This hasn't been the best summer for the New York Knicks. Their new cross-town rivals, the Brooklyn Nets, made a huge splash with the acquisitions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Andrei Kirilenko while Knicks brought in Andrea Bargnani. James Dolan was again made to look like a vindictive fool with the revelation that he had threatened to trade Iman Shumpert over a refusal to participate in Summer League. Newly re-signed J.R. Smith had surgery on his knee. And to top it all off, the Knicks were basically just given 10 years to get their stuff out of Madison Square Garden so it could be leveled as part of a renovation of Penn Station.
Most people now rank the Knicks no higher than fifth in the East. And to make matters worse, the Los Angeles Lakers are circling the waters, waiting for Carmelo Anthony to dive into free agency so they can snap him up. That leaves the Knicks in a precarious position: either trade Carmelo Anthony or let him walk after the 2014-15 season as part of a "blow it up" style rebuild, or give him a pile of cash and the keys to the franchise.
The Knicks, apparently, will choose the latter.
On the Anthony front, there is a chance he looks at greener pastures in 2014, but sources close to the process say the Knicks have already let Anthony know that their books will be basically clear in 2015 and he can pick his teammates much as Wade did in Miami.
A closer look at that Summer of 2015 for the Knickerbockers shows us the team has NO guaranteed money on the books going into that season. The contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Bargnani, and Anthony all expire at the end of the 2014 season. Smith and Raymond Felton have player options. Shumpert and C.J. Leslie are due qualifying offers. The team holds an option on Tim Hardaway, Jr. And Pablo Prigioni's salary is not guaranteed that season.
The Knicks can assemble an entirely new team in 2015. If they do decide to give a then 31-year-old Anthony a max extension, they'll still have plenty of money to throw at guys like Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge to create a three All Star squad and make another deep playoff run. They can give Shumpert a proper extension, see if Tyson Chandler will take a reasonable deal to stay, and then fill out the rest of the roster with reasonable deals and potentially draft picks that have blossomed into productive players.
The key to this plan, though, is to not panic and make moves to match the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets may be on a misguided mission to win New York before anything else. If the Knicks get caught up in that game (which it seems they did with the Bargnani move), then they could blow up the space they have sitting there in a couple of seasons.
This calls for more responsibility than the Knicks have shown in the past. The new CBA has had the intended effect and forced a bit of responsibility onto teams. But there is still plenty of room for teams to make crippling mistakes. Some might debate whether Melo deserves that much money and power, but if you surround him with the right pieces, it can pay off.
The Knicks seem unwilling to let their star walk and unwilling to go the full nuclear re-build route and cede the spotlight to Brooklyn. But if they can just manage to preserve the space looming in a couple of years, they could be making the big, splashy moves while Brooklyn picks up the shattered pieces of its very expensive roster.