$130 million is a lot of money and a big reason for Carmelo Anthony not to leave the New York Knicks for any other team that could only pay him approximately $33 million less than that mark. Assuming he stays, for no other reason than the money, the Knicks need to figure out how to make their roster more compliant to a polarizing player like Anthony.
With Anthony in tow next season, the Knicks will be roughly $30 million over the cap, and likely higher when you consider they will have their mini mid-level exception and several veteran minimums to fill out the roster. Kenyon Martin, Cole Aldrich and Toure Murry are the only players under contract this season entering free agency (Shannon Brown and Earl Clark currently have ten-day contracts). In short, the Knicks will only be able to vastly change their roster through trades (they have no draft picks).
There are many complications with the team — specifically around Raymond Felton who may be in prison next season — but the only way Anthony will have decided to stay is if the Knicks had promised to make considerable improvements to the roster. So even if Felton avoids jail time, he will not be the starting point guard for the Knicks next season. Amar’e Stoudemire has been playing great of late, which has been powered by his reinsertion into the starting lineup. He and Tyson Chandler figure to be among the Knicks’ best trade chips this offseason, especially when you consider they have expiring contracts.
The only way the Knicks can win next season is by doing what they’ve always done: package expiring contracts with future first-round picks and/or young players with high potential (Tim Hardaway Jr.) for one big ticket player. We’ve seen it before, and we could see it again this offseason. After Anthony picks who he wants to be the next coach (this is why coach Mike Woodson hasn’t been fired yet in my opinion), he will then instruct the team to do whatever it takes to bring in Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics. The trade: Stoudemire and his expiring contract, Hardaway Jr. and the Knicks’ 2018 first-round draft pick for Rondo.
If the Knicks pull the trigger on this deal, it’d behoove them to keep Chandler, as he is still a force down low. The Knicks’ starting lineup would then look like this: Rondo, Iman Shumpert, Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and Chandler. Shumpert and Bargnani may sound like surprising inclusions here, but with Rondo distributing these two could have tremendous seasons. And more realistically speaking, there just aren’t credible upgrades available to the Knicks at these positions. The bench: Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith and Jeremy Tyler. The bench would be thin with the loss of Hardaway Jr., which is why Smith has to stay on the pine, but the Knicks could use their mini mid-level to bolster their frontcourt. Martin could be brought back on the cheap. Marvin Williams and Trevor Ariza would fall within the Knicks’ price range and may provide a spark off the bench.
Unfortunately, this is the best the Knicks can do to start next season. In the NBA‘s Eastern Conference this will be a winning team. But it certainly isn’t a championship-caliber team. The 2015 offseason will be a big one for the Knicks no matter what they do this summer. With Bargnani and Chandler coming off the books, the Knicks may have money to spend — though not as much if Rondo and Anthony both have max deals. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Knicks pull off another big trade before next season’s trading deadline — at this point they might as well trade their 2020 first-round pick. Rondo, Anthony and Kevin Love (who the Knicks may target) would be the best pitch Knicks general manager Steve Mills could make to Anthony this offseason to keep him in New York. I suppose the $130 million helps too.