After months of rumors, sporadic play on the court, booing fans, speculation out the yin yang, millions of words written in newspapers, magazines, on the internet, in emails, in tweets, spoken around the water cooler and thousands of potentially productive man hours lost to fiddling with the ESPN.com Trade Machine the Carmelo Anthony saga appears to have hit rock bottom. There are multiple reports that the Nuggets are in negotiations in a three team trade that would send Carmelo to New York in exchange for Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer a future first round pick from the Timberwolves, and if I understand things correctly, an eight digit trade exception. That is it. No Danilo Gallinari, no multiple first round picks and no dynamic young player with promise.
Before you completely discount the rumor as being something the Nuggets would never agree to, which my first inclination, keep one thing in mind. While it is certainly the worst deal for Denver that has been leaked from a talent standpoint it would save the Nuggets roughly $15 million dollars this season. Denver would be sending out Carmelo’s $17.1 million salary and only taking back $5.8 million providing roughly $4 million in salary savings over the final few months as well as over $11 million in luxury tax payments. No other trade I have heard or read about would save Denver so much short term money.
Even so, this trade is rife with inadequacies and I cannot imagine the Nuggets hamstringing themselves for the future in exchange for some short sighted savings. Wilson Chandler has turned himself into a nice player, but if he is the headliner in a trade that sends Carmelo to New York the Nuggets will be in big trouble. The drop off this season may not be overly dramatic. In fact, I could see a team of Billups, Afflalo, Chandler, Kenyon, Nene and the solid bench remaining a playoff team. However, as I pointed out above there is no young player who could potentially become the next franchise player, let alone even a good second banana on a contending team in the trade.
Second of all, Chandler is slated to be a restricted free agent whenever the next free agent period is. With the Nuggets looking to rebuild, I am not sure the best thing for the franchise is shelling out a new long term deal to Chandler. The best case scenario is to complete a sign and trade for him. The question is what could Denver receive in return? I find it difficult foreseeing the Nuggets acquiring a significant asset in exchange for Chandler.
Next, it may sound exciting to have the rights to a first round pick from a team run by David Kahn. The issue is the Wolves already owe their 2012 first round pick to the Clippers thus the Wolves could not send the Nuggets their 2011 or their 2013 first round picks. That does not mean Minnesota could not give the Nuggets a first rounder in June.
The Wolves do own the rights to two future first round picks that could be substituted for their own thanks to the dumping of Al Jefferson. Minnesota will receive Utah’s first rounder in the 2011 draft unless the Jazz somehow fail to qualify for the playoffs. As of today’s standings that would be the 19th pick. Not all first round picks are created equal and Utah’s selection is far from an enticing asset.
Minnesota could also convey a future first round pick from Memphis although it is heavily protected through 2015 ranging from lottery protected in 2011 to top nine protected in 2015 at which point the draft pick would go away in favor of a cash payment. With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol heading into free agency after this season I can easily see a scenario where Memphis is a bottom nine team over the next four seasons. Even if Memphis manages to play well enough they win enough games where the pick is transferred it is going to be at best a late lottery pick. With the Wolves getting Utah’s 2011 pick, I believe it would allow them to trade their own 2011 first rounder although I cannot envision even the infamous Kahn giving away what will likely be a top three pick for Anthony Randolph.
My penultimate issue with the rumored trade is the fact Denver does not dump any of their long term contracts. Not even Renaldo Balkman’s tiny contract is included let alone Al Harrington or Chris Andersen’s deals. The only assets the Knicks would be sacrificing to acquire Melo are Chandler, who is replaced by Melo, Randolph, who does not play, and their future cap space which they would gladly spend on Melo anyway. I do not think having the Knicks toss in anther expiring contract, such as Keleena Azibuike, while taking back Harrington is too much to ask.
The final aspect of this trade that I dislike is the most talented player involved apart from Melo ends up in Minnesota. From the start I have said the player I would demand from the Knicks in any Melo trade is Anthony Randolph. His rising star has faded a bit as he has been chained to the bench in New York and his value has certainly decreased. Do not let that fool you, he is the kind of potential star player Denver should be looking to acquire. Randolph is still only 21, can rebound, block shots and has proven he can be an effective scorer when given the chance. I have no idea why he is not playing in New York. Whatever the reason is I would not let him go to another team in exchange for a draft pick of questionable value.
There is a strong movement afoot that the Knicks carry all the cards at this point. I disagree with that assessment. Denver still has the power of putting Melo in the position where he might lose a bundle of money by opting out of his deal after the season. Also, as Chad Ford pointed out the Knicks are not going to be in position to sign Melo to a max contract (Insider):
Even if the team were to renounce key players Chandler and Shawne Williams, along with Curry, Kelenna Azubuike and Roger Mason, they would have only $12.5 million or so in cap space (assuming no changes in the league’s salary cap). With Melo set to earn $18.5 million next year, that would be a huge pay cut.
Ford then points out the Knicks could free up near max money by trading Timofey Mozgov and Ronny Turiaf. The real kicker is New York would have to do all of that to offer Melo a max deal under the current salary cap. There is no way on God’s green earth the new CBA will have a salary cap number anywhere near the current amount. In order for the Knicks to be in position to give Melo a big payday, they would probably have to completely gut their team.
This is certainly not a secret to anyone involved and that is where Denver can derive their leverage. Carmelo has been open about his reluctance to miss out on his extension and if the price of playing in New York is to lose his guaranteed $83 million over the next four years to sign a contract for possibly half that much with the Knicks, you have to wonder if he is willing to pay it.
I firmly believe the Nets will come back to the table one last time prior to the deadline. Even if they do not, the difference between the worst case scenario of losing Melo for nothing and the three way trade we discussed earlier in this post is almost microscopic. The additions of the soon to be free agent Chandler, a mid first round pick and Corey Brewer are not the pieces you use to rebuild a franchise.
The added bonus of keeping Carmelo is it would allow Denver to focus on basketball for the first time all season. I agree with George Karl’s assessment that this is the best team he has had in Denver, at least from a talent standpoint. I would love to see how good they could be without the distractions and rumors holding them back.
If the best deal the Knicks are going to offer is the current one on the table, the Nuggets should tell the Donnie Walsh to get off the phone and pray he is not replaced by Isiah Thomas this summer. With the Knicks need to shed salary in order to sign Melo as a free agent Denver can get the same deal, if not a better one, in a sign and trade after the season. Then Denver fans can finally see how badly Melo wants out of town. Maybe there is a franchise player tag added in the new CBA or maybe, just maybe Melo relents and chooses the big payday in Denver over his “dream” to play in New York.
Whatever happens, there will be plenty more ink and pixels devoted to this ongoing quagmire until we are all put out of our misery.