LeBron/Melo sweepstakes: what the Knicks need to do

The Knicks are in a very important offseason for multiple reasons. First, they have the possibility of losing their franchise star after Carmelo Anthony declined to opt into his last year of his contract and decided to enter free agency instead. The Knicks are also coming off of a terrible season that saw them finish 9th in the very weak Eastern Conference despite spending more money than most teams. After a mini blockbuster trade that sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Mavericks for Samuel Dalembert and Jose Calderon (among a few other less important pieces), the Knicks made their first move to try and clear space for Melo. They’re now under the salary cap of $63.2 million with a team salary of $59.9 million, but that’s without Melo on the roster. They’re going to need to move some more guys around if they want to make a run at him, or possibly LeBron, who might be on the move.

For the Knicks, getting either of these guys would be a positive way to end the offseason, but they just as easily could end up with neither. Fortunately for them, it’s sounding more and more like Melo is more likely to stay than LeBron, making the Knicks’ job a little easier. If Melo is willing to take a slight pay cut to allow them to add other assets, then maybe they can create a better team. But if he wants a max contract, they’re stuck with the largely average team they have right now and probably won’t have a shot at a real playoff run. After trade talks with the Timberwolves for Kevin Love seemed to fall apart, it looks more and more like Melo is the guy they need to secure. Here’s what they need to do:

1. Trade Andrea Bargnani

Unfortunately, the Knicks cannot use their amnesty on Bargnani because they already used their amnesty back in 2011 on Chauncey Billups, who was set to earn $14.2 million. Ironically it was to acquire Chandler, a guy who they were getting rid of this year to clear space. Go figure. Trading Bargnani won’t be easy, because of his $12 million salary, but there are probably a few teams out there that might be willing to eat his salary. The Knicks might have to give up something actually of worth in the trade too (maybe a pick). They already owe their 2nd round pick next year to the Rockets, a team they may be competing with to get one of these stars. Either way, if Bargnani doesn’t go, their hopes of getting a stud free agent are slimmer. Cap space after this move: $15.3 million

2. Trade J.R. Smith

I don’t care how they do it, but Smith is another guy that just needs to go. Even as a Sixers fan (who are rivals with the Knicks), it pains me to see the situation they’re in because they’re stuck paying about $6.0 million to a guy like Smith. He was statistically terrible last year even though he was supposed to be great as a sixth man. He was lost and forgotten and became one of the biggest drop-offs in the league. Bargnani actually has more trade value than Smith in my opinion, even if Smith’s salary is only half as large. From strictly a basketball perspective, someone like Smith should not be wanted on your team, and unfortunately that may be the reason why he’ll be hard to move. Cap space after this move: $21.3 million

3. Trade Iman Shumpert

Now before you start wondering why I have them trading their top two shooting guards, hear me out. I’m thinking that they should definitely trade one of them, and that Smith would be the more obvious choice, but that it may be easier to trade Shumpert. So I’m putting both of these possibilities up there, but I’m assuming that they’d only do one of them. Shumpert has severely under-performed as well, but his salary is a lot lower ($2.8 million) and has given them a reason to keep him around. If they got rid of both of these guys, their cap room would be $24.1 million, but if they just got rid of Shumpert and not Smith it’d be $18.1 million. Just trading Shumpert and Bargnani wouldn’t be enough to have the cap room to sign Anthony to a max contract, which would pay him an average of $26 million a year. The first year would probably only be about $23 million, but it means they’d still have to clear some space…

4. Trade Wayne Ellington

I know this is yet another SG that I have them trading, but their roster is very guard heavy (7/12 people that are currently signed are guards), so somebody needs to go. And of these three shooting guards, at least one of them will pretty much be traded. I know they just got Ellington in the trade for Felton and Chandler, but it’s not like he’s valuable enough to warrant keeping him around. I mean, they could always keep him and trade Smith and Shumpert, but who knows. If they traded all three guys, their cap room would be $26.6 million. If they only traded Shumpert and Ellington (which is more reasonable), their cap space would be $20.6 million.

Trade Tim Hardaway, Jr.? Just kidding, not another shooting guard…if they’re smart they’ll make Hardaway their starting SG next year and get rid of the three above guys. In a perfect world, I think that would be an excellent situation for them because it would give them enough room to sign Melo to the max contract he wants. They could probably even keep around Shumpert or Ellington if they wanted. Instead of listing all the possibilities, let’s say they traded Smith and Shumpert and kept Ellington and Hardaway as their shooting guards. Then they re-signed Melo to a max contract. Their starting lineup would be C Dalembert, PF Stoudemire, SF Anthony, SG Hardaway, PG Calderon. That’s not a bad starting lineup at all for being under the cap. They’d also have guys like Pablo Prigioni, Shane Larkin, Metta World Peace, and Lamar Odom on the bench, in addition to the rookies they just drafted like Cleanthony Early. That’s a very solid roster to be cap compliant.

The biggest thing will be finding a team that will take on some of these average players that have bloated contracts. The Knicks are in a much better situation than the Bulls because they have a little more flexibility after trading Chandler and Felton, but they’re not out of the woods yet. Trading Bargnani would be the first step, and then getting rid of at least Smith. I have no idea what they’ll actually do, but if they want to be cap compliant, this is a good way to do it.

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