping 62 points, setting an all-time MSG record. Anthony’s star-power, as evidenced by Friday night’s virtuoso performance, is an obvious reason why Knicks management, specifically owner Jim Dolan, would likely have a very hard time trading away Anthony.
However, if we look at the big picture from a basketball perspective, moving ‘Melo is the right decision for the Knicks franchise. Even after winning two straight home games against mediocre opponents, the Knicks are still a dreadful 17-27, 10 games under .500, and 5.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic Division. No one has ever doubted Anthony’s ability to score, but the question remains: Can the Knicks realistically compete (let alone win) a title over the next five seasons if Anthony accounts for upwards of 40 percent of the Knicks’ salary cap?
One record-setting performance, and a couple wins, doesn’t change the fact that trading Anthony now puts the Knicks in the best situation long-term.
Moreover, the Knicks, as far as we know, have no guarantees from Anthony that he will re-sign with the Knicks this summer, even if New York wants to pay him the max. Anthony’s wife La La recently said that she fully expects him to re-sign with the Knicks, but a that’s hardly enough of a guarantee to bank on. Thus, keeping him past February’s trade deadline is inherently risky.
Safely assuming the Knicks won’t get back equal value in terms of talent, New York’s top priorities in any Anthony trade should be kick-starting the rebuilding process by targeting three commodities in particular:
1) Quality draft picks (as many as possible)
2) Young, promising players locked into affordable contracts
3) Veteran players whose contracts expire by 2015
Per the previous column: New York will shed major salary from their books in July of 2015. The 2014-15 season is the final year on the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani. New York will clear a whopping $49.6 million in salary in one fell swoop. As a result, the Knicks could potentially enter July of 2015 as major players in the free-agent market – when such stars as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Roy Hibbert, DeAndre Jordan, etc. may be up for grabs as unrestricted free agents.
If Anthony is not taking up $24.1 million, New York could be looking upwards of $45 million in cap space, which would allow them to go on quite the shopping spree that summer.
As it stands today, there are only four players that will likely be on the Knicks’ books past the 2014-15 season: Pablo Prigioni ($1.7 million), Tim Hardaway Jr. ($1.3 million), Raymond Felton ($4.5 million player option) and J.R. Smith ($6.4 million player option). There is also a $3.8 million qualifying offer for Iman Shumpert that the Knicks will have to make a decision on. As we now know, the Knicks wouldn’t be opposed to including Shumpert in a trade if the return was right.
It could be argued that the most logical landing spot for Anthony could be Chicago. Over the weekend, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski revealed that, according to a source, “Chicago is much more in play for him than L.A.” If the Bulls are in fact keen on the idea of luring Anthony to the Windy City, though, a deadline deal would benefit both parties.
So, here’s the question: Would either the Bulls or the Knicks say “no” to this hypothetical deal?
Why it makes sense for the Knicks: New York would jump start their rebuilding process by adding a solid young player in Jimmy Butler, who starred for Chicago in the 2013 postseason. Butler, 24 years old, is set to make just $2.2 million next season, and has a $3.1 million qualifying offer for the 2015-16 season. Although he has been dinged up this season by nagging injuries, Butler has an undeniably bright future in the league. He is a valuable two-way player a team can build around.
Tony Snell, the 20th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft out of New Mexico, is a solid all-around player and profiles as a solid rotation player. He’s a versatile wing off the bench and, just as importantly, he is also locked into a very affordable rookie contract that runs through 2017-18.
Because the Knicks will be well over the cap next year, they would have no issue taking back the additional year left on Carlos Boozer’s contract (whom the Bulls are purportedly considering amnestying this summer anyway). The Knicks would not be able to amnesty Boozer, but they wouldn’t need to. Again, the new focus would be maximizing cap space for 2015, and that’s when Boozer’s deal comes off the books.
The other major benefit to New York in this deal is moving Raymond Felton and the $4.5 million he is set to earn in 2015-16, which lines up with the goal of creating the most cap space in 2015.
The Bulls’ 2014 first-rounder would likely land somewhere in the teens. In a draft as deep and talented as this, this pick would be extremely valuable and could yield a very promising young player.
From the Knicks’ perspective, this deal is obviously not about short-term success. It’s about creating flexibility, adding assets, and re-charting a new course. Once an Anthony trade is completed, the Knicks could then put Tyson Chandler on the open market as well, and should bring back more picks and players (while also possibly being a conduit to dumping J.R. Smith’s 2015-16 salary). An Anthony deal would be just the first, crucial step in a full-scale rebuild. The good news is, if handled correctly, New York could successfully re-shape their entire roster in a relatively short period of time (only about 16 months).
Here’s why it makes sense for Chicago: A starting five of Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah would be an awfully intriguing starting unit. Assuming Rose comes relatively healthy, that would be an extremely exciting and dangerous squad.
Shumpert was born and raised outside Chicago, and although he has struggled with inconsistency during his tenure with the Knicks, he has also shown flashes of incredible upside. During the Knicks’ second-round defeat to the Indiana Pacers in last year’s postseason, Shumpert was arguably the Knicks’ second-best all-around player. Could a homecoming to Chicago revive his career and increase the chances he reaches his immense potential?
Felton would serve as insurance for Rose, in case the former MVP has any hiccups in his return from injury. And once Rose is back and completely healthy, Felton would be a solid back-up point guard, and could also, at times, play alongside Rose in the same backcourt. Chicago would also still have Mike Dunleavy to bring off the bench as well.
As far as the first-round pick is concerned, the Bulls could have as many as three picks in the loaded 2014 draft. Chicago will own the Bobcats’ pick if Charlotte doesn’t finish the season with one of the 10 worst records in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings also owe a first-round pick to the Bulls, but that pick is protected for selections one through 12. It is safe to assume the Kings won’t have to convey that pick this year. However, the Bobcats would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today, so there is a decent chance that the Bulls will end up with Charlotte’s first rounder. Moreover, the Bulls currently don’t owe a single pick (first or second round) to any team through 2019. Thus, they obviously have the necessary picks in their pocket to sweeten a potential deal with New York.
Letting go of Butler would be a bitter pill to swallow, but, thinking ahead, if the Bulls inked Melo to a massive contract, they likely would be unable to match offers for Butler once he became a restricted free agent. When viewed through that prism, it makes losing Butler much more palatable.
Of course, the big unknown here is whether or not the Chicago front office believes Anthony would be worth the immense salary he’d request. The Bulls have previously intimated they would prefer to be south of the luxury tax and avoid the repeater tax at all costs. But would the formation of a new ‘Big Three’ of Rose, Anthony and Noah in Chicago be enough for them to invest heavily in Anthony? ‘Melo has shown a preference for big cities, and Chicago is one of the biggest markets in the country. Either way, the Bulls would have his Bird Rights, and would consequently be able to pay more him than any other NBA team.
Might Anthony to Chicago be an ideal fit for everybody?
ICYMI: Atlantic Division
To kick off our new “ICYMI” series, Basketball Insiders’ Ariel Pacheco breaks down what you might have missed from the Atlantic Division this season.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re introducing a new series called “ICYMI” where we’ll fill you in on some of the NBA’s biggest storylines that you may have missed, division by division. Today, we’ll focus on the Atlantic Division.
So far, the Atlantic has been arguably the most competitive division in the league. If the playoffs started today, all five teams in the division would at least make the play-in game. But what’s gotten those teams to that point? Who or what might have flown under the radar? Let’s take a look.
Chris Boucher: Sixth Man Of The Year Candidate
After a cold start to the season, the Toronto Raptors have started to figure it out, winning 5 of their last 7 games. And a huge part of that success has been due to the rise of Chris Boucher.
In just 23.7 minutes per game, he is averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds to go along with 2.2 blocks per game. He’s also shown touch from beyond the arc, shooting 45.3% from three-point range on almost four attempts a game. On the year, Boucher also has 4 double-doubles.
Boucher has provided a much-needed spark for the Raptors. In fact, while Nick Nurse has been reluctant to do so, many have been clamoring for Boucher to start. Still, as a starter or off the bench, Boucher has done more than enough to mask the loss of both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. And doing so has placed him squarely in the middle of the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.
Is Immanuel Quickley the Knicks Point Guard Of The Future and Present?
The Knicks entered the season with a conundrum at the point guard position. Former Lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina have both disappointed while Elfrid Payton, a proven but flawed NBA rotation player, has only exacerbated the team’s issues, especially their need for spacing.
Enter Immanuel Quickley, a rookie out of Kentucky that has not only shown the ability to shoot, but also defend and facilitate at a high level and has developed a floater game that has become his signature.
There’s no question that Quickley is currently the best point guard on the Knicks’ roster. While his 11 points and 2.6 assists per game might undersell his play, lineups with RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson that feature Quickley have outscored opponents by 20 points, albeit in just 30 total minutes. That same lineup with Payton in Quickley’s place have been outscored by 6 points in 371 minutes. Quickley is simply a better fit.
While the Knicks point guard situation in the last decade has been lousy, the Knicks may not have only found their point guard of the future, but of the present as well.
Doc Rivers, the Tobias Harris Whisperer
After a disappointing year, Tobias Harris is in the midst of a bounce-back season. This should come as no surprise, however, with Doc Rivers now at the helm. Harris played some of the best basketball of his career as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers with Rivers as his head coach. Now, reunited in Philadelphia, Harris’ play has surged once again.
Harris has been an uber-efficient scoring option for the first place 76ers, averaging 19.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on a 61.5 true shooting percentage. Rivers, meanwhile, has done an excellent job of putting Harris in the best position to succeed. With Brett Brown, Harris was used more as a floor-spacer and spot-up shooter, something that Harris is certainly capable of — he’s shot 45.8 percent from three-point range this season — but doesn’t exactly suit his game. But, under Rivers, Harris has attacked the basket and has been far more decisive with the ball in his hands. It also helps when Harris is shooting a scorching-hot 45.8 percent from three-point range.
Where other coaches have faltered, Rivers has seemingly unlocked Harris’ ultimate ability and, with the type of player he has shown himself to be, Harris might just be enough to push Philadelphia to a title. He’s certainly got them in the conversation.
Jeff Green’s Role in Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Nets’ trade for James Harden hurt their defense and their depth significantly. They’re betting on sheer star power and their new powerhouse offense to get them far in the playoffs.
They will need role-players to step up and knock down shots, however. Jeff Green has done just that.
Shooting 48.2 percent from three, Green has been playing a bunch of his minutes at center. And, with how the roster is currently constructed, the team may rely on him to play that spot throughout the season. Green, of course, is no stranger to the situation, having played the very same role with the Houston Rockets last season.
Since the Harden trade, he’s averaging 33 minutes per game. Green has also scored in double figures off the bench in 7 straight games. He’ll continue to play a major role for the Nets as the season goes and, if he can continue to perform at this level, Brooklyn will have someone in the rotation beyond the big-three that they can trust.
Be sure to check back throughout the week as we break down what you may have missed from the other divisions.
NBA Daily: Khris Middleton Should Be The Bucks’ Closer
Bobby Krivitsky breaks down Khirs Middleton’s season and explains how the Milwaukee Bucks second star has earned more opportunities in crunch time.
For the Milwaukee Bucks, being one of the NBA’s best regular-season teams doesn’t mean much. In each of the last two seasons, the players and their fans have enjoyed this movie’s rising action but, as winning the title is the ultimate goal, left the theatre disappointed.
In order to get that satisfying conclusion, Milwaukee must make some changes. And, to start the 2020-21 season, they’ve tried to do just that. As expected, Mike Budenholzer is more flexible in his approach this season than in year’s past. They’ve reshaped their five-out offense, which now features someone, often Giannis Antetokounmpo, occupying the dunker spot. Those are the two areas just outside the paint along the baseline, where a player can catch the ball, take one or two steps, and dunk.
The Bucks are also pursuing their missed shots far more aggressively than they used to; two seasons ago, Budenholzer’s first at the helm, Milwaukee ranked 26th in offensive rebounding percentage, last year, they ranked 28th. But, through the first 16 games of this season, they’re snatching up 29.2 percent of their misses, good for the sixth-highest percentage league-wide.
Another meaningful difference, arguably the most meaningful, is how the team has allowed Khris Middleton to initiate the offense far more frequently at the end of games. In the final three minutes of games within five points, Middleton’s usage rate has spiked from 30.1 percent in 2019-20 to 40 percent this season.
Once again, Middleton has put together a fantastic season that’s receiving little fanfare. After he averaged a career-high 20.9 points per game last season, he’s improved to 21.8 points through the Bucks’ first 16 games. Middleton is also taking 5.9 three-point attempts per game (knocking them down at a 42.6 percent clip, the second-best mark of his career) and has increased the amount of two-point field goals he’s attempting to 9.8 per contest, making 58 percent of them.
That combination has produced an effective field goal percentage of 60.2 percent. Additionally, Middleton has shot 92 percent from the foul line on an average of 3.1 free-throw attempts per game, giving him a true-shooting percentage of 63.7 percent. Those shooting percentages mean Middleton has a legitimate chance to join the 50-40-90 club; only eight NBA players have accomplished that feat. Middleton’s also gone from averaging 4.3 assists per game the last two years to dishing out 5.8 dimes this season and has grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game.
Add it all up and you have a two-time All-Star that ranks fourth in the NBA in offensive win shares, fifth in total win shares and has delivered a compelling opening statement as to why he should make an All-NBA team for the first time in his career.
While it may not seem so noteworthy that one of the best wings in the NBA is off to a hot start, the way Middleton has responded to shouldering more responsibility in crunch time should serve as an ingredient to the elixir that can cure the postseason issues that have plagued them in recent seasons. Out of every player that has made more than one appearance in crunch time, which is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of a game within five points, the sharpshooting Middleton is eighth in points per game. He’s also yet to turn the ball over in that span.
As the pressure mounts and the clock counts down, Middleton’s approach doesn’t change from how he’s played the game’s previous 43 minutes. Whether he’s attacking off a screen from Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez, shooting off the catch, or using a jab step to create the necessary space for him to rise and fire, Middleton knocks down his shots with the same ruthless efficiency.
That said, he could stand to be a bit more assertive in the game’s waning moments. Yes, his usage rate has jumped in the fourth quarter, but there have been instances where Middleton has taken a backseat; in Milwaukee’s recent 112-109 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Middleton managed just two shots in the entire fourth quarter, back-to-back threes that turned a two-point deficit into a four-point lead the Bucks never relinquished.
Of course, there’s a balancing act that Budenholzer must work out between Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Late in the game, Budenholzer can’t simply take the ball away from Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, and Holiday, a fantastic player in his own right, needs opportunities to have an impact.
But Middleton has done more than enough to show he’s deserving of even more opportunities than what he’s taken for himself this season. And, if the Bucks want to win a title in the near future, it may be in their best interest if Middleton’s the player primarily in charge of initiating their late-game offense.
NBA Daily: Gordon Hayward Realizing His Potential in Charlotte
No one envisioned Gordon Hayward joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. Not many people believed he could return to being an All-Star caliber player. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on Hayward’s resurgent season in Buzz City.
Many eyebrows were raised when Gordon Hayward decided to join the Charlotte Hornets this offseason. Most figured a return home to play for the Indiana Pacers was where the next chapter of his career would take place. But, when a potential deal with Indiana fell through, the Hornets became a reality. Maybe it was the lure of playing for Michael Jordan or just the opportunity for a fresh start where he could realize his full potential.
Either way, Hayward has proved himself to be the guy once again.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Hayward signed a four-year deal with Charlotte for $120 million. At the time, it seemed like a heavy price to pay for a player in his 30’s that has endured so many injuries so recently in his career. Hornets fans went through this in 2019 with Terry Rozier’s sign-and-trade deal from the Boston Celtics for $56.7 million. The move for Charlotte almost felt desperate, like some sort of gamble they were willing to take.
But this signing has been different. Even before their deal, Hayward underwent a minor surgical procedure on his left foot to alleviate some discomfort he dealt with last year; the team was aware and still wanted to move forward with the deal, which speaks volumes as to how they felt about him as a player and how he would recover.
While Rozier was younger and seemed to have a high ceiling, Hayward is an established wing that has been an All-Star and the face of a franchise before. And, as we enter the quarter-mark of the 2020-21 season, it appears as though the team’s gamble has paid off quite nicely. Hayward is looked resurgent, averaging career-high numbers across the board after his injury-plagued stint in Boston.
With the Celtics, Hayward averaged 13.9 points per game, shot 36 percent from behind the arc, and got to the free throw line just 2.7 times per game. So far this season he is averaging more than 24 points per game, which is a career-best. His free throw attempts have nearly doubled and he is knocking down 43 percent of his three-pointers.
Hayward’s minutes have also increased significantly this year. And, in addition to his high percentage shooting, his 21.07 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a career-best.
The roster crunch at certain positions was a concern heading into the season, but head coach James Borrego has built a solid rotation that has allowed his team to maximize their potential. The Hornets have the ability to play big or go with a smaller lineup should the need arise. In fact, one of the major benefits of having Hayward is the ability to play him at multiple positions; having played alongside Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in Boston, Hayward is well versed in switching and matching up against both bigger and smaller opponents.
Charlotte’s defense has also been much better this year with Hayward on the floor. They rank in the top ten in terms of opponents scoring and top five in steals. Borrego has used various full-court press coverages, as well as an unusual zone defense in the half-court that eventually turns back into a man-to-man scheme.
Using different lineups, the Hornets have been able to utilize guys like PJ Washington and Miles Bridges who, in turn, have ignited their offense. If LaMelo Ball is not in the game, Charlotte can still play their two smaller guards, Rozier and Devonte’ Graham, with Hayward often serving as the primary ball-handler. With him running the offense, it allows those two to do what they do best: shoot the ball.
As a team, the Hornets aren’t exactly elite offensively. They are strong in certain areas, but they also rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goals made, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. In order to win close games, there are times where they need Hayward to just take over — and he’s proven on multiple occasions that he is still more than capable of doing just that. Hayward has actually been on quite a roll lately, scoring the ball at an incredible clip. Two weeks ago he put up 34 points in a blowout of the New York Knicks. Later, he had another 34-point performance against the Chicago Bulls. He also scored 39 points, including the game-winning layup, against the Orlando Magic. His season-high came earlier in the month where he posted 44 points in a victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
The individual scoring by Hayward has been impressive, but it hasn’t hampered their offensive rhythm at all. In fact, the Hornets currently average 28.3 assists per game, which is the best in the league.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows in Buzz City. The success on the court hasn’t necessarily translated to winning. After 17 games, their 7-10 record has them sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. And, looking at their upcoming schedule, there could be some more bumps in the road.
Charlotte’s next two games are against the aforementioned Pacers. Later, the Hornets will host the Milwaukee Bucks and then head south to face the Miami HEAT, who should have their key pieces back on the floor. After that, they will have to face the Philadelphia 76ers, who own the best record in the conference. Following that game is a matchup with the red-hot Utah Jazz, who have won nine games in a row. Withstanding that rough stretch will be pivotal for this team, as they have now lost four of their last five games. These Hornets are a young group, but Hayward’s experience and the return of fellow Indiana-native Cody Zeller should allow them to win some of those games. Their season just might depend on it.
The Hornets are a fun team to watch. The jaw-dropping passes from Ball and the ridiculous highlight dunks by Bridges are must-see television, but their leader is proving he is worth every penny. Sure, Hayward has the massive contract, but he also has earned the opportunity to be a franchise player once again.
He isn’t the same All-Star player that he was in Utah. This version of Hayward is even better.