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Would the Knicks Trade Carmelo Anthony?

Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently created waves in writing about the Suns looking to trade Markieff Morris. And that’s raised quite a bit of ire, speculation and skepticism of what it all could mean.

Lowe just dropped a little hint that could mean something or nothing, depending on how much you want to read into it:

The Kings and Knicks should take a look, even though neither has movable assets that would interest Phoenix — unless the Knicks are ready to engage in Carmelo Anthony trade talks. (They’re not there, yet. But they’re getting closer.)

Bear in mind, the primary subject of Lowe’s piece is Morris, and the “They’re not there yet” blurb is almost more of an afterthought than reporting an actual rumor. But that didn’t stop the freak out from happening, and plenty of people wrote on the subject.

That includes CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, who vehemently denied that anything will happen:

On count one, the parties are not guilty; a person with direct knowledge of the Knicks’ front-office discussions told CBS Sports Thursday that Jackson and Mills have not so much as had a discussion about trading Anthony — no matter how much Peyote may or may not have been in the air.

And Lowe clarified that he wasn’t actually reporting a real “rumor” so much as a possibility of one down the line, which Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal confirmed:

And as Berger points out, Anthony also has a no-trade clause, so he’d have to approve any trade that was agreed on.

All that said, was any of it even worth saying? Let’s postulate, hypothetically, that the Knicks did decide to trade Anthony, and that he agreed to it. Could they?

Yes, Melo has been a great scorer. But there’s a danger when it comes to looking at a player’s legacy. A team isn’t going to trade for anyone for what he’s done. They’re only concerned with what he’ll do and how much they’ll have to pay him to do it. And along those lines, you really have to pause before assuming that he’s worth trading for.

The following chart shows the most money that each player can make on their current contract if all team and player options are exercised. The further to the right a player is, the more money he makes. The further up he is, the more win shares he had last year:

Only two players — Marc Gasol and Kevin Love — are owed more money than Anthony, and both of them have one more year on their contracts. And they also both had better seasons than Anthony last year and are younger. In fact, just about half the league had a better season than Anthony last year.

Now, we can point out that part of the reason that Anthony’s win share total is so low is that he spent more than half the season injured. But that’s also a reason that teams are going to hesitate to trade for him. After all, if he’s missed 77 games in the last four years, isn’t it possible he misses that many over the next four?

Potentially, he has the worst contract in the NBA. That’s going to be hard to move.

Sure, the TV money is about to come rolling in. But is a wise GM going to want to spend it on a 31-year old who has a recent injury history, little record of postseason success and a gargantuan amount of money left on his contract?

And let’s not forget that in addition to having to pay all that money, a team must also surrender that much in contracts to make the transaction work. For example, let’s take the hypothetical Suns’ transaction.

Phoenix would likely have to send back Eric Bledsoe along with Morris to get Anthony, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Bledsoe’s next four years were superior to Anthony’s. And that’s just Bledsoe’s years. It says nothing about Morris. So why would Phoenix do this instead of keeping Bledsoe and seeing what else they can get back for Morris?

The Chicago Bulls chased Anthony in free agency last year, but that’s when they were hoping to get him to commit to several million dollars per year less and before Jimmy Butler broke out. And Anthony’s ball-stopping style of play isn’t something that works well in their new system under Fred Hoiberg.

We could entertain the idea of the Lakers trading for him, but what are they going to give up? They could use Roy Hibbert as the ballast in a trade, but what else are they going to surrender? They’re certainly not going to give up D’Angelo Russell, the future of the franchise.

Point blank, no one looking to build is looking to trade away young building blocks for players in their 30s anymore unless there’s certainty with it. Rookie contracts are just too precious a commodity. And there’s no certainty with Anthony.

The bottom line is that when we review the goals of any projected trading partner, they’re in fundamental conflict with those of either the Knicks, Anthony himself, or possibly both.

A team in contention isn’t going to want to give up its core to obtain an aging star and his massive salary.

But the Knicks are going to want something to build around in return.

And Anthony isn’t going to approve a deal to a team that leaves him a situation where he can’t win. How is the triad of motives ever going to happen?

Finding a way for all that to work out is nigh to impossible, so we can fret all we want about whether the Knicks are going to try to trade him, but it won’t matter. They couldn’t if they wanted to.

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