By all accounts, the Knicks don’t want much in return for parting with their star forward, Carmelo Anthony.
Team President Phil Jackson has used media leaks to sour his relationship with the 9-time NBA All-Star in the latest example of his “management” sabotaging the franchise that is paying him $12,000,000 a year. Here’s the irony: in Anthony’s last contract negotiations, Jackson granted the three-time Olympic Gold Medalist a no-trade clause. Now that Jackson is ready to throw Carmelo overboard halfway through his five-year, $124 million dollar contract, he can’t even seek fair value in a trade package, because Carmelo has to sign off on any destination, and any return package.
Otherwise, there would be a lot more chatter around this rumor, and the Clippers wouldn’t be involved, because plenty of other teams would be able to put together more enticing offers featuring young players, expiring contracts, and picks. The Clippers can do their best to scrap something resembling that together, but surely teams like Orlando and Portland, among others, would blow LAC’s offer out of the water.
If this trade happens, the Clippers really owe Phil Jackson two favors—the no-trade clause followed by the inexplicable decision to unprofessionally alienate his star through media leaks represent two massive mistakes that the Clippers have an opportunity to capitalize on. In years past, the Knicks have tried to get Blake Griffin for Carmelo Anthony, but were always correctly denied by the Clippers. But in those times, there was never any substantial talk of any other package—the Clippers didn’t have the salary to piece together an offer, and the Knicks weren’t interested in Los Angeles’ back-ups.
Now, with Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers both almost tripling their salaries last summer, and tension in New York just about tripling as well, there seems to be a chance.
I maintain that the base package in this deal most likely looks like this:
Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson for Carmelo Anthony
Austin Rivers for 11M TPE
The Clippers walk away with the star small forward they covet, and a sizable trade exception to use either in the summer, or next season (they wouldn’t be able to fully utilize it this year due to their hard cap restrictions).
But what do the Knicks get, other than the Clippers’ spare parts? Well, Austin Rivers is the prize jewel of this package. The young combo guard was courted by the Knicks in free agency last summer before he blew up and had a career year this year. Now, he’s shooting 7% better from deep and averaging an extra assist per 36 minutes. His value has gone up even higher in January, as he’s started all 10 of the Clippers games and posted averages of 18 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds while shooting 49% from the field and 44% from deep—a true shooting percentage of 60.1%.
Beyond Rivers, though, it’s murky. Crawford will turn 37 this spring, is having one of the worst seasons of his career, and is owed $14 million next season and the year after (though the final year is only $3M guaranteed). That offers some cap relief over Anthony’s current deal ($26M next year, and an ETO for $28M in the final year), but considering that the team is going to keep Rivers’ $11M salary, they’d probably like to have cap room instead of Crawford’s deal. Wesley Johnson’s deal is more palatable, with two years remaining at $6M apiece (the final year being a player option), but he’s also having the worst season of his career after signing his biggest contract yet. Alan Anderson is inconsequential—he’d either expire this June or be cut before then.
So while Austin is a nice piece, the Knicks are actually being saddled with two contracts that they don’t want, when really they’d like to just create cap room. Maybe they’d bite the bullet on that extra year of Crawford (either buying him out now or releasing him before his final, partially-guaranteed year) and two of Johnson, but the Clippers would probably have to compensate the Knicks with extra draft picks.
There are three paths forward for the Clippers here:
- Find outside help to take on Jamal’s contract (WeJo is less important because he makes less).
- Change the package.
- Load up the deal with draft picks to make it worthwhile for the Knicks to eat that salary.
Obviously 3 is the least desirable outcome—the Knicks are going to keep shopping Jamal once you give him to them, so you’d hate to compensate them for taking his deal and then have them flip him to another team for a future pick.
Briefly, here’s an incomplete list of possible landing spots for Jamal—calls that the Clippers should at least make if the Knicks are on board:
- Orlando: The Magic are in desperation mode as Rob Hennigan’s plans haven’t led to success, and Jeff Green’s expiring $15 million deal could go back to the Knicks. Green has been even less efficient than Crawford this year and it seems like the Magic have more of a need at SG than at combo forward—Green even started a game at SG recently. Does Orlando take on the extra year of salary for short-term help?
- Sacramento: Similarly, the Kings are trying to make the playoffs and appease DeMarcus Cousins, who is going to be a free agent this summer. Rudy Gay is clearly a better player than Jamal Crawford, but Gay is out for the season with a torn Achilles, and he’s said in the past that he wants to leave the Kings in free agency. Have his plans changed due to his injury? Is he going to opt out and give the Knicks cap space? It’s worth exploring.
- Chicago: The Bulls are a dumpster fire right now, and the player most sure to be moved is Rajon Rondo. Rondo’s salary is a perfect fit for Crawford’s, and he only has $3 million guaranteed beyond this season. It requires the Bulls taking on Crawford’s extra guaranteed money, but the Knicks could let Rondo play out the year or buy him out immediately, and get the cap savings next summer that they seek. Rondo could even end up a Clipper post-Knicks-buyout.
- Philadelphia: The 76ers were rumored to offer Crawford an enormous deal last summer (upwards of 20 million), but he turned them down to return to the Clippers once Doc Rivers’ offer improved. Would they still take him? They’re surprisingly eyeing a possible late-season playoff push, but maybe now that the franchise is starting to win, they value their cap room more and think they could add a better player than Crawford this summer. If they’re interested, they have the cap room to take him without sending a penny back to the Knicks.
- Oklahoma City: The recent news that Enes Kanter is out indefinitely with a broken forearm opens up this unlikely landing spot. The Thunder struggle to score the basketball and Kanter has been one key source of production. Without him, they could use a bench scorer to boost their offensive output for a couple of months. OKC has the cap space to absorb most of Crawford’s deal, only needing to send out a couple of smaller expiring deals.
That’s one option. The other look that the Clippers could be considering is changing the package. The elephant in the room is that while Crawford is the unattractive piece for the Knicks due to his guaranteed salary next season, there’s a Clipper whose contract is expiring—shooting guard J.J. Redick. It’s blasphemy to discuss trading Redick on Clips Nation, but if it’s on the table, we should look at the options.
The preferred Crawford/Wesley Johnson/Anderson package (with Rivers going to the Knicks in a simultaneous trade) is ideal because it is just low enough that it forces (allows) Melo to waive all but about $500,000 of his trade kicker, helping the Clippers’ salary sheet. A Rivers/Redick/Brice Johnson actually does better—Anthony would only be able to take about $105,000 of his bonus. The Clippers would still have to send out more salary to fit Anthony under the hard cap, either to the Knicks or to another team, but that could be accomplished using Paul Pierce, who is essentially an expiring as he’ll come off the books when he retires.
Now, though, the Clippers have a problem. Jamal Crawford—he who shoots under 40% from the field and doesn’t defend well—is now their starting shooting guard. Willie Green’s not walking through that door. Pairing Crawford and Anthony on the wing seems like a recipe for disaster, and starting Raymond Felton or Luc Mbah a Moute out of position would make for a funky lineup at best.
Maybe there’s a compromise to be had here. If the Clippers do the aforementioned trade for Melo and lose both Redick and Rivers, the salary matches up for the teams to swap Jamal Crawford and Courtney Lee in yet another simultaneous trade. The Knicks’ need for Lee is diminished as they add Rivers, and Crawford’s extra year of salary actually still provides relief from Lee, who has three years remaining after this one.
For the Clippers, Lee would be a solid shooting guard. He isn’t the same scorer as Redick, Rivers, or Crawford, but he’s a good defender who makes spot up threes (43% on the year, 51% in the corners), and he has a more cost-controlled long-term deal than Redick, who will get paid big bucks this summer. This downgrade at shooting guard still probably creates pause for the Clippers and it very well might not be worth it, but it’s a potential compromise. The first scenario, though, is far more likely to appease both sides, and I must say it feels inappropriate to take Redick, the league’s premier floor-spacer, and reduce his trade value to his expiring contract.
The last scenario simply involves emptying the draft pick cupboard. I’ve gone over this before, but the Clippers only have one future first round pick to trade—it would convey in either 2021 or 2022, depending on when their currently-owed first-rounder to Boston conveys (either 2019 or 2020, cannot be later than 2020). Most of their future second-rounders are tied up as rollover insurance (for example, if the Celtics do not get either the 2019 or 2020 first round pick, they’ll get the Clippers’ 2022 second).
So how do they free up draft assets? By negotiating with Toronto and Boston to remove protections on picks owed. Toronto shouldn’t be an issue—the Clippers’ pick this year is lottery protected, and the Clippers aren’t going to be in the lottery. The Raptors should be happy to see Carmelo heading West. Boston’s situation is a little more interesting, because the Celtics might also be interested in Carmelo, and Danny Ainge is notoriously stubborn whenever he has leverage. Still, removing protections on the 2019 pick is good for Boston (the Clippers should probably even walk away with one or two of Boston’s future 2nd round picks). Those two minor transactions free up the following for LAC to trade:
- 2021 1st Round
- 2023 1st Round
- 2020 2nd Round
- 2021 2nd Round
- 2022 2nd Round
That’s in addition to their 2019 and 2023 second-round picks, which they still own, and Cleveland’s 2020 second-round pick, and whatever they get from Boston for removing those 2019 1st round protections. That’s more than enough to make it worth the Knicks’ while to take on Jamal’s salary, but it’s crippling for the Clippers’ future and it’s easy to see them balking when considering that Carmelo will turn 33 during this year’s playoffs.
Ultimately, I see five paths forward: the most likely, as usual, is that no trade happens. There’s also a chance that the Knicks just bite the bullet and take Crawford’s contract (with the limited draft assets the Clippers can offer as sweetener). If they aren’t willing to do that, and the Clippers really want Carmelo Anthony, they can either find a third team for Jamal to go to, revamp the package and send out J.J. Redick, or triple-mortgage the farm to acquire an aging star that still doesn’t make them better than Golden State on paper.
Given those choices, my bet is that Doc Rivers is on the phone, doing his best used car salesman pitch to get another GM to take on Jamal Crawford.