— Today the New York Knicks are not title contenders.
They got their man — Carmelo Anthony has been acquired to go with Amar’e Stoudemire. But they are still a long way away from the goal. The Knicks are probably still the sixth best team in the East, certainly no better than fourth. They are not putting fear in the hearts of the Celtics, Heat or Bulls.
But they have hope.
Generally, the team that wins the trade is the team that got the best player. There is no doubt the Knicks got the best player. Anthony, for all his flaws — defense, his love of shooting the contested long two pointer and more — is one of the game’s elite scorers. At the end of the day, the game is about putting the ball in the basket and only a handful of guys in the league can do that like Carmelo Anthony. He can drive, he can post, he can drop shots from beyond the arc. Few can create their own shot or one with a hand in their face like Anthony. He is an offensive force.
The hardest part of assembling a championship team is getting one of the few elite players in the league. The Knicks now have two of them. That is a core they can put the right pieces around to contend. And that is a reason for hope.
They are not contenders now because they gave up a lot to get ‘Melo. Not necessarily too much, they got more talent back certainly, but they gave up players that are not just a dime a dozen. Yes, they got a quality point guard in Chauncey Billups, a veteran savvy one who knows how to win. But Billups is a poor fit for Mike D’Antoni’s running system. Billups is 34 and not so fleet of foot anymore. He has one year left on his deal after this and can be bought out after next season for $3.7 million (according to Sham Sport’s figures).
The Knicks are going to miss Danilo Gallinari. They will miss Wilson Chandler but they were going to have to renounce him this summer anyway to make room to sign Anthony as a free agent. Timofey Mozgov is a project that may develop into a rotation player but you don’t let him get in the way of a deal for a superstar.
The Knicks are not contenders and they are farther away from it still than many Knicks fans want to admit. Your starting five is Billups, Landry Fields, Melo, Stoudemire and probably Ronny Turiaf. With a very thin bench behind them. That’s good but not great, and there will be serious questions about how well they defend.
Those fans fully expect the Knicks to go get Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, either as a free agent in the summer of 2012 or in a trade or next season. The kind of trade that looks a lot like the one ‘Melo just got where the team has to move him or risk him leaving as a free agent.
But the Knicks very well may not be able to get those guys. We don’t know what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will look like, however you can bet that it will be much more restrictive than what we see now. The current salary cap is $57 million and you can bet that will go down. With Anthony and Stoudemire the Knicks will already have about than $40 million wrapped up in two players. If the salary cap drops to $50-$52 million, the Knicks would not be able to sign Paul or Howard to a max deal.
Then there could be a franchise tag — something some owners became more interested in as they watched Anthony force his way out of Denver — and that could keep Paul and Howard with their current teams.
Even aside the difficulty of getting one of those two, there is the challenge of filling out a roster on a tight budget — have you noticed the lack of depth in Miami? Where they spent their money on stars and had little for everyone else? It will be even tougher to spend with the new CBA and the Knicks will have to do a lot of it. The Knicks had some nice role players but they turned out to be the price for Anthony.
Knicks fans don’t care. They got their guy. The hope, the expectations of Knicks fans are about to go through the roof.
Those fans are going to learn some hard lessons about how far away this roster is right now. That hope they celebrate today could tear them apart in a few years.
For a few days though, the Knicks got their man. They should celebrate. Today is a day that hope should be celebrated in New York.