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Patience is Key for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks

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To trade, or not to trade? That has been the question that has engulfed the Knicks organization for weeks.

The never-ending soap opera has had countless twists and turns. At first, it appeared the Knicks were inclined to try and trade their highest paid player. That was until Carmelo Anthony let it be known that he had no interest in waiving his no-trade clause. The rumors seemed to be squashed the for a bit. However, the trade winds started swirling again after one of Phil Jackson’s buddies published a piece knocking Melo, stating that Anthony had “outlived his usefulness in New York.”

In the days since, a potential trade with the Clippers gained traction. Then it was reported that the Celtics were back in the mix. It’s been difficult to track all the discussions purportedly taking place, despite Melo maintaining (at least publicly) that he would still prefer to stay in New York.

Only one thing is certain in this convoluted mess: The situation will only become more tangled and tortuous in the 22 days that remain before the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Some of the trade conversations will be leaked, some won’t. Some reported conversations will be real, many won’t contain even a grain of truth.

The more important question is, what should the Knicks do?

In short, it all depends on what Phil Jackson and company can get in return.

The Knicks would be smart to pull the trigger on the right trade, but only if that deal netted them valuable future assets. But make no mistake, it would be foolish of the Knicks to simply dump Carmelo in the misguided belief that shipping out Anthony (and his hefty contract) would be addition by subtraction.

Carmelo Anthony was never a perfect player, we know this. He’s always had flaws. Yet, he is also one of the most gifted scorers in the history of the league. And while he’s not the athlete or the scorer he was in his 20’s, he can still put up points with the best of them. In fact, Anthony has looked surprisingly spry and dynamic of late.

Over the Knicks’ last seven games, Anthony is averaging 30.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 3-pointers, while shooting 48.8 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent from downtown.

Melo was one of just seven NBA players to average at least 25 points, six boards and three assists per game in January. The other six players to match those totals were: LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

While Melo was likely overrated for much of his career, it’s quite possible that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction this season. There are some pundits and fans in New York that seem desperate to rid him from the roster, regardless of the return.

In the discussions Phil Jackson had with Doc Rivers of the Clippers, it was reported that Doc let in be known he would not consider moving any of his core four players (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick). That would mean the Knicks would be forced to take back a package of spare parts, “highlighted” by Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. That is the type of trade that would set the franchise back.

Yes, Anthony is a below-average defender and he’s creeping towards his mid-30’s, but that does not mean Melo’s value has fallen to the point where he should be shipped off for one-way bench players. Melo has value. Smart, well-run organizations don’t simply shed marketable assets without getting commensurate value in return.

If the Knicks are going to trade Anthony, they need to make sure they get back some combination of the following: a first-round draft or two (preferably in the top half of the draft), promising young players still on rookie-scale deals and/or quality vets locked into affordable, cap-friendly contracts.

If Phil is unable to get back something approximating equal value in exchange for Anthony, then he simply needs to close up shop and re-examine the trade market over the summer.

There are many benefits to holding onto Melo and putting him back on the block in June or July. For starters, the number of interested suitors will be far greater in the summer. Right now, it appears as almost a lock that the Warriors will come out of the West and the Cavs will again claim the East. The numbers of teams that consider themselves true contenders for the crown are few and far between.

Come the offseason, teams have a much more optimistic view of the future. In the warm weather of the summer months, anything seems possible. Look at what the Orlando Magic did last June. After promising their fans that they were on the precipice of a playoff push, they traded former second overall pick Victor Oladipo, the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft (Domantas Sabonis) and Ersan Ilyasova for Serge Ibaka, who had just one year left on his contract. Orlando currently has the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference (19-31) and is looking at the very real possibility of losing Ibaka via free agency in July of 2017 and receiving nothing in return.

In addition to more teams being willing to make a major move in the offseason, another benefit of waiting is that salary cap constraints are often less prohibitive that time of year. For instance, the Clippers are currently hard-capped, meaning they need to swap out nearly identical salaries in order to make any trade.

Furthermore, if the Knicks plan to land a top-tier free-agent in July, the presence of Carmelo Anthony will likely appeal to veterans that want to win right away. For instance, the Knicks obviously need an upgrade at point guard, and one of the best on the open market will be Chris Paul. Obviously, there is an infinitely better chance that CP3 signs with the Knicks if Anthony is on the roster. And friendships aside, it’s safe to assume other top point guards such as George Hill and Jrue Holiday would also prefer to play on a team with an elite catch-and-shoot scorer such as Carmelo Anthony. Upper crust free agents, who have a variety of options to choose from, are frequently hesitant to commit to an organization in the early stages of a rebuild.

Those in favor of trading Melo, even at a steep discount if need be, will argue that doing so increases the odds of New York landing a high lottery pick. However, the Knicks already have 21 wins on the season, and they would still have a decent roster with a few proud vets even if Melo was moved, so it’s not like they would come close to catching the Nets for the league’s worst record and landing a top-three overall pick.

Others contend that the Anthony is holding back the progress and development of Kristaps Porzingis. This simply isn’t true. Porzingis has consistently benefited from playing alongside Melo.

At some point in the near future, Anthony will either move on or recede into the background and Porzingis will inherit the throne as the face of the Knickerbocker franchise. But there is no need to rush the passing of that weighty batton. Let it happen organically.

Melo draws an incredible amount of attention, both on and off the floor, and that makes Porzingis’ life much easier.

Sharing the court with Carmelo, who often commands double-teams, creates easy scoring opportunities for KP. Off the floor, having Anthony in the locker room has been a huge benefit to all the Knicks, especially Porzingis. It’s allowed him to grow up outside the glare of the white-hot spotlight, which can be especially intense in NYC. With all the media attention focused on the “Melo-drama,” Porzingis has been able to stumble without much scrutiny directed his way.

Over a five-game stretch in the middle of January, Porzingis, while dealing with a nagging Achilles injury, averaged 10.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest, while shooting under 38 percent from the floor and 13.6 percent from 3-point territory. Yet, barely anybody mentioned KP’s struggles. Instead, everybody was focused on the daily turmoil surrounding Anthony.

Again, the weight of the franchise will someday soon land on the shoulders of Porzingis, but there is no harm delaying the inevitable a bit longer and allowing KP to built up the strength necessary to carry the burden that comes along with that responsibility.

Looking at the big picture, trading away Carmelo Anthony may make sense as long as Phil Jackson receives assets in return that benefit and boost the long-term health of the franchise. If the Knicks foolishly dump Melo and don’t get back sufficient value, it would likely be viewed years down the road as a disastrous decision that set the organization back even further.

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About Tommy Beer

Tommy Beer

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.