New Era Begins as Knicks Move on From Melo

This was never going to be a win. What it needed to be was painless. It needed to be quick, and it needed to have no residual effects.

In other words, this could not be another Patrick Ewing trade.

In the end, it wasn’t. The Carmelo Anthony Era ended in New York on Saturday when he agreed to waive his no-trade clause and accept a trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

We’ll get to reflecting on Melo’s mercurial career with the Knicks and the statistical legacy he leaves behind in the near future. But right now, let’s focus on what it means for the Knicks, who open training camp this week.

The Obvious: this long-awaited and painfully-slow-to-get-to rebuild is now officially underway. The mantle is now passed to 22-year-old Kristaps Porzingis, who is now the face of the franchise.

The core of the team — Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., rookie Frank Ntilikina, Willy Hernangomez — is collectively under the age of 25. There are still several veterans on the roster — Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Kyle O’Quinn and Lance Thomas — but with Melo’s presence out of the locker room, the young core will be encouraged to emerge as not only leaders but focal points.

The second-round pick that came in the Melo trade was window-dressing on the deal. It is the pick the Bulls sent last February when they traded Taj Gibson to the Thunder. The Bulls could be a lottery team this season, so that pick may be of some value as one that lands in the 31-40 range. But, just getting a pick was a nice addition to this trade.

Anyone who believes the Knicks should have been able to land a first-round pick for Melo clearly isn’t paying attention. For one, Melo’s no-trade clause took away much of the ability for the Knicks to create competition for him. Also, the Indiana Pacers didn’t get any picks at all when they sent Paul George to the Thunder for lottery bust Victor Oladipo and defensively-challenged rookie Domantas Sabonis.

The players the Knicks received, Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott, do not fill any real needs (more in a moment on the on-court impact), but they do have very salary-cap friendly contracts that could allow the Knicks to clear space much quicker as opposed to taking on the remaining three years and $60 million left on Ryan Anderson’s deal that the Rockets were trying to push.

Kanter makes $17.8M this season (and is a $20.5M cap hit because of his $2.6M trade kicker) and then has a player option to become a free agent in 2019. Kanter spends a big part of his offseason in New York and loves the city, so he may be motivated to stay here.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – MAY 8: Enes Kanter #11 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks two points against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 8, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

McDermott is on his rookie deal, and, after he earns $3.3M this season, will become a restricted free agent. There is a $4.5M qualifying offer the Knicks would have to make to keep him restricted. Otherwise, he walks and the cap space is freed up. The potential, if Kanter opts out and McDermott’s qualifying offer isn’t made, is over $20M in space. Melo is scheduled to make $27.9M in 2018-19 if he does not opt-out.

As players, the Knicks added bodies to their already crowded frontcourt. Kanter, however, is immediately the team’s best rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. He and Hernangomez could dominate the glass. If Noah is even remotely healthy, he’s still a capable rebounder as well. Furthermore, Kanter is a very good finisher around the rim and in short-range.

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The concern for Kanter is defense, particularly in the pick-and-roll, which basically forced him to the bench in the playoffs against the Rockets. It’s an area that opponents will try to exploit every time he’s on the court and that’s a major worry since Noah was also exploited often in pick-and-roll situations last season.

McDermott’s defense is also of serious concern. We saw last season when he was in Chicago, opponents went after him on the wing in isolation scenarios because he could not defend against dribble-drive penetration. But, he is a career 39% shooter from three-point range and you can expect the Knicks to put a greater emphasis on three-point shooting this season to spread the floor.

What the Knicks should do if they plan to keep McDermott — that’s not a given yet — is get him with my MSG Network’s studio partner Wally Szczerbiak. McDermott was often compared to Wally when he was in college. Maybe WallyBall can teach him some things to get his game where it needs to be.

PHOENIX, AZ – MARCH 03: Doug McDermott #25 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts as he walks off the court during the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on March 3, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Thunder 118-111.

The Knicks have an abundance of bigs right now (Porzingis, Kanter, Hernangomez, Noah and O’Quinn) and it’s hard to believe they’ll all be on the roster on opening night when the Knicks open in — hey, how about that? — Oklahoma City. There was plenty of statistical evidence that proved Porzingis was more effective at the center position than at power forward, especially on the defensive end of the floor as a rim protector rather than closing out on stretch-four players.

So what does Jeff Hornacek do with his lineup with all of these big men? Who is expendable? Will Noah be healthy enough to play regular minutes or will he be a very expensive depth player?

Having Kanter, Hernangomez and Noah, however, does provide a lot of rebounding and physicality in the paint, which may be exactly what you need around Porzingis. While KP has muscled-up this offseason, he’s still a thin frame and even in the EuroBasket tournament earlier this month, Porzingis did not rebound at a high rate.

With all of that said, the Knicks are still very thin and unstable at the most important position in the sport: point guard. Ntilikina is very young and raw. Ramon Sessions and Jarrett Jack are journeymen. Ron Baker’s upside is somewhat of a Matthew Dellavedova, which means valuable backup.

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So the search may continue through this season, into next year’s draft and, with the potential for cap space and flexibility as a result of the Melo trade, in free agency.