When reports began to circulate last month that the New York Knicks had tried to engage the Cleveland Cavaliers in trade talks that would send All-Star power forward Kevin Love to Manhattan and former All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to Ohio, Cavs superstar LeBron James — one of Anthony’s closest friends — said he had “no reaction” to the chatter, and that he and the Cavs “can’t play fantasy basketball.” A Monday report out of New York suggested that James might have changed his tune on that score, prompting the King and the Cavs to issue vehement denials of what LeBron called a “trash” story.
First, the inciting report, courtesy of Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony apparently do have something in common: LeBron James as an ally.
According to a league source, LeBron is the one pushing the Cleveland Cavaliers front office to acquire Carmelo even if it means trading Kevin Love, which is something Cavs management is opposed to doing. Jackson is hoping to move Anthony prior to the Feb. 23 trading deadline and one player the Knicks have targeted is Love, who had 23 points with 16 rebounds in Cleveland’s win over the Knicks last Saturday.
Any deal for Anthony would require the Knicks’ leading scorer to waive his no-trade clause and the consensus is that Anthony would agree to play for the defending champs and his long-time friend LeBron.
Isola’s report quickly gained traction, becoming a topic of discussion by broadcasters Kevin Harlan and Grant Hill during Cleveland’s marquee nationally televised game against the Washington Wizards on TNT. The discussion prompted someone with the Cavs to issue a strong denial during the game:
UPDATE: A team source told ESPN on Monday night "there is no substance to any of that" in regards to the report.
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 7, 2017
… and after Cleveland finished off a 140-135 overtime victory in a contest that will merit Game of the Year consideration come season’s end, the Cavs’ coaches and players responded loudly:
Ty Lue on Kevin Love: "We're going to trade him tonight. 39 and 12, yeah we're going to trade him." Facetious.
— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) February 7, 2017
Ty Lue on the Kevin Love trade rumors: "He's not going anywhere."
— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydNBA) February 7, 2017
KLove on the rumor: "It's a lie. What do they say? A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put his pants on"
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 7, 2017
Nobody responded louder, or more clearly, than LeBron:
Can you imagine this team without Kevin Love, LeBron?
There was a report in the New York [Daily News] today …
Yeah, I saw it. I saw it and heard about it. It was — it’s trash. And the guy who wrote it is trash, too, for writing that. Especially during the game like that. So, you know, it’s always about outside noise, and that’s just outside noise for us. We’ve got to focus on what needs to be done in order for us to continue to compete for a championship, and we’ve got who we’ve got. Our GM will do a great job of figuring out if we need something else, but right now, we’re in a good place.
A photo posted by Ball Don't Lie (@yahooballdontlie) on Feb 7, 2017 at 9:21am PST
James’ strong words continue a recent trend toward lobbing grenades as he speaks his mind. They also stand as the Cavs’ most forceful denial yet that they’re willing to part ways with Love — who came up huge against Washington, scoring 39 points with 12 rebounds, three steals and three assists, including the picture-perfect full-court inbounds pass that led to LeBron’s overtime-forcing 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining in regulation — to import Anthony, no matter how close he and James have become over the years.
ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes reported on Jan. 25 that the Knicks had been trying to engage the Cavs in discussions on a Love-for-‘Melo deal, only to be told that Cleveland wasn’t interested. One day later, Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Mannix of The Vertical reported that the Knicks had also reached out to the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers “to probe their interest in a trade,” with Knicks team president Phil Jackson reportedly “determined to rid the roster of Anthony and his contract” — a five-year, $124.1 million pact that Jackson offered Anthony in the summer of 2014, in which Jackson included a no-trade clause giving Anthony total control over these proceedings.
With the Cavs scuffling and searching for a playmaker to lighten the creative (and minutes) load on James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, and with the Knicks once again stuck well under .500 and staring down another season outside the playoff picture, the rumors persisted last week. ESPN’s Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported on Feb. 2 that the Knicks continued to pursue Love, and that the Cavs “do maintain an interest in Anthony […] but only if a deal can be struck without the league’s reigning champions surrendering Love.” The following afternoon, Joe Vardon of cleveland.com worked the other side of the street, reporting that “the Cavs would trade Kevin Love this season if the right situation presented itself” … but that they’re “not interested in trading Love for Anthony, and [that] the general interest level in Anthony was low.”
After pouring in 32 points with 10 assists to lead the Cavs to a 111-104 win over the Knicks on Saturday night, James fielded questions about whether he’d had conversations with Anthony about the recent trade rumors, according to Chris Fedor of cleveland.com:
James didn’t answer, saying even if he has he wouldn’t disclose it. Instead, he offered a brief comment about Anthony’s tough situation.
“I just want the best for my friend, no matter what it is,” James said Friday, prior to the Cavaliers leaving for New York. “If he’s there in New York or if he’s not I just want the best for him. I want him to be happy. That’s all that matters. The game comes very easy to you when you’re happy about where you’re at so if he’s happy in New York or he wants to be elsewhere, not sure.”
Anthony has repeatedly maintained that his preference is to stay in New York, where his family loves living. He has also said, though, that if Knicks brass came to him and said they want “to start rebuilding for the future […] to scrap this whole thing,” then he’d have to consider waiving his no-trade clause and accepting a move elsewhere. After a blowout defeat at MSG at the hands of the woeful Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, the Knicks have now lost 18 of their last 24 games to fall into 12th pace in the East, a position that would suggest the time for such a conversation between Jackson and Anthony has arrived.
Anthony recently told Michael Lee of The Vertical that the combination of the Knicks’ persistent losing and the ongoing trade chatter has been “mentally draining” for him. He doubled down on that stance after Saturday’s loss to LeBron and the Cavs.
“You have to dig deep within yourself to get through it on a day-to-day basis, figure out a way how to still go out there and play at a high level every night, play hard, lead this team,” Anthony said, according to ESPN’s Ian Begley. “That’s kind of where you have to dig deep at, despite of everything that’s going on, that’s surrounding — I don’t even want to say us — me. It’s testing me. It’s testing my will. It’s testing me as a human being.”
While Anthony and the Knicks continue to struggle, the Cavs have now won three straight for the first time in a month, and after his big night in the nation’s capital, Love sounded confident that he’s staying put.
“I’m on this team,” he said, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. “I’m going to be on this team and we want to win with the guys that we have.”
And if you suggest otherwise, well, LeBron’s got a few choice words for you.
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