Carmelo Anthony’s retirement announcement this week sparked a worthwhile debate in New York over whether the Knicks should retire his No. 7 to the Garden rafters.
Whatever side of that argument you fall on (see below), the far more pertinent discussion involving Carmelo’s tenure here — at least in relation to the Knicks’ current situation — should be regarding the difficulty of pulling off a blockbuster trade for a superstar in the modern NBA.
More than a dozen years have passed since James Dolan authorized — forced? — then-president Donnie Walsh to give up four players and multiple draft picks to obtain Anthony in 2011 in a move that resulted in seven consecutive All-Star appearances for Melo, but only one playoff series victory for the Knicks.
The Knicks’ current front-office regime — led by team president Leon Rose — has attempted to take such big swings in recent years, too, most notably falling short in a bid to land Westchester product Donovan Mitchell from the Jazz last summer.
The All-Star guard instead was sent to the Cavaliers in exchange for a package headlined by Lauri Markkanen (the league’s Most Improved Player in 2022-23), three first-round picks and two future pick swaps. The Jazz also dealt All-Star center Rudy Gobert to Minnesota to bring back four more first-rounders and an additional pick swap to tear down and rebuild their franchise in a matter of weeks.
Those hauls likely would only be the starting points in a potentially fascinating superstar market this summer and beyond for the Knicks, who should be and will be looking to take the next step toward title contention after their Jalen Brunson-led roster ousted Mitchell and the Cavs in the first round.
It marked their first postseason series win since Anthony’s group knocked out the Celtics 10 years ago.
Tom Thibodeau’s team fell short in the second round against the No. 8-seeded Heat, but the Knicks acquitted themselves well in comparison to how the top-seeded Bucks and the second-seeded Celtics have fared against Jimmy Butler and company.
Tuesday’s 116-99 victory by Boston in Game 4 to avoid elimination ended an interesting statistical string this spring: The Heat had scored at least 110 points in each of their first eight playoff games against the Bucks and the Celtics, yet they were held under that figure in all six games against the Knicks.
Now comes the tricky part for Rose, deciding how many of the Knicks’ appealing assemblage of trade assets in the form of a few emerging young players — Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, and even Mitchell Robinson — and 10 first-round picks over the next seven years he’d be willing to part with if a star such as league MVP and former client Joel Embiid is available.
Or are the Knicks better off waiting to see whether league titans such as Giannis Antetokounmpo or Luka Doncic or someone else at that level shakes free in the coming years?
In a rarity for the franchise over the past two decades, Rose actually might be working from a position of strength in an increasingly appealing trade destination, especially with Brunson’s emergence as a viable backcourt leader.
The Knicks currently are about $5 million above the projected salary cap of $134 million for next season, leaving them with little more than the $12 million non-taxpayer exception and the $4.5 million biannual exception to sign external free agents.
But with Evan Fournier’s $18.9 million salary becoming an expiring contract and Derrick Rose’s $15.9 million team option expected to come off the books, the Knicks should be able to extend Josh Hart once he declines his $12.9 million player option.
Any bigger splash likely would have to come via the trade market, even if Embiid isn’t made available by the 76ers. But they already have fired coach Doc Rivers after a second-round loss to the Celtics and reportedly are expected to lose James Harden to the Rockets via free agency, so a trade request seems plausible.
Another All-Star big man, Timberwolves center/forward Karl-Anthony Towns — also a former Rose client at CAA — figures to be near the top of the trade market after another early Minnesota playoff exit.
The 27-year-old New Jersey product, who threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, has dealt with injuries in three of the past four seasons. But he already has played for Thibodeau, and has averaged 23 points while shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range in his NBA career.
On a lesser scale, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Rose reengage in talks for someone such as Toronto’s two-way wing OG Anunoby.
Or would Knicks fans be amenable to a reunion with 7-foot-3 unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, who averaged 23.2 points and shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range in 65 games with the Wizards? The Knicks also have expressed interest in the past in Bulls guard Zach LaVine, so there are possibilities for roster upgrades.
It all sets up a pivotal offseason for Rose and the Knicks, who are without a first-round pick after the Mavericks’ late-season tanking allowed them to hold onto their top-10-protected selection from the 2019 Porzingis trade for at least another year.
Overshadowing any move is the need to decide whether Julius Randle — who for the second time in three years followed up an All-NBA designation in the regular season with a poor playoff performance — is still a building block or whether finding a taker for the remaining three years and $82.7 million on his contract gives them a better chance at championship contention with their title drought since 1973 now at a half-century.
They must decide whether pushing in their chips for the franchise’s biggest swing since trading for Carmelo Anthony more than a dozen years ago is worth the hefty gamble.
A jolly good Melo
So, let’s go back to the retired jersey debate.
The guess here is that No. 7 eventually will be raised to the MSG rafters, but I’ve always landed somewhere in the middle when it comes to these things.
For example, I believe the Yankees probably have retired a few too many numbers (Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Paul O’Neill, Billy Martin) while the Mets didn’t honor nearly enough of their former stars until rightly feting Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez (and Jerry Koosman) with that designation in recent years (why not also retire No. 8 dually for Gary Carter and 1973 World Series manager Yogi Berra?).
As for Carmelo, there’s no cause to be up in arms either way, though the overwhelming reaction he received when introduced at the Garden at a playoff game earlier this month shows the love he still garners from much of the team’s fan base.
Detractors will point to the Knicks only making three playoff appearances and notching one series victory during his 6 ½ years in New York.
Statistically he’s deserving, but it’s understandable that many would rather see Hall of Famer Bernard King or a ’90s staple such as John Starks or Charles Oakley to be added to that category (yes, we fully understand the latter’s persona non grata status right now at the Garden gives him no chance).
Interestingly, there also has been a push recently for Anthony’s number to eventually be retired in Denver, where he led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in 2009. But his No. 15 now is worn by two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who has led the Nuggets to the NBA Finals for the first time in their 47 years of existence.
Brunson was honored Monday night by Covenant House at the Javits Center for his work advocating for homeless youths.
Less than two weeks after the Knicks’ elimination, he declined to answer questions about the loss or the pending offseason.
He did allow that he hasn’t watched any of the Heat-Celtics series, which continues Thursday night with Game 5 in Boston, saying he only wanted to comment about the charity he was representing.
“It means a lot to me just because I’m doing something for someone else, my family and I,” Brunson said. “It’s a unique feeling because you get a sense of pride helping others. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, whether I was a basketball player or not, a public figure or not. So that is my focus tonight.”