Knicks Bet the Ranch On the NBA’s 22nd Best Player

Try guessing where Carmelo Anthony ranks this season in Player Efficiency Rating. If you guessed 22nd, I can say one thing for certain ….. your name is not Isiah Thomas. His guess was “five,” putting Carmelo ahead of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love.

And if you think this season is some sort of anomaly where Melo has been distracted, would you like to guess where Anthony ranked in this statistical category a year ago? The answer is 13. So if one blends the two years together, you basically get a player who rates out as the 15th-20th best player in the league.

The point here is Anthony is a very good player who some – including Isiah Thomas – view as a great player. There is no denying he is a guy who can get his own shot, rebounds well for his position and sometimes sizzles. But a good argument can be made that he is NOT elite. Along these lines, some would argue that Melo is a shooter who doesn’t shoot all that well. That is the case layed out in Tom Haberstroh (ESPN Insider) v Carmelo Anthony, which alleges that Melo is simply too inefficient to be considered among the games best. And if you believe Anthony’s critics, the Knicks just thinned their ranks and agreed to pay too much for something that is less than a golden ticket.

To be clear, I don’t hate Anthony. In fact, I have him as the league’s third best small forward, narrowly ahead of Paul Pierce even after adjusting for Pierce’s advantage defensively. But when his name comes up in the drinking game –  “underrated, fairly rated, overrated” – the answer is easy because conventional wisdom believes Anthony is super and the numbers see it differently. Sorry, but this guy is not Dwight Howard and he is not Kevin Durant. Al Horford and an aging Tim Duncan are more like it. You think I am distorting the truth? Well, maybe you can’t handle the truth because the numbers say Horford. Not Howard.

The Knicks obviously don’t agree with the numbers and rather than take a chance that a new CBA might have handcuffed Anthony to Denver, they got their man. In doing so, they probably paid ninety cents on the dollar which may be a bit steep for a fire sale but it is hardly an egregious price. That said, one should keep this mind …. the architect of this deal may have strapped the organization with a considerable financial liability whose true insidiousness will be revealed only after a new CBA is signed.

The reason I say this is it sounds like Carmelo and the Knicks have a handshake in place whereby the Knicks have agreed to pay Anthony $65M from 2013-2015, In that event, Anthony will be making $2-3M more per season than Miami’s big three, which may make some sense as far as Chris Bosh goes, but does anyone think Anthony should be paid more than Lebron? And more importantly, if the new CBA includes a hard cap and cap dollars become more precious going forward, the premium the Knicks are giving Anthony will become awfully expensive. In fact so expensive that the Knicks may soon find themselves right back in salary cap prison with two players making ~40M.

In the Knicks defense, other than the outsized extension and some roster flexibility, I don’t believe they gave all that much up for Melo. Yes, the roster is a bit thin right now but they weren’t winning a whole lot this year or next with the pieces they just puked. Unfortunately for Knickerbocker fans, the addition of Melo doesn’t change that calculus much and the Knicks now face this dilemma … the current roster is still too weak to compete for an Eastern Conference title but how can it be made better?

In the short-run, the answer is they can’t make it better as they are out of chips. But going forward, the answer is either a) Chris Paul or b) Deron Williams. If one of these studs can be brought in, the Knicks will have three guns, one of whom (Paul) may actually be elite. And in that case, they should be in business albeit with a weak supporting cast and a couple of parts who will have some wear on their tires. This assumes, however, that the new CBA does not include a franchise tag. Needless to say, a “tag” would cripple New York’s best laid plans. Or at least the one they had in mind when they included Felton in the deal so they could have Billups 14M contract expire just as Paul and Williams get their freedom.

To these eyes, the Knicks prematurely ejaculated by acting this early. They should have instead called Melo’s bluff and bet that he would be available this off-season. That would have lowered the cost and given them some time to see how the next CBA was shaping up. Worst case, he would have signed an extension elsewhere and the Knicks would have gone into the off-season with Gallo and some money to spend. Now, they have their guy but they are short some pieces and highly dependent on the outcome of the labor negotiations. It can still work out in their favor but if it doesn’t, the Knicks will find themselves in a spot you don’t want to be in the NBA … not good enough to win and not bad enough to get better.

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