1. Could Knicks Make Melo Deal Work?
Special to ESPN.com
He's the shadow member of the 2010 free-agent class. While LeBron, Dwyane, Chris and Amare are wooed and courted, he watches with vested interest, knowing it'll be his turn next year. He's already the subject of myriad rumors, even before this year's premier free agents have chosen a home.
Carmelo Anthony is entering the final year of his contract -- and that's cause for concern in Denver.
Teams with room for one, two, and possibly even three maximum free agents this summer are viewing Anthony as the cherry on top of their sundaes. The idea is this: Start building the nucleus this year, reload with more cap room over the course of the season, and make a run at Anthony next July. Or even better, grab him now if the Nuggets decide to cut their losses and seek to move him this summer rather than risk losing him for nothing in 2011.
Speculation has hit a fever pitch in many NBA locales, and particularly in New York City. A common line of reasoning has the Knicks luring two prime free agents to New York this summer, and -- out of necessity -- filling out their lineup with cheap contracts. And then, the thinking goes, they can nab Melo when Eddy Curry's oversized contract expires next summer.
But is any of this realistic?
Let's presume the Knicks succeed in their quest this summer to land two premier free agents, starting at $16.6 million each. In that case, they will have a little under $2 million in remaining cap room to add one more player. Once that money is spent they will have eight players in the fold and will, by league rule, have to give minimum-salary contracts to at least five additional players. If the goal is to gain cap space in 2011, then everybody except the two stars will get a one-year contract (or two years with a team option after one).
Then next summer, Curry's $11.3 million salary vanishes from the payroll, along with all the one-year contracts. At that point the Knicks will face decisions on Bill Walker, whose $916,000 salary for 2011-12 is not guaranteed, and Wilson Chandler, who will become a restricted free agent -- the Knicks need to figure out whether to retain his rights. And they will have a first-round draft pick on the books -- the lesser of their own pick and Houston's pick as a result of the Jared Jeffries trade.
Let's suppose the Knicks keep Gallinari but sacrifice everyone else -- including the draft pick -- for the sake of 2011 cap room. If so, their roster will consist of just Gallinari and the two max players signed in 2010. After accounting for raises and incomplete roster holds, their team salary will add up to $44.39 million. So would that leave enough cap space for Carmelo?
Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no. If the cap stays unchanged from this summer's projected $56.1 million, only $11.7 million would be left over for the free-agent chase. That's not enough to lure a player like Anthony.
If the cap were to drop in 2011 -- for the third year in a row -- there would be even less money to spend. Even though the financial outlook is now more optimistic than the gloom-and-doom picture painted by the league office last year, the NBA might still face declining revenues (after citing a $400 million loss in 2009-10, though that number is disputed by the players' association). While revenues could jump in 2010-11 and reward teams with a higher cap next summer, it appears unlikely any such increase would be significant.
And all of that is before we get to the biggest wild card in the 2011 free-agent market -- the fact that the rules of the game could change drastically. The league's collective bargaining agreement will expire on July 1, 2011, and nobody can be signed until a new agreement is in place. No one knows when the next agreement will be ratified, and when it is, it could include elements of a hard cap, fewer salary-cap exceptions, additional constraints on maximum salaries and a different split in revenues resulting in a much lower salary cap. We don't know what the new landscape for future free agents will look like until the parties get down to serious business and reach a new agreement.
So what will happen with Anthony? It's no secret that the Nuggets want to keep Carmelo in the fold for the rest of his career. They reportedly have a maximum three-year, $65 million extension on the table, and at times have proven their willingness to make moves and spend money to improve the team's supporting cast. But they have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers do the same for LeBron James, only to face the prospect of being jilted by their franchise player this summer. Would the Nuggets cut their losses and trade Anthony in order to avoid a similar ugly situation in Denver? Perhaps.
That's why in the midst of the 2010 free-agent frenzy, the rumor mill also has been swirling with talk of a new destination for the Nuggets' franchise player. And the talk will continue as long as Anthony's extension remains unsigned. A move wouldn't necessarily take place this summer -- the two sides could continue to weigh their options before finally deciding whether to fish or cut bait at next February's trade deadline.
But even in this scenario the Knicks don't appear equipped to make a run at him. Their most likely trade asset is, ironically, Eddy Curry's expiring contract. But expiring contracts are typically traded for players with several years remaining on their deals, when teams trade a long contract for a short one in order to get salary relief sooner. An expiring contract might fetch a player like Gilbert Arenas or Baron Davis, but it won't fetch a player whose deal is also ending, like Carmelo Anthony.
So while the Knicks are still in the game for some of the biggest names in the NBA, it appears that Carmelo Anthony is not one of them.
2. Bulls Should Set Sights On Anthony
Here's a message to Jerry Reinsdorf & Co.: Pull out of the LeBron Sweepstakes now!
Don't get me wrong: Do the meeting as a formality. Be courteous, be sincere. Then afterward, after you shake LBJ's hand and tell him how much you'd love-love to see him in a Bulls uniform for the next six to seven years, get on the plane and immediately start working on the new Plan A.
Don't get me wrong II: I love LeBron probably more than the next man.
But the basketball part of me knows the Bulls need something different. The basketball part of me understands that true success comes in balance, not stardom, and wants to see someone other than LeBron (or Dwyane Wade) in a Bulls uniform. The basketball part of me knows that all of the effort the organization has expended (dumping contracts and trading players to free up cap space) and all it continues to do to attract James needs to be saved for another player who, although not necessarily a better player, is a better fit for the Bulls than any other player in the 2010 free-agency madness.
Now, before you think I have been drinking too much Jim Beam, ask yourself this question, then answer it: Outside of size, what is the difference in the games of LeBron James and Derrick Rose?
(Note: The same theory applies to Rose and D-Wade.)
3. Salmons Deal Makes Some Cents
One of the oddities of the salary cap is that there is a certain level of payroll where it makes a lot of sense to overpay your own players because there is no conceivable way to replace them.
If a team is over the cap -- especially if it's over the cap without Star Player X but still under the luxury tax if Star Player X is re-signed -- the logic to keep said player is overwhelming. The team has no means of replacing Star Player X with an equivalent talent; at best, they would have to forgo using their midlevel exception to solve another need and instead come up with a replacement for Star Player X.
This scenario is particularly true if the team in question has expiring contracts in the immediate future, lessening the possibility of a bad contract trapping them financially.
In turn, this explains why John Salmons got a five-year, $39 million deal to stay with the Bucks. Salmons is 30 and has had a PER above the league average once in eight years, so calling him a star is obviously a bit of a stretch.
But everything above about Star Player X applies to Salmons. The Bucks weren't going to be able to replace him with an equivalent talent -- not in this market. At best, they would have had to reallocate the midlevel exception money used on Drew Gooden to pay a replacement for Salmons instead. In the current environment, I shudder to think what wing player would have commanded their midlevel exception.
4.Offer LeBron Can't Refuse?
Before they talked about love and basketball with LeBron James, the Knicks opened their video presentation Thursday with a scene from a LeBron favorite. Suddenly James Gandolfini and Edie Falco were Tony and Carmela Soprano, maybe for the last time, and the look on LeBron's face said he was hoping this show would last an hour or three.
Tony hadn't been killed off by David Chase after all. He was wearing a beard and living with his wife under the cover of the witness protection program. Tony was telling Carmela he had an important friend coming to town. A friend who needed a place to stay. A friend named LeBron James.
5. Wade On Summer Plans
6. New York Still In Play For LBJ
Question: How many shooters do the Bulls have? Answer: None. Derrick Rose is a career 24 percent 3-point shooter, and Luol Deng is at 31 percent -- the same as Wilson Chandler, who would get a lot more open looks than he did in the past in a LeBron-centric offense. The Knicks have Danilo Gallinari, who is shooting 39 percent from 3-point range for his career. (Toney Douglas also hit 3s at a 39 percent clip last season.)
Variation of the same question: How many shooters do the Heat have? Mario Chalmers, who lost his starting job to Carlos Arroyo last season, hits 'em at a 38 percent clip. Michael Beasley is at 33 percent in his two seasons. Joel Anthony has never taken one, which merits mentioning because he, along with Beasley and Chalmers, are the only players Miami has.
Question: What possible hidden gem does Chicago have on its roster? Only Taj Gibson and James Johnson qualify, and one or both might have to be moved in a sign-and-trade in order for the Bulls to get a second max player. Compare those two to Bill Walker, who was one of the most highly recruited and touted players in a 2006-07 high school senior class that included O.J. Mayo and Rose. Walker's career was sidetracked by a serious knee injury, but he has dropped 27 pounds (from 254 to 227) since the Knicks acquired him from Boston in the Nate Robinson trade, and his knee is fully recovered.
Question: What kind of salary cap/trade deadline flexibility will the Bulls/Heat have going into the 2010-11 season? Answer: Virtually none. Chicago has to lock up Joakim Noah next summer and Rose the year after that, and Miami, if it gets two max players, can only gain flexibility for the summer of 2011 by declining the fourth-year option on Beasley's contract prior to the start of the '10-11 season. The Knicks, on the other hand, have Eddy Curry's expiring $11.3 million contract to use in one of two ways: Trade it at the deadline for a player or players that would make the Knicks stronger championship contenders next spring or let it come off the cap at the end of next season, putting the Knicks some $10 million to $12 million under the cap for the Summer of Carmelo.
I have it on good authority that the Knicks pounded those points with James, arguing that their complementary players are better than they've been given credit for and that adding a third max player in 2011 is an achievable possibility.
7. Complete 2010 Free-Agent List
8.Celtics Selling Success
While the rest of the league appears to be in panic mode, Danny Ainge is quietly reassembling a team that came within six minutes of winning the championship last year and likely shaking his head at the deals he sees across the league.
Alas, Ainge simply can't sit back and gloat. No, these fiscally irresponsible deals are certain to drive up the prices of Boston's remaining seven free agents, including Allen, and will make the process of reassembling and upgrading Boston's roster all that more difficult this offseason.
The Celtics needed the rest of the league to be fiscally responsible to keep price tags low. That's not happening. Players who might have been on Boston's radar -- especially ones they had hoped to lure utilizing the mid-level exception -- might be drifting out of sight with the money they can now command.
If you're Brad Miller, you see Drew Gooden haul in $32 million and probably wonder why you can't pull in $8 million per season. Heck, if Milicic can net $5 million per season, why should any serviceable big man settle for mid-level money?
Here's one reason why: To win a championship.
9.Mavs Eye Big Free Agent
Terms of the deal are unknown, but a source said Haywood could command $8 million and possibly up to $10 million per season. He made $6 million last season.
Having surveyed the limited centers available in free agency, the Mavs seem intent on re-signing Haywood to avoid having to possibly use valuable trade assests to deal for a big man.
"No secret," Nelson said. "Dirk is 1A and Brendan is 1B. We want to keep him a Maverick."
10. Free Agent Slot Machine
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