By John Schmeelk
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On Wednesday I explained why it is likely Carmelo Anthony departs for another franchise this offseason. Based on the replies I received on Twitter, that scenario really upsets a lot of Knicks fans.
They are terrified of losing their star, but they shouldn't be. There's a way forward for the Knicks without Anthony on the roster, and it's called tanking.
When the Knicks spent the ridiculous amount of money that they did to bring in Phil Jackson, they were putting their faith in him to build a team. Due to the franchise's past mistakes, Jackson was put at a bit of a disadvantage before he even started.
He has no cap space to operate with this summer. He has no first round draft pick in 2014 or 2016. He has no second round pick through 2017. When you remove that many valuable assets that could be used to build a team, it makes Jackson's job that much more difficult. If Anthony leaves, and winning is no longer a possibility, the entire point of next season needs to be getting Jackson the assets he needs to build a winner. That doesn't mean blindly swinging for the fences in free agency come 2015. It means bringing in younger players, draft picks, and growing them in the new Knicks culture, and playing them with whatever free agents come in next offseason.
Here's the plan:
Not letting Anthony walk away for nothing would be one of the first priorities. A sign and trade could be possible with the Bulls or Rockets. In the former case the Knicks could get back Carlos Boozer, European prospect Nikola Mirotic and perhaps even some draft considerations in the first round this year. The Bulls have two first round picks and they would need to clear as much salary as possible to fit Anthony under their cap. (For a pick this year, the Knicks would have to take one of the players the Bulls actually drafted, not the pick itself, since the draft takes place before any sign and trade can happen.)
The Rockets, meanwhile, could potentially send over Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, and a pick as a thank you to the Knicks for taking back so much salary. It will not be easy for Houston to move Lin, and as much as Daryl Morey hates trading picks, he might have to in order to get his third star. The bottom line for any Knicks sign and trade involving Anthony is that the team must get a first round pick back, and take on no salaries past next year. It's not an unreasonable goal.
Once Anthony is gone, it is time to start cleaning house. Despite coming off a rough season, Tyson Chandler has value on the open market, especially on the expiring year of a contract. The Knicks need to deal him and get a draft pick back, preferably this season, but one in 2015 works as well. The trick of trading players for picks this year is that the draft takes place before free agency, so the Knicks would have to anticipate Melo's departure and make moves preemptively. This might be unrealistic, so if they have to settle for 2015 or 2016 picks, so be it.
The next player the Knicks should look to move is Iman Shumpert. He will be a free agent come 2015 anyway, making him a valuable commodity as a perimeter defender on the open market. Despite reports that the Thunder were willing to move their first round pick for him, I'm not sure that's still a realistic option. If it is, the Knicks need to jump at it if they see someone they like at that spot. It's more likely the Knicks could get future draft considerations as far into the future as 2016, or a couple of second rounders and a young player to develop.
Under this scenario, the Knicks would recoup their two first round picks they've traded in 2014 and 2016, as well some potential second rounders, setting them up for a healthy and stable future. The draft is the best way to bring in young and cheap talent to keep the team competitive for the long haul. Those three trades would almost completely restock the Knicks previously traded picks, and potentially bring in a youngster with immense talent like Mirotic.
Jackson would nearly have a reset franchise when it comes to assets in the draft, a minor miracle considering how the Knicks traded away most of their past picks. It would grant him the flexibility he needs to build the team any way he sees fit.
That would leave next year's roster featuring JR Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Ray Felton, Tim Hardaway Jr, Andrea Bargnani, Pablo Prigioni, and whomever the Knicks acquire from the Rockets or Bulls in a sign and trade. If the inevitable injuries hit Stoudemire, Felton and Bargnani, that team is going to be pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that the Knick's pick in the 2015 draft, which shockingly they actually own, could be as high as the top five.
Tanking is frowned up in the NBA, but it gives a franchise the chance at a young superstar. It would be tough for Knicks fans to watch all that losing, but it's worth the pain and the risk with the reward potentially being a franchise player in the draft. Next season could also be used to see exactly what they have in Hardaway, whomever they select in the 2014 draft, and youngsters like Tour'e Murray and Jeremy Tyler, if they return.
The other added benefit of this strategy is that Smith would by default become the Knicks number one option next year. That might be scary in terms of winning games, but not scary for Smith's numbers. If he finishes the season averaging 20 points or more per game, odds are he would opt out of his contract next summer and look for one last big pay day. Even if he opts in, the Knicks might be able to find a trade partner that would be willing to take a flier on a high scorer with just one year left on his deal at $6 million. It would clear another salary off the books for 2015 and further enable the Knicks' inevitable spending spree.
For years, the Knicks have consistently mortgaged the future to help in the present. For once, they need to sacrifice the present to win in the future. This idea will be much easier and faster than when Donnie Walsh did it to set the Knicks up for the LeBron James free agent class. It will take one year and some shrewd moves, but the Knicks could get back to a place where the franchise has enough assets to build a team properly.
Now it's just a matter of whether or not Jackson can make it happen.
For all things Knicks and Giants, please follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk
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