Reports Thursday that the Knicks were on the verge of landing the free-agent center Tyson Chandler indicated that they have snapped out of the trance that had them waiting on Chris Paul, the disgruntled New Orleans point guard, to join his good friend , along with Amar’e Stoudemire, in New York next season.
Since the merciful end of the N.B.A. lockout, we have heard that the Knicks didn’t have the dispensable assets to land Paul in a trade. As if that wasn’t obvious when the owner James L. Dolan — determined to justify his planned price war on season-ticket holders — detonated the former president Donnie Walsh’s more patient, prudent strategy and overpaid for Anthony last winter.
But for those thinking out of the box, the Knicks did come out of last season with significant trade assets, at least one of which should be especially attractive in a league increasingly held hostage by blue-chip players nearing the end of their contracts. They have a certified shoe-company icon at the beginning of his contract, without no-trade protection.
They have Anthony, who made a smart business move by forcing his way out of Denver last February and signing a three-year, $65 million extension with a player option for a fourth. Now the Knicks should do what it is in their best interests by putting Anthony on the table and at least finding out what that leverage might reap.
Deron Williams from New Jersey is the name that immediately comes to mind.
Yes, Stoudemire could be dangled in a deal to fill the point guard position about to be vacated by Chauncey Billups. But in addition to the possibility of him forming an imposing power tandem with Chandler, Stoudemire has four years remaining on an uninsurable contract due to past injuries. That alone would appear to make Anthony the more tradable asset if the Knicks are determined to better balance their team, which they should do if they can.
Prolific as Anthony is, much less expensive shooters gain value alongside a scoring playmaker like Williams.
“See, that’s why when people said the Knicks gave up too much for Anthony, I totally disagreed,” Jeff Van Gundy said when we discussed this scenario last spring. “They had a chance to get a player of that magnitude, but if they decide it’s not working, they will still have flexibility because players like that are always in demand.”
Paul is on his way out of New Orleans, reportedly in the direction of Los Angeles. But would the Nets swap the uncertainty of the free-agent-to-be Williams for the certainty of bringing Anthony — whom they pursued doggedly last winter — with them to Brooklyn next season?
Note to Nets: if Mark Cuban is not re-signing Chandler — a major factor in their championship run last season — it is not because the deep-pocketed Mavericks owner can’t afford him. Cuban must want to be under the cap next season when Jason Kidd’s contract will have expired. Williams is from Dallas, which the Nets might want to remember if Dwight Howard isn’t coming to make Williams happy.
You might ask: why would the Knicks trade Anthony after they worked so hard and surrendered so much to get him? Because in the cap-restrained N.B.A. — where movement was made more difficult in the recent collective bargaining settlement despite the knee-jerk howling that it wasn’t — he never was the greatest fit on a team that already had Stoudemire.
Because the addition of another high-scoring forward with the reputation of being allergic to defense and passing meant the Knicks would be limited in upgrading their roster and would have to ultimately choose between the franchise point guard they have lacked for so long and a badly needed interior defensive presence.
By acting now, by moving on Chandler, the Knicks will spare themselves and their fans another season of waiting and worrying whether Paul would eventually take considerably less free-agent money to join Anthony and Stoudemire. They reject the harebrained notion that friends uniting harmoniously have meaningful bearing on the formation of a contender compared to configuring a team that actually makes competitive sense.
The three-star scheme may be the N.B.A. rage but Dallas — a team with only Dirk Nowitzki who would qualify as transcendent — is the reigning league champion.
With all due respect to Anthony, Stoudemire and Paul — all terrific at what they do best — their much-discussed union would not have matched Miami’s Big Three in terms of versatility. Forget Mike Woodson, hired this season to help Coach Mike D’Antoni improve the Knicks’ alleged defense. Even a third Mike — Ditka — could not have lifted the Anthony-Stoudemire-Paul Knicks to the required level for title contention.
Assuming the Chandler signing becomes official, maybe the Knicks prefer to improvise with a player who hits the open market via amnesty (Baron Davis) and evaluate their options later on. But as long as they have come this far out of the box, why not try to go the distance? Why not make that call to New Jersey?
Why not offer a deal that makes so much sense for both sides?