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Richards could afford to wait; Melo couldn't

New York Knicks news basketball player Carmelo Anthony,

New York Knicks news basketball player Carmelo Anthony, right, holds up his new jersey with team owner James Dolan, left, during a news conference before an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks. (Feb. 23, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

 Once again, the Garden got it's man. But this time the Garden got it's man without giving up anything for him.

Brad Richards, the biggest name on the NHL's free agent market, was signed by the Rangers on Saturday. It was the culmination of nearly a year-long pursuit of the all-star center, which involved a great deal of patience by both the player and the franchise. As Newsday's Steve Zipay reported, the Rangers put strong consideration into making a blockbuster trade for Richards during the season, but while the Dallas Stars were ready to put his expiring contract up for bidding, Richards refused to waive his no-trade clause.

Make no mistake, there was strong mutual interest between Richards and the Rangers, but he didn't want the Rangers to give up young players -- as he put it "the Callahans and Dubinskys" -- to land him in a trade. Richards wanted to come to a full roster. So he opted to wait until free agency.

Sound familiar?

This was exactly what the Knicks wanted Carmelo Anthony to say in February. But unlike Richards, Carmelo didn't have a no-trade clause. He also didn't have any guarantees that the money he could get in a contract extension would still be there in free agency. So the Knicks had to move "the Gallinaris and Chandlers" and even include a Mozgov to complete the deal on Feb. 22. Though the team gained one of the league's best scorers, the roster lost three very talented young players.

At this point, however, with the NBA in a lockout and free agency in a deep freeze while the league and union battle over a new collective bargaining agreement, Melo's move looks like the right one. At least for him.

 "That's just something that I really didn't want to have to deal with, not knowing what the CBA will be like," Carmelo said in April. ". . . I'm glad it happened, I don't regret anything or the decision I made."

Had the CBA not expired this summer, perhaps Carmelo would have had less apprehension about waiting it out. Under the old system, the Knicks would have had the cap space to sign him right now. Without a no-trade, Melo still might have had to endure the short-term inconvenience of a trade to another team because the Nuggets seemed determined to not be LeBroned by their star player.

But Carmelo did have a little bit of veto power with the contract extension and if he didn't have the CBA fears that came with this summer, he could have refused to sign an extension with any team, thus ensuring his free agency status in July.

This could come up again very soon, when Chris Paul can opt out of his contract in 2012. Under the NBA's latest salary cap proposal, the Knicks would most likely have enough space to make an offer to the all-star point guard as a free agent. But the New Orleans Hornets will almost certainly want to trade Paul if he declines a contract extension with the intention to test free agency.

Do the Knicks give up whatever young assets and draft picks they have left to offer? The cupboard is pretty bare, though it has been slightly improved with first round pick Iman Shumpert. The Knicks have Chauncey Billups' expiring to offer and will then need to get extremely creative. And Paul will have to follow Melo's script as well and make it clear the only extension he plans on signing is with the Knicks.

[For those asking, 'What about Deron Williams?' my response is that I don't believe he'll be a legitimate option. While the chances he'll stay with the Nets are minimal, the indications I get from various sources is he has the Mavericks and Lakers on his radar first.]

Paul's best move is to say he doesn't want to sign an extension with anyone and let the Hornets trade him anywhere so his financially-strapped team can get the most they can for him while the Knicks don't lose any more talent off their roster.

Now, I do hear the cries that the Knicks don't need another star, they don't need Chris Paul. OK, true. If Billups, at 35, comes back this season without any injury issues that plagued him at the end of last season, you could consider signing him to an extension at an affordable number and use the 2012 cap space to improve other areas of the roster. The best case scenario there is that Billups proves he can give you a Jason Kidd-type performance in his late 30s while Shumpert develops into a dynamic combo guard.

Personally, I still think you need a playmaker, a catalyst, who can feed your two stars, Carmelo and Amar'e Stoudemire. Does perhaps a run at Steve Nash on a discount work better in 2012?

There will be plenty of options. Or will there? A lot depends on what the new salary cap system is in the new CBA. The Knicks will have to wait until then to figure out what they can do.

Carmelo didn't want to risk waiting and the Knicks felt they couldn't afford to risk losing him if they asked him to wait.



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