The Knicks were very careful with the talk of some pseudo-rivalry going into tonight's game against the Celtics. Aside from some spirited talk from Raymond Felton -- "They're going to be in a dogfight," he said of Boston -- the idea that the Knicks are anywhere near the Celtics' level right now, or even approaching it, was squelched.
The Knicks are still trying to become like the Celtics, who have had quite a run in the Big Three era. With Amar'e Stoudemire and Felton, the Knicks have a solid two. But until they land Carmelo Anthony, they are probably one player short of a championship contender.
So at this point, in order to take on the Celtics, the Knicks need to first overcome the Nets, who are trying like hell to make this Melopalooza experience a miserable one. The impending three-team deal the Nets are about to pull off today, which will result in the acquisition of two more first round picks (to bring their total over the next two drafts to five first-round picks) has the Nets pantry loaded with treats to offer the Nuggets in a Melo deal. And according to the Bergen Record, which is, by far, the most accurate, informed and level-headed coverage of the Nets anywhere, the Nets have reason to believe they are very much still in the race.
Everyone acknowledges the obvious: the Knicks are Carmelo's preferred destination. It is the one situation that fits all of his needs, from location, to stage and also to championship potential.
Don't be so concerned about disrupting chemistry or how it will work with he and Amar'e Stoudemire, who is enjoying life as The Man here in New York. First thing to consider is that Mike D'Antoni is an offensive intellectual who, given some time, will figure out exactly how it will work. It's not like LeBron, where he would handle the ball at the top of the pick-and-roll and he and Amar'e would just devastate teams. This will be much different. The fact that Amar'e has developed a deadly mid-range game means you can put Felton and Carmelo in pick-and-rolls and have Amar'e as a shooter and a second option. Then other times you can run the pick-and-roll with Amar'e with Carmelo -- an excellent mid-range shooter himself -- as the second option.
You're adding a major weapon here to an offense that is already among the most prolific in the league.
As for chemistry, Carmelo isn't LeBron. He isn't as much that high-end, high-maintenance star who expects to be handed the ball on a silver platter. Melo and Amar'e already have a relationship and the fact that Amar'e has established himself here in New York and in the locker room as the leader won't be challenged by Melo's presence. In fact, Carmelo would prefer it that way. He's a star player, but not quite a leader of men. Things changed in Denver when Chauncey Billups arrived for a reason. So Amar'e's presence, and his desire to be the leader here, is what makes the Knicks more attractive to Carmelo than, say, going to the Nets, where turning around a 6-19 team will be on his shoulders.
So, yeah, of course the Knicks are a more attractive option.
But if you're the Nets, you don't surrender until the war is over. There are a lot of people in that franchise feeling the pressure from owner Mikhail Prokhorov, not as much from things he's said or demanded, but just from his intimidating presence. After the provoking "Blueprint for Success" mural on 34th and 8th, the Nets failed on LeBron and then came out of the summer shopping spree with an empty cart, while the Knicks at least came away with Amar'e Stoudemire (and a taunting billboard in Brooklyn in response).
The Nets then made a desperate bid for Carmelo in September only to be rejected and now they're potentially on the verge of seeing the Knicks add him to their roster.
Notice how much noise you're hearing from New Jersey about Carmelo. Notice how little you're hearing out of 2 Penn Plaza. (As we've been telling you here, the Knicks are kicking tires around the league in regards to other options, such as a backup point guard and some frontline size to help with depth. The Knicks have long coveted Luke Ridnour -- he'd be the perfect backup here -- but I haven't heard about anything imminent on that front).
Billy King and Avery Johnson have done the smart thing here: they removed T-Will, an unwanted player who was sandbagging their desperate need for a professional atmosphere, and did a favor to Joe Smith, an aging veteran who would be better served on a winning team, and stockpiled two more first round picks. That's a good day of work.
The Nets have five picks now to help them rebuild, not just for throwing them at the Nuggets, but to use them wisely in other ways, such as acquiring more than one player to get that franchise back on its feet.
And in the meanwhile, these picks and their value at least keep the heat on the Knicks to pay full price for Carmelo, if they are so inclined to make this trade happen. The Knicks won't come out of a Carmelo deal without a little bleeding. What the Nets do by staying in this game is provide the thorn in Donnie Walsh's side as he negotiates with Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke.
The Nuggets, as we wrote in Sunday night's blog post, are not in any hurry to make something happen right now, but the Knicks, if this is what they want to do, should be. The Nets may right now be nothing more than a mere annoyance, but there are without question teams out there that are laying in the weeds. As this gets closer to February, you could see teams with championship aspirations -- the Magic, the Mavericks -- make an aggressive play for Carmelo at the deadline.
Let's also keep in mind something I wrote on Sunday and have written several times before: the Nuggets will come out of any Carmelo deal with IMMEDIATE cash savings. Understand this doesn't mean saving money on the 2011-12 payroll, it means saving money THIS SEASON, especially in luxury tax. So you have to be creative if you're dealing with them in ways to make this happen. The Knicks have one chip in that regard that the Nets don't have: an injured player. Kelenna Azubuike has yet to play this season and if his knee continues to keep him out through Game 41, 80 percent of his $3.3M salary will be covered by insurance. Throw in the expected $3M in cash that any team can include and now you've covered at least one salary the Nuggets will take back from you. That's what we mean by immediate cash savings.
As for a draft pick, yes, while the Nets have five, the Knicks have none to offer in 2011 and 2012. But there has always been confidence that Anthony Randolph, if need be, could yield a first round pick. The fact that the Nets got one for T-Will suggests the Knicks should be able to do the same. But which would be a more valuable year to have a pick? With the threat of a lockout, the 2011 draft might be very weak, with college players less inclined to jump to the NBA without a paycheck for several months.
The Nets are loading up, the Knicks are deliberating and the rumor mill keeps on churning. There's already been a lot of hero journalism out there, so don't allow ourself to get caught up in too much of the mayhem. Whenever this does get done, it will be a complicated, calculated deal. Nothing of this magnitude gets done quickly.