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Melo begins planning while Phil deals

6/25/2014

We’re still days away from July 1, and things are heating up with the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony.

Phil Jackson struck a big deal Wednesday to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas in exchange for point guard Jose Calderon, center Samuel Dalembert, point guard prospect Shane Larkin, reserve shooter Wayne Ellington and the 34th and 51st picks in Thursday's draft, as reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein.

I’ll get to that trade in a bit. First, let’s look at Chris Broussard's report that Carmelo will meet with the Rockets, Mavericks and Bulls once July 1 hits and free agency begins.

According to Broussard, Anthony will grant those three teams the chance to make their pitch to him, but there is no true favorite at the moment in Melo's mind. Other teams will probably get the same opportunity to talk to Melo, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, the home of Melo’s close friend Kobe Bryant. Bryant told ESPN.com in a text message that he plans to meet with Anthony eventually.

As for Miami, sources told Broussard that there has been no talk from Anthony’s camp about going to the Heat. Of course, there’s plenty of time for that to change, and the Big Three were reportedly meeting on Wednesday to discuss their futures, so things are very much developing.

But let's get back to Melo. As a free agent, Melo has earned the right to talk to any team he wants. Houston will try to entice Melo with the notion of playing alongside a big man such as Dwight Howard and possibly a scorer such as James Harden, to take some of the burden and minutes off Melo’s shoulders. Houston can also pitch no state income tax as well.

But Broussard also reported that if Houston can clear cap space to sign LeBron James, the Rockets might try to attempt a sign-and-trade with the Knicks to acquire Anthony, which would likely include Harden going to New York.

If you’re going to lose Melo, Harden certainly wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize to receive in return. Despite what you might think of his defense, Harden can fill it up offensively, averaging 25 points, about six assists and nearly five rebounds the past two seasons for Houston, and he’s only 24 years old. Phil has to start collecting assets, and Harden is an asset.

As for Dallas, the Mavs just got two of Melo’s former teammates. So Chandler and Felton could try to persuade Melo to join them. Mark Cuban is an owner who is willing to spend money and has won it all before. And Dirk Nowitzki can also try to convince Melo to share the load with him.

And then there’s Chicago, considered by some to be the front-runner for Anthony. Tom Thibodeau is as good a coach as there is in the league. And Chicago can sell a talented big man in Joakim Noah. Derrick Rose will be attempting another comeback from a season-ending injury, but we know what he can do when healthy. And there’s young talent in Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, if the Bulls can hold on to them and still create space to pay Melo.

Lastly, there’s the Knicks. I’m not discounting a return to New York at all. The Knicks can pay Melo more than anybody, and $129.1 million over five seasons is quite an argument for staying. But Phil is also the draw. Wednesday’s trade shows he’s not sitting still. The Zen Master is orchestrating something, and we will have to wait and see what exactly that is.

Calderon might be a slight upgrade over Felton and a better shooter, but he comes with a price tag of $7 million and slightly more for the next three seasons. Maybe Calderon will be traded again later. Who knows. If he stays, he can shoot, distribute the ball and likely is a better fit than Felton in the triangle.

Larkin, drafted 18th overall in 2013, could develop into a young asset if the Knicks keep him. They could also trade him. Dalembert could provide rebounding and blocks, if the Knicks keep him. Ellington can shoot. And the two second-round picks are two more assets the Knicks didn’t have at the beginning of the day. The 34th pick could yield a contributor in a draft considered to be deep.

Something tells us Phil is not done, not by a long shot. So just as Carmelo begins to map out his free-agency tour, Phil has put his master plan into motion.

Melo’s decision will not be an easy one. And by the time Phil and Melo sit down and talk again in July, the Knicks could have a more solid plan to sell Anthony to combat the Bulls, Rockets, Mavs and other suitors.

July 1 isn't here yet, but the "Summer of Melo" is off and running.