Why trading Carmelo Anthony is the right move for Knicks

Carmelo Anthony is in his seventh season with the Knicks. (AP)
Carmelo Anthony is in his seventh season with the Knicks. (AP)

There is no camouflaging intentions, no hiding anything anymore. The Knicks are shopping Carmelo Anthony, actively engaging multiple teams — including the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers — in hopes of shedding their embattled star. Cleveland won’t part with Kevin Love, L.A. won’t break up its core and it remains to be seen just how deep into his pool of assets Celtics president Danny Ainge will go to bring Anthony to town.

But the Knicks and Phil Jackson have sent a message: They are ready for the Anthony era to be over.

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If this is about blame, there is plenty to go around. Anthony is Anthony — a ball-stopping, volume-shooting scorer capable of flashes of brilliance (a 25-point third quarter against Washington last week) and bouts of erratic shooting (a 3-of-15 stinker against Phoenix last month), seemingly in equal measure. Jeff Hornacek is the latest coach to try to integrate Anthony’s talents into a winning mix — and the latest to fail to do so.

Jackson signed Anthony, committed to him, praised him for taking a $5 million paycut and waited all of two years before taking digs at him. A scathing column by ex-Jackson assistant Charley Rosen a couple of weeks ago followed a CBS-sports televised critique of Anthony a month earlier. Rosen swears he wasn’t channeling his former boss when he declared that Anthony had outlived his usefulness in New York, but good luck finding many in and around the Knicks organization — including Anthony — who believe him.

Ultimately, though: Does it matter? Postmortems can wait until after the divorce. The Knicks have a finite list of teams with which they can discuss Anthony (a no-trade clause gives him significant power) and a limited amount of time to do it (the NBA’s trade deadline is Feb. 23). The challenge for Jackson is to find a team for which Anthony will play — it’s naive to think the Knicks would put in the legwork in talks with Cleveland, L.A. and Boston without Anthony’s approval — and one willing to give up more than spare parts to get him.

Cleveland? A year ago the Cavs might have jumped at an Anthony-Love swap. Love was still finding his way and Cleveland had no idea if it could beat Golden State with him. Now Love has a ring, an All-Star berth and a (relatively) secure place on the roster.

The Clippers? L.A. will take him — as long as New York doesn’t want much for him. The Clippers are hard-capped with zero flexibility. League rules prevent teams from having two players on the roster who were acquired via trade that have signed with their original team using the designated rookie max extensions — you follow all that? — meaning even if the Clippers wanted to trade Blake Griffin for Anthony (they don’t), Derrick Rose’s presence on the Knicks prevents it. And because Anthony’s $9.8 million trade kicker would push L.A. over the tax apron ($118.7 million), per The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, Anthony’s trade bonus can’t be reduced, even if he wanted to do it.

Translation: If L.A. is determined to keep Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick, its best offer for Anthony would be a combination of Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Wesley Johnson.

Boston? More interesting. The Celtics can build a package around Amir Johnson’s contract ($12 million) and Jae Crowder’s talent, but how much further will Boston go? Ainge has been devastatingly effective in trades in recent years, swindling Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix and turning Rajon Rondo into Crowder and a first-round pick from Dallas while owning the rights to Brooklyn’s first-rounder until 2028, er, ’18.

Should Boston consider Anthony? Absolutely. The Celtics are in Year 2 of being a quirky, quasi-contender and the honeymoon is almost over. Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are 17 months away from hitting free agency and Boston could have to commit $250 million in salary to keep them. Anthony doesn’t solve Boston’s rebounding woes or upgrade a defense that has bottomed out over the past month. But he’s an impact perimeter scorer on a team that sorely needs one.

See, Boston fans didn’t applaud Gordon Hayward earlier this month because of his skin tone. They did it because 20-point scorers who can take pressure off Thomas in the fourth quarter are hard to come by. And Anthony is one.

The ball-stopping style is a legitimate issue, as are questions as to how Anthony and Thomas would co-exist. Ainge would have to have a meeting of the minds with Anthony before a deal, and Brad Stevens would have to cook up a few new plays after. But Thomas, 27, and Al Horford, 30, are in their primes and to dismiss a discounted deal for a perennial All-Star to put between them would be foolish.

It’s not an enviable position for Jackson, but, hey, here we are. Rose hasn’t panned out and Joakim Noah was a mistake, which leaves Anthony as the Knicks’ only non-Latvian trade chip. Bottoming out, chasing ping-pong balls and hoping they return a high pick in a loaded draft has become the most practical solution. The ‘Melo-Jackson relationship appears irreparable, leaving only one way to go: Find the best option, take it and hope the hole Jackson dug for the franchise doesn’t take too many years to climb out of.

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