The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Melo goes to the Knicks, but will they get better?

Hold on, everybody pause “The King of Limbs” for a second. After weeks of anticipation and speculation, it finally happened. Relieving millions of fans across the country, the big move was finalized Monday and made official Tuesday. Now we can finally stop wondering what shape it might take and actually examine the final product absent the frenzied build-up. What a product it is. Justin Bieber’s new haircut is. So. Damn. Beautiful. Seeing his Twitpic on the TMZ website, I felt the kind of magical goose bumps that Pope Rex Harrison got when Charlton Heston first showed him “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel, or when the first publishing executive to read “Harry Potter” read “Harry Potter” (let’s call her Cheryl). Feathery yet spiky, messy yet perfectly coiffed, delicate yet masculine …

But I digress. In the sporting world, the big news has been the NBA trade deadline and the moves made by the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets. The Denver Nuggets ended months of speculation by at last trading Carmelo Anthony, along with former All-Star PG Chauncey Billups, to the New York Knicks. The trade itself involves 13 players and the Minnesota Timberwolves along with the Nuggets and Knicks. The Knicks dealt F Danilo Gallinari, C Timofey Mozgov, G Raymond Felton, and F Wilson Chandler to the Nuggets in exchange for ’Melo, Billups, F Renaldo Balkman, G Anthony Carter, and F Shelden Williams. The Knicks also gave a future first-round draft pick and two future second-round draft selections to Denver. Then, to make salary cap room, the Knicks sent C Eddy Curry and F Anthony Randolph to Minnesota for F Corey Brewer and the T-Wolves sent C Kosta Koufos to Denver.

Anthony and Billups join star F Amar’e Stoudemire to form a formidable Knicks offense, which ought to thrive in Coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced attack. The main question now seems to be if ‘Melo and Amar’e play too similar a style to both get their points in a half-court offense. Both players are exceptional scorers and only average passers, so they will need to be fed the ball to create on their own. If Billups can manage the task of getting both of his stars the ball where they want it on the court—not an easy task—then the Knicks will still have to deal with losing four of their starters, including three of their top four scorers. The Knicks will start Ronny Turiaf at center. Turiaf averages only 18 minutes/game, though his 4.7 ppg and 3.4 rpg are actually decent given his brief time on the floor. Acquiring a legitimate NBA starting center should be the next priority for New York.

Anthony and Stoudemire are also known as poor defenders, so the Knicks will need to add some defensive specialists if they have championship aspirations. Corey Brewer is a good start, but there are still too many defensive liabilities right now for the Knicks to stand a chance against the Celtics or Heat in a playoff series.

Carmelo does not automatically make the Knicks a championship contender. Along with the aforementioned problems, New York’s bench is too thin and they lack a third scoring option beyond battle-worn Billups. Trading for Carmelo is basically throwing a sop to the Cerberus of the New York media and fans. After clearing their roster of any expensive (read: good) players and subsequently losing out on Lebron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh in the free agency madness of last summer, the Knicks had to add a star, which they did in Amar’e Stoudemire. But Stoudemire is clearly not a guy who can get it done on his own, and with a lot of cap room remaining the Knicks were right to enter the ‘Melo sweepstakes. But making their overtures so public built up too much fan pressure for the move, which is why the Knicks reached a point of needing to make the deal, despite Denver demanding nearly all of the talent from their roster in return. Denver now has a lot of pieces to help put together a roster that, for the time being anyway, is probably stronger than the Knicks’ roster. The Knicks did not have to give up all that they did. They could have waited until this summer, when ’Melo would have become a free agent, and tried to entice him to take a giant contract to come to the biggest media market in sports and join another superstar. But the Knicks didn’t want to risk another team picking up their coveted player, so they gave Denver a potential sweetheart deal. Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, and Wilson Chandler are all young guys who haven’t yet reached their potential, and Raymond Felton was playing like an All-Star in D’Antoni’s offense. Losing these guys could prove very costly in the long run, especially since Gallinari is only 22-year-old and is a potential star in this league, at the same position as Carmelo no less. So the trade is good for the Knicks from a marketing standpoint and may help them entice Chris Paul to come to Madison Square Garden this summer, but in terms of contending for championships, the Knicks are far from “back.”

The Nets, who had also been vying for Anthony, made a blockbuster trade of their own on Wednesday, sending rookie sensation F Derrick Favors, veteran guard Devin Harris, and two first-round picks to the Utah Jazz in exchange for All-Star point guard Deron Williams. This trade came as quite a surprise, but seems to indicate that Nets GM Billy King is some Machiavellian genius. The Nets played like they were going all-in for Carmelo Anthony to force the Knicks’ hand and make them give up too much while they were presumably in touch with Utah about Williams. So the Nets got their soon-to-be cross-town rivals to overpay for a superstar who doesn’t even fit their system that well while the Nets got arguably the best point guard in the league while keeping their core players in Brook Lopez, Anthony Morrow, and Kris Humphries. Williams will not be able to turn the Nets around on his own, but he is a significant addition for only Favors, Harris, and some picks. While Favors has huge upside, he is still an unknown quantity at only 19 years old, and reportedly had some character issues in college. Williams is a clear upgrade over Harris.

This trade bonanza tells us a few things about today’s NBA. First, it’s clear that both NBA players and their teams have bought into the dogma that it takes three superstars to win a championship. The Knicks and Nets want to follow the precedent of Boston’s “Big Three” and Miami’s “Heatles.” The consolidation of power in the league will decrease parity and make many games blowouts, which is probably bad for the league. But putting stars on the same teams will increase ratings for those few teams and create some epic match-ups when star-studded teams meet. It’s also clear that the approach of the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement has made some superstars nervous about the prospect of restricted player movement (possibly through an NFL-style franchise tag) and lower salaries. ’Melo and D-Will both wanted out of their mediocre, small market teams so that they could make a big splash and get a big payday, but they didn’t risk waiting until the league makes such moves impossible. This may signal interesting things on the horizon for Chris Paul and other free agents this summer. The only clear winner right now is the east coast basketball fan, who now gets to watch three of the best players in the league go to work in his backyard.

-Kramer McLuckie ’12

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