Fixing the Knicks: Several Trade Ideas That Could Jumpstart a Strong Rebuild

Carmelo AnthonySources told Yahoo! Sports on Monday that there is “no chance” the Knicks trade free agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony by the Feb. 20 deadline.

Let’s face the facts: even with Anthony, the Knicks are a mediocre basketball team in a horrendous Atlantic Division.

Anthony may want out of New York after the season. Fortunately for the Knicks, there a very few candidates for Anthony out there with enough cap space to sign him outright — although the Lakers are one.

That means the Knicks are either going to retain Anthony or, at the very least, bring back a few assets via sign-and-trade with Anthony’s departure.

Leverage is key for the Knicks in any negotiations with Anthony. It’s an open secret at this point that Anthony wants to play in a big city. It is a fair guess to postulate that he may want to play with the Clippers alongside close friend Chris Paul.

The problem is that Blake Griffin has recently taken the next step in his development. While I personally would still take a Paul-Anthony combination for the next three years (likely the last three of Paul’s prime) over a Paul-Griffin combination, it would be extremely hard to sell the Clippers’ brass on trading a 24-year-old All-Star starter with more room to grow for a 29-year-old All-Star starter who’s probably already reached his ceiling.

Moreover, with recent rumors swirling about a possible LeBron James-to-LA coup this summer, the Clippers have even less incentive to rush into a blockbuster deal.

Although the Anthony for Griffin speculation has been circulating for months, I just don’t see it as a realistic option for either side.

The Knicks are planning to take a humongous gamble by assuming Anthony will stay long term instead of trading him for assets at the deadline.

The Lakers, of course, carried the same plan with Dwight Howard last season and lost him for nothing on the free agent market.

So while the Knicks , in all likelihood, will be first-round casualties this season, it’s clear they’re ignoring better options for the team’s longterm future.

Here are several ideas and explanations for how the Knicks could position themselves for a more successful future.

These trades rank from most eccentric to most logical for both teams:

3. Carmelo Anthony and Cole Aldrich for David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Marresse Speights, Festus Ezeli and a future first round pick. Melo to Warriors trade

Golden State has yet to be mentioned in the Melo sweepstakes. Nonetheless, the Warriors would be a very interesting landing spot for Anthony.

Anthony has alluded to wanting to play on the West Coast, and Golden State is one of the sleeping giants in a loaded Western Conference.

Lee’s departure in this trade would allow Anthony to slide comfortably into the power forward role – a position he has thrived in for the past two season. Moreover, without Lee’s contract on the books, Golden State would have the money available to give Anthony a long term contract.

A lineup of Stephen Curry – Klay Thompson – Andre Iguodala – Anthony – Andrew Bogut  would undeniably be one of the most talented offensive group in the league.

The Warriors are underachieving and could use another move to push them over the top. They’ve traded their first-round pick for this season already and are eventually going to have to part with either Thompson or Barnes to make drastic improvements. Anthony would be about as big a star as the team could bring in.

Meanwhile, for the Knicks, bringing back Lee would give them a go-to player for the remainder of the season.

Barnes, at only 21 years old, could be a piece for the team to build around going forward. Harrison Barnes Warriors sleevesHe’s been disappointing this season, averaging only 10.0 points per game and 4.1 rebounds. However, his 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 12 games last postseason suggest he might simply be marginalized in Golden State’s guard-centric attack. Give him an opportunity to be featured in the offense and he might return to his playoff dominance.

Speights would be a mere salary filler in the deal but has proven to be a decent rotation player in the league with even more room to improve. Ezeli has been injured all season but looks like a rotational center with upside as well based on a solid rookie season in 2012. The Knicks would gain four players worthy of roster spots at this very moment — not bad at all.

Still, there are obvious flaws with this type of a deal.

The Warriors want to preserve their future cap space for Klay Thompson’s upcoming free agency. Moreover, Golden State believes it’s already on the brim on competing for a title with their current roster. Completing such a monumental trade would open the door for a total chemistry clash with Anthony’s high profile.

Would Anthony be able to share the court with Curry?

Anthony and Curry currently combine for a usage rate of 58.6% this season. This means that Thompson, Iguodala and Bogut would only have only 41.4% of possessions to share between the three. Thompson, as it stands, uses about 20% of the Warriors possessions. Would Mark Jackson be able to work this rotation out? 

The Knicks, meanwhile, would have obvious hesitancy in bringing back David Lee’s whale of a contract.

Lee is good. At times he’s great. Still, his defensive woes are a punch line throughout the NBA and he’s due $15 million in each of the next two seasons – essentially taking the Knicks out of any upcoming free agent market. The Warriors have been covertly shopping Lee’s name for the better part of a season and have yet to receive an offer they’ve liked. While he’s an undeniably talented player, his contract cancels out most –if not all — of his value on the court.

Barnes’ struggles this season would make this kind of deal even harder to pitch to New York’s fans. While he’s likely to rebound sooner or later and return to his exciting high-flying self, any expectation that Barnes could replace Anthony would be unfair for the 21-year-old.

If the Knicks were able to convince the Warriors into replacing Barnes with Klay Thompson, this trade could gain serious traction. However, for all of the same reasons the Warriors would be reluctant to make the initial deal with Barnes, they’d be even more reluctant to make the trade with Thompson.

While it’s an interesting trade on paper, it just wouldn’t have the legs or motivation from either side to get completed by the deadline.

So let’s move on.

2. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith for Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic and a future protected pick

Anthony to Bulls

I’ve heard that the Bulls are the most likely landing spot for Anthony should the Clippers maintain their stance on keeping Blake Griffin as untouchable.

Even so, Chicago just doesn’t have a particularly attractive package to offer the Knicks. Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are off the table for sure.

Jimmy Butler could be a potential trade candidate but the Bulls have made it very clear that they plan to keep him around for a long time. While I suspect the Knicks could hold out for him, it would hurt their chances of getting much else in any deal.

Nikola Mirotic, Real Madrid

Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls’ European ace and top trade asset, projects to translate into an above-average starter in the NBA.

Beyond Mirotic, New York would ask for Bulls’ sixth man Taj Gibson in the deal and possibly 2013 first rounder Tony Snell. Because the Knicks are so far over the salary cap, taking on Carlos Boozers’ soon-to-be-expiring contract also would make sense for future trade possibilities (and on court production).

Even so, this is change on the dollar for Anthony’s talent. The Knicks, in theory, should be able to do better if they traded Anthony.

Perhaps New York could add in J.R. Smith to rid the team of his longterm contract and headaches. Considering the Bulls would be entering “win in the near-future” mode after acquiring Anthony, Smith could actually be a useful piece for them next season as a sixth man.

At the very least, this trade would give the Knicks an opportunity to rebuild with some decent talent on moderate contracts for the next few years.

As a last resort, Chicago’s presumed offer would be better than nothing. Still, something tells me the Knicks would want to look elsewhere first before aiding an Eastern Conference rival in creating a potential super team.

So let’s say the Knicks exhaust these options. Where should they go before settling on a lowball offer from Chicago?

1. Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert and Toure’ Murry to Washington for Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely, Eric Maynor, Al Harrington, Garrett Temple and a future pick.

Anthony to Wizards

Why not Washington as a potential landing spot for Anthony?

He grew up in Baltimore so it’s not outrageous to think he’d sign an extension near his hometown for an opportunity to build a contender next to John Wall.

Meanwhile, Washington has a legitimate trade asset that the Knicks would covet in Bradley Beal.

Melo and Wall are friends. Would Melo be willing to stay in D.C. long term?

While Beal proved to be too rich a price for the Wizards to relent in their recent pursuit of Greg Monroe, any opportunity to bring in Carmelo Anthony would have to make Beal expendable.

Beal is 20 years old and has the makings of an elite shooting guard in the future. Still, for Washington’s sake, is holding on to Beal for his potential worth giving up on the opportunity to pair Wall with a proven superstar in Anthony in as depleted an Eastern Conference as we will see for years to come?

Of course, the logical skepticism here is that the Wizards would need some sort of assurance from Anthony that he would re-sign with them going forward. After all, giving up Beal for a rental of Anthony and a chance at an Eastern Conference semi-finals or finals appearance seems extremely shortsighted. Unfortunately, Anthony wouldn’t be inclined to commit until he saw his team’s on-court success.

But here’s an interesting idea to consider: as mentioned above, there are virtually no teams on Anthony’s radar with the ability to sign him outright.* If Anthony were to decide to leave Washington following this trade, the Wizards could still presumably parlay his departure into a handful of assets in a worst case sign-and-trade scenario.

*The Bulls can free up close to enough cap space for Anthony if they chose to amnesty Carlos Boozer over the summer. 

Losing Beal for a couple months of Anthony would obviously be hard to sell to the D.C. fans.

However, Beal for a decent chance of a long term Anthony-Wall pair or — if necessary — salvaging Anthony’s departure with a sign-and-trade over the summer isn’t a franchise killing move.

So lets say the Wizards would be willing to pull the trigger and take the risk that Anthony would re-sign with them this summer.

Anthony and Wall instantly make the Wizards the third best team in the East, at least. Some would argue they’re already there with Beal.

I personally would imagine the Wizards having a difficult time beating the Hawks or Nets in a playoff series as they’re currently constructed.

With Anthony and Wall pairing together, the Wizards would move closer to the Heat or Pacers’ tier in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, they would keep  their 2013 first rounder, Otto Porter, and most future draft picks going forward. Total win.

For the Knicks’ sense, Beal is as promising a sure thing prospect without the “untouchable” label. He was the third overall pick in the 2012 draft and has quickly become one of the league’s best and most gifted shooting guards.

To make salaries work out, the Wizards would need to include cap fillers – headlined by Trevor Ariza. 

Because Ariza still has decent value (and because the Wizards wouldn’t be keen to the idea of trading Beal for Anthony’s potential short stay), the Knicks would likely have to include Iman Shumpert in the deal to give Washington a little extra incentive to say yes. If Washington insisted on returning even more, the Knicks could also include one of their backup-quality point guards (let’s say Beno Udrih) as well.

Afterward, the Wizards would field a starting lineup of Wall, Shumpert, Anthony, Nene, and Gortat (with the option to go small with Martell Webster or Otto Porter at small forward and Anthony at power forward.)

The Knicks would jumpstart their rebuilding project around Beal.

Felton, Beal, Ariza, Bargnani and Chandler is not a terrible starting lineup for the short term. Hardaway Jr., Stoudemire, Prigioni, Jeremy Tyler, Vesely and Kenyon Martin also provide decent depth.

I really like this one for both sides.

Now, if the Knicks did decide to trade Anthony, it wouldn’t make sense to just stop there.

Trading their All-Star would signify a waving of the white flag on this currently constructed Knicks roster.

The next best asset the team has to trade is Tyson Chandler.

Which contenders would be in the market for an elite defensive center with championship success? Several teams out West come to mind.

Again, here are three deals from most eccentric to most logical:

3. Tyson Chandler, Tim Hardaway Jr. and a future protected pick for Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic

Chandler to Minnesota

The Timberwolves are nearing panic mode with Kevin Love. Unless Minnesota shows clear signs of becoming a contender by this point next season, Love will be on his way out of town in the summer of 2015 — at the very latest.

While on paper the Rubio and Pekovic combination trumps Chandler and Hardaway Jr., it appears pretty obvious that Pekovic and Love are an inherently flawed interior tandem: both are slow defenders and both share redundancy on the offensive end.

Chandler, on the other hand, seems about as ideal a fit next to Love as anyone. Love looked up to Chandler as a child and they shared a front court for Team USA at the Olympics. Between Chandler’s ball batting prowess and Love’s offensive rebounding monopoly, the Timberwolves would form a strong identity as a team that can gain extra possessions on the boards. Chandler’s experience playing next to Dirk Nowitzki would also pay dividends offensively next to Kevin Love.

Hardaway, to his own right, has proven to be a capable starter going forward and is locked up on his rookie deal.

While it’s impossible to know whether Chandler could catapult the Wolves into the postseason, I think it’s worthy Flip Saunders’ time to consider. If need be, I think the Knicks would be willing to include Felton in exchange for J.J. Barea in the deal as well.

As for the Knicks, this deal has some obvious benefits. Returning star power in Rubio would give the Knicks fans something to be excited about.

NBA fans have already turned on the 23-year-old Rubio. As informed followers know, the former teenage prodigy is on track to become the worst shooter in NBA history. He’s an offensive floor clogger at the end of games as opponents crowd the paint and dare him to take perimeter shots.

Still, his passing is elite by any standard and his defense — when motivated — is surprisingly dynamic. At only 23, it’s not unreasonable to think his shooting can get turned around.

He’s set to become a restricted free agent after next season and few people have any real idea of what he’ll command in his next contract. He’s got obvious starter quality skill — in spite of his shooting woes — but it’s hard to say with confidence that he’ll be worth more than Jeff Teague (who got four-years, $32 million last summer.)

In this hypothetical deal, the Knicks would have a year to audition him before having to decide on his future at next season’s trade deadline.

Pekovic, meanwhile, is a highly reliable and efficient center with one of the most rounded offensive games for any big in the league. His contract goes on for four more years at around $50 million so it’s not unrealistic to think the Knicks would eventually look to trade him. Still, for a team on the rebuild, Pekovic is definitely a valuable asset to have.

In order to help facilitate this trade – and simultaneously make it more feasible – it would make sense for Toronto to get involved. They shopped Kyle Lowry to the Knicks earlier in the season and had reported interest in Hardaway Jr.

If Minnesota could upgrade from Rubio to Lowry and from Pekovic to Chandler (upgrade next to Love at least) — without having to give up more than a few future second round picks next to Hardaway Jr. — it would make a whole lot of sense.

Still, I think there are more realistic trades for Chandler to be had.

2. Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and a future protected pick.

Chandler to OKC

Once Russell Westbrook gets clearance from doctors to return to the court, this deal would become pretty hard for Oklahoma City to resist. Chandler and Serge Ibaka would combine to form the most lethal interior defense in the league and would compliment a Durant-Westbrook pair phenomenally. 

Though Raymond Felton’s days as a starter may be behind him, he’s more than capable of fulfilling backup point guard obligations.

Jackson is due for a big contract after next season so his future in Oklahoma is already in question.

As for the Knicks, the opportunity to add a blossoming star like Jackson while adding a future pick to the mix would be a total win for the future. For that opportunity, beyond parting with Chandler, New York would also have to be willing to take back Kendrick Perkins’ contract for next season.

The biggest holdup in this trade from the Knicks side would be Reggie Jackson’s expectations as a free agent. He’s restricted in 2015 and he’s probably going to fetch around $10 million annually. That projection is fair based on his stats from this season. Even so, that eight-figure deal  would eat at the Knicks’ plans for a big summer in 2015.

There’s one more trade that the Knicks should explore.

1. Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace for C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland,  Victor Claver and a future first round pick.

Chandler to Portland

Blazers coach Terry Stotts, an assistant for Rick Carlisle with the 2011 Mavericks, knows exactly how helpful Chandler could be for Portland’s championship aspirations.

Put Chandler, Aldridge, Batum, Matthews and Lillard on the court together and that might be the best team in the NBA.

Is it possible? 

The Knicks would certainly require 2013 first round pick C.J. McCollum and 2012 first round pick Thomas Robinson as bare minimums. I’d assume Joel Freeland and/or Meyers Leonard, two centers, would have to be included as well. This still might not be enough to convince the Knicks to trade Chandler.

If the offer came Portland’s way, I don’t think they’d hesitate to include a future first-round pick. Portland’s pick this year is already going to Charlotte (Gerald Wallace trade), so New York would have to wait until 2016 for that pick at the very earliest.

The Blazers would get two players to add to their rotation and, at this win-now state in Portland, Martin (if healthy) might actually be equally productive to Robinson for the remainder of the season.

As for the Knicks, McCollum is locked up for a long while on his rookie deal and has shown flashes of serious promise. Though he’s been hampered by injuries this season, his rival rookie point guards – Michael Carter Williams and Trey Burke — have excelled. McCollum held his own with those two in summer pre-draft workouts so there’s reason to be optimistic about him.

Thomas Robinson was the fifth overall pick in 2012 and would be getting traded for the third time in two seasons. He’s having a fairly productive season with Portland. New York would have the playing time available to help him grow. Leonard, another lottery pick from 2012, doesn’t look like he’ll ever be a starting quality center but he has the makings of a rotation player for a long time. He too would have an opportunity to grow in New York.

Adding these three pieces and a future pick would give the Knicks a serious boost in their rebuilding efforts.

Meanwhile, acquiring Chandler without having to give up Robin Lopez would move Portland up one tier in the Western Conference rankings.

It just works really well for both sides.

So while the Knicks remain firm in their stance on keeping Anthony at the risk of losing him over the summer, it looks pretty obvious that they should reconsider.

At 20-31 and without much young talent to feel optimistic about, New York would be wise to build ahead toward a more promising future.

Disagree with a trade? Have an idea of your own? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Jacob Eisenberg is a junior at Emory University. He’s currently spending the spring semester abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Check out his website here and be sure to follow him on twitter @eisenberg43.

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