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Making the Case for Carmelo to Portland

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As the New York Knicks play out the string in a season that was thought to have so much promise, Carmelo Anthony is likely playing out the string on his career in a Knick uniform.

At this point, the smart money is on Anthony, the Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers coming to terms on a trade that would send Anthony to the Clippers this summer. But if Anthony and the Knicks were smart, they’d each realize that the best bet for one another would be coming to terms with the Portland Trail Blazers.

For many reasons, sending Anthony to the Pacific Northwest would be a wise move.

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In life, people have different priorities. Some value compensation above all else, while others value a favorable work-life balance. Some attribute a high value to their relationship with their management and co-workers while others cherish personal fulfillment.

While Anthony himself has let it be known that his family’s comfort and happiness is quite important to him, what nobody seems to know for certain is how highly Anthony actually values winning and what kinds of concessions he would make to put himself in a situation where he has an opportunity to compete for a championship. Certainly, pushing for a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs or even the Boston Celtics would give Anthony greater odds of winning a championship than remaining with the Knicks, but with the Cavs and Spurs each having won championships within the past three years, Anthony wouldn’t be considered a lynchpin — he’d be looked at as a hanger-on. He would be the basketball version of a freeloader.

More importantly, though, is the word on the street. People who know Anthony well and have been trusted with matters related to his psyche would tell you that he is satisfied with being well compensated and playing on a big stage, and his refusal to approve a trade to the Clippers this past February (something he admitted was on the table), lends credence to that theory. In other words, the prevailing sentiment as it relates to Anthony and his relationship with the Knicks is that he would be satisfied with remaining with the team since he is being paid well and is known to be happy with his life in New York.

Based on what we have been led to believe are his priorities, it’s easy to understand why the Clippers would seem to be a natural fit. They are an experienced team that seems to be at least one piece away from being able to compete with the Golden State Warriors and the rest of the cream of the West. They are located in the league’s second-biggest media market and, on the court, happen to be run by Anthony’s good friend, Chris Paul. Doc Rivers is said to value Anthony quite highly and believes that adding him to the Clippers would give the team improved odds of winning a championship.

So yes, for Anthony and the Clippers, heading to Southern California makes all the sense in the world.

For the Knicks, however, trading him there doesn’t.

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There is no clear definition as to what constitutes a the “most valuable” player in the league, and similarly, there’s no clear definition as to what makes a player a “superstar.” At the very least, that designation involves an intersect of a player having tremendous ability, notoriety and accomplishments. Although he may be on the downside of his career, it’s probably safe to say that Anthony still qualifies as a superstar, or, at the very least, he still carries the perceived value of a superstar.

In general, in the NBA, teams hate trading superstars. They are both hard to find and even harder to replace. With one, you can hold steadfast to the belief that you might be one or two pieces away from becoming an elite team. Without one, you’re stuck in the lottery and waddling in the mud of mediocrity, aimlessly, until you can find one.

So for the Knicks, trading Anthony to the Clippers would literally be something the franchise would do out of a belief that it would be common addition by subtraction. Receiving equal value back for a superstar in a trade is difficult enough, much less a superstar with a no-trade clause.

The assumption is that the Clippers will re-sign J.J. Redick this summer, meaning that he would not be trade eligible until December. That would likely remove him from the equation as it relates to trading him for Anthony. The Clippers will also send their 2017 first round draft pick to the Toronto Raptors and their 2019 first round draft pick to the Boston Celtics, further diminishing the value that they could send the Knicks for Anthony.

From here, it would appear that the most likely trade involving the two teams, unless a third or fourth team got involved, would center around Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and perhaps the Clippers’ 2021 first round pick.

For the Knicks, maximizing their return on a Carmelo Anthony trade would be their priority, especially with Phil Jackson notably trading Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Jerian Grant for what will ultimately end up being low returns.

That’s why the Blazers make sense for the Knicks. But do they make sense for Anthony?

Perhaps.

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As Anthony creeps toward his 33rd birthday, his mileage is showing. At this point in his career, the best case scenario for him would be to find himself on a team in which he was surrounded by younger pieces whose ceilings were still unknown. As great as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are, Griffin has already shown a propensity to get hurt, while Paul is just a few years from his 32nd birthday. On the other hand, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum 26 years old and 25 years old, respectively. Since adding Jusuf Nurkic (who is just 22 years old), the Blazers have not resembled the team they were over the course of the first 50 games of the season. After going 13-3 over their last 16 games, they have reentered the Western Conference playoff picture and look formidable. Nurkic may have been lost for the season, but he looks like a stud that could be in a Blazer uniform for many years to come. Think long term. The roster doesn’t currently feature a single player over 30 years old, with Evan Turner, at 28 years old, serving as the elder statesmen.

For Anthony, latching on with a team full of young talent, one on the rise and one that seems to be just one solid veteran piece away from going to the next level — that’s preferable to joining a team that has already peaked.

The aforementioned Nurkic came to the Blazers in February and also yielded the Blazers the rights to the Memphis Grizzlies’ first round pick this coming June. Add in the Cavaliers’ first round pick, and the Blazers are the only team in the league that has three first round picks in the loaded 2017 draft. With a roster chock full of young talent, the Blazers might actually be interested in divesting.

What’s more important for the Knicks is that the Blazers are a relative underachiever this season. Considering the fact that they are coming off of a second round appearance in last season’s playoffs and boast the league’s second-highest payroll, it stands to reason that they would be open to shaking things up, especially if it meant adding a player of Anthony’s caliber.

There is zero doubt that with Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier and the aforementioned picks, the Knicks could find a trade that would interest them.

And finally, the most important thing for Anthony would be finding himself with a front office he could trust. The Blazers might not boast the biggest market, but the team has a proud franchise and basketball tradition. As for Neil Olshey and his staff, they have already proven to have an eye for talent, an ability to develop players and the intelligence to put well-fitting pieces together on the basketball court. Doc Rivers, as much as he is revered, cannot boast that. He inherited each of his three best players and has continually swapped out his auxiliary pieces to no avail.

Truth be told, Rivers hasn’t done anything to instill confidence in his ability to build a winner.

That’s something Anthony — if he values winning — would be wise to consider.

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As it stands, it would appear that the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers are not only the NBA’s best teams right now — they’ll be the best teams tomorrow, as well. The Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards appear to be on the cusp of greatness, too. Meanwhile, nobody seems sure where the Clippers fit in.

With Anthony, sure, the Clippers could become elite and give the Warriors and Spurs fits for the next few years. But for Anthony, the better bet might be to latch on with the younger studs and the franchise that has proven it knows a thing or two about building. Truth be told, with Anthony playing third fiddle to Lillard and McCollum, the Blazers would probably have a championship window of five years. The same probably can’t be said for the Clippers.

In all of this, it’s important to remember a major fact: the Knicks actually need to agree on any trade that would land Anthony elsewhere. Based on the return that the Clippers appear able to send to New York, it might be a tough sell.

Indeed, in life, people have different priorities. Anthony, we know, values his compensation, but so does everyone else.

Of everything, some professional athletes attribute the highest value on something money can’t buy — immortality.

As it stands, Anthony is likely playing out the string on his New York Knicks career. At this point, we don’t know what his priorities are. But when next season begins, if he is donning the jersey of a different franchise, one way or another, we will have learned something about what it is that Carmelo Anthony values most.

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About Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and international basketball.