Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.
Are the Knicks targeting the wrong Nugget?
DENVER -- Carmelo Anthony knows he'll face the firing squad Tuesday here when he is greeted by an anxious New York press, but even with his magnificent personal start to the season (his most recent performance was a 20-point, 22-rebound effort in a loss to the Suns on Monday in Phoenix) and the obvious mutual admiration between Melo and the New York, he might not be the guy the Knicks should be targeting right now.
The position the Knicks need to address immediately is at point guard and the Nuggets may be able to be of assistance. Like Carmelo, Chauncey Billups is also looking for a contract extension, but unlike Carmelo, Billups hasn't received one yet.
The situation with Billups "is tenuous" said one person with knowledge of the situation, because his future is directly tied to whatever happens with Anthony. If the Nuggets lose their superstar, there's no need to pay a 34-year-old point guard $14.2 million next season, the last year of his contract.
Denver has an option on Billups for 2011-12 that works like this: when their season ends, they have five days to waive him for a minimal guaranteed payout of $3.7 million. After that five-day period, the full $14.2M is guaranteed.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation here in Denver, at least four teams have inquired about Billups, whose numbers are down so far this season (he's shooting just 35 percent from the field), and several front office executives believe with Ty Lawson (another talented guard the Knicks passed on to take Jordan Hill) pushing for more playing time and a major piece of the inevitable rebuild that will come when Carmelo leaves the Mile High City, the Nuggets might be more open to trading the popular Billups than you would think.
"The chances that Chauncey is traded could be better than Melo," one NBA executive said.
Billups is exactly what the Knicks need: a true floor general, a tough player who has a championship pedigree and, most of all, a bona fide leader. They need a point guard who can shoot the ball and score and yet also distribute, especially to their greatest weapon, Amar'e Stoudemire.
Now, to briefly debunk my own theory, if I may: Billups is more effective as a finisher in the pick-and-roll than he is a passer, and really the Knicks need someone who is more of a passer off the pick-and-roll, such as Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Jameer Nelson or Jarrett Jack (no really, he's better than people give him credit). Billups is only slightly better than the Knicks' current point guard, Raymond Felton, when it comes to completing the pick-and-roll. And he's also 34 years old.
But Billups, at least, has much more presence on the court as a leader and a scorer and the Knicks desperately need leaders, especially late in games, as evidenced already this season. Plus, we're not talking about giving him a five-year extension. Just pick up the $14.2M option year.
And acquiring Billups would also sweeten the bait for his close friend, Carmelo, as a free agent next summer. Right now, the Knicks aren't doing much to make Carmelo think a move to the Big Apple will spell a championship. Melo learned from the experience of playing with point guards such as Andre Miller, Allen Iverson and Billups that you can't be a legit championship contender without a big-time point guard who can run a team. Billups was able to help Carmelo not only finally win a playoff series, but push the Lakers to a sixth game in the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
And with Billups' contract expiring after 2011-12, it would still leave room in 2012 to target Williams or Chris Paul, so Melo and Amar'e still can get that critical element and the third star to contend with the Heat, the Celtics and Magic.
The Nuggets obviously don't want to do anything that might work against them in their desperate efforts to convince Carmelo to stay, but then again, if they come to the realization that he isn't going to stay, you can expect this franchise will look to save as much immediate cash as possible. With this in mind, it's unlikely a trade would happen any time soon.
The Knicks can offer money-saving pieces such as Eddy Curry's expiring and, say, Wilson Chandler (pending restricted free agent) plus something not many teams are willing to give: $3 million in cash. Denver can then move forward with Lawson and not have to worry about laying out even $3.7M for Billups to walk away.
Billups' agent, Andy Miller, doesn't believe his client, a Denver native who made headlines with his triumphant homecoming in 2008-09, is on the trading block, but the fact that contract extension talks have gone nowhere has to be a concern. "The onus lies square and center with the Denver Nuggets and their management team," Miller said.
Nash, of course, would be the obvious top choice for the Knicks to immediately fix their issue at point guard (and of course once there was media speculation about Nash's future in Phoenix, the Knicks would have their ear to the rail). Some rival team executives believe Suns owner Robert Sarver is impetuous enough to blow up the roster, cut costs and go young, especially if this team looks lottery-bound and a much cheaper, younger option in Goran Dragic seems almost ready to step into the starting role. Sarver and his group of owners don't have a lot of available cash out of this investment and, eventually, something has to give.
Right now Nash has Phoenix at 6-4 after a pair of impressive wins over the Lakers and Nuggets and selling high might be the best move for Sarver to get the most out of a deal, especially with a desperate team like the Knicks. If the Suns ask for a first round pick, Donnie Walsh would have to call up the Pacers and see if Larry Bird still wants to give him a first for Anthony Randolph, which had been discussed in August. Right now, if you can move Randolph for a first, you do it. Quickly.
A person close to Nash said though he probably wouldn't resist a trade, especially to be reunited with Mike D'Antoni, it is doubtful he would ever be the one to initiate, even privately, a trade request. "He wouldn't leave Grant [Hill] behind," the person said, which is to mean Nash wouldn't desert Hill to play out his last contract with a rebuilding team. Coincidentally, Hill had the chance to come to the Knicks in the summer of 2009 as a free agent, but he chose to stay in Phoenix with Nash. Another thing to consider in the Nash trade speculation is he and his wife are in the midst of a divorce just days after they celebrated their third child.
Any kind of trade talk involving the Knicks and a potential change at point guard is moot until Dec. 15, when Felton, like all 2010 summer free agents, is eligible to be traded (Hey, if the Heat keep losing, would they consider trading LeBron? Just askin'.).
For Felton, I have two places in mind: Charlotte, where they miss him, or Minnesota, where they could use an upgrade at the point on a young and fairly talented team.
In fact, the T-Wolves have almost $12M in cap space, so perhaps if all else fails, the Knicks could consider swapping Felton (and, of course, cash) for Luke Ridnour, the player the Knicks had also considered as a free agent before they came to terms with Felton.
OK, so it's not exactly prying Ricky Rubio out of David Kahn's clutches, but Ridnour, a very steady, smart point guard who Amar'e Stoudemire once called "Steve Nash Lite," would at least get the offense going the way it needs to go, though you do give up a lot defensively.
Eventually we'll get to a point where we exclusively talk about players on the current roster. But right now it's fair to be down with OPPG (Other People's Point Guards), at least until Felton starts consistently proving he can find Stoudemire in optimum locations where his explosive athleticism can be utilized to its maximum potential.