After seven tumultuous seasons as a member of the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony and the team finally parted ways on September 23, when Anthony was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and the Chicago Bulls’ 2018 second round draft pick. While Knicks fans were initially left with a familiar feeling of dismay after getting robbed in the trade, this time will prove to be different. It’s been clear since January 2017 that the Knicks need to rebuild around Kristaps Porzingis and surround him with defensive players, and removing the final relic of their failed past is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
It is immediately clear to any observer of the NBA that the Knicks lost this trade. They gave up Carmelo Anthony, still an extremely productive offensive option who can score efficiently and at ease if surrounded by the right talent, for two low-quality assets. Enes Kanter is a center who simply isn’t built for today’s NBA—he is a post-up player who can’t stretch the floor, and he is one of the NBA’s worst defensive centers. The Knicks, already pathetic on defense, will be far worse with him on the floor. Kanter’s contract is also a tough one to accept in return for a player of Carmelo Anthony’s caliber—he makes nearly $18 million a year and has a lucrative player option for next year that he is unlikely to decline, forcing the Knicks to pay big money to an offense-only player that they could instead use to acquire a productive and well-rounded starter. Doug McDermott, while a solid shooter, will not come close to matching Anthony’s offensive output, and will also be a liability on defense.
Despite the clear downsides of this trade, the Knicks needed a jolt to initiate their rebuild, and this move will certainly push them in the right direction. Last season, when future star Kristaps Porzingis should have been the focal point of the Knicks’ offense, both Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony were given more chances to shoot the ball. The Knicks now get the opportunity to design plays around Porzingis, removing all restraints and making him the rightful first option in their offense. Porzingis will resultingly be free to shoot the ball at will, and will be given the chance to post-up and exploit matchups more frequently this season. It is fair to assume that his teammates will be told from the start to give him the ball.
This season will also finally allow the Knicks to develop a modern offense. Ex-President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson mandated that the Knicks use the archaic triangle offense last season, and Knicks fans had to endure countless wasted possessions during which the ball stayed in Carmelo Anthony’s hands for far too long while little was done to create open shot opportunities. Now, the Knicks should look to develop a fast-paced offense built around shooting and ball movement, and the Knicks will better utilize some of their existing roster, including well-rounded shooting guard Courtney Lee, to have better spacing.
However, despite causes for optimism in the Knicks’ new situation, it’s clear that their current roster will be one of the worst in the league, and their priority right now should be on losing games to acquire a top draft pick (aka “tanking”). Already one of the worst defensive teams in the league, the additions of Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott should be enough to ensure that the Knicks will lose most of their games this year, thanks to their defensive woes. While the Knicks will be painful to watch in the short term, losing now will allow the Knicks to draft a top prospect to pair next to Kristaps Porzingis. In the 2018 draft, the Knicks could choose a low-usage defensive big man like Mohamed Bamba, DeAndre Ayton, or in the best case, predicted number-one pick Marvin Bagley III, all of whom could complement Kristaps Porzingis’ shot-blocking abilities well to create a formidable defensive frontcourt while not interrupting his style of offense. Alternatively, should the Knicks determine that their existing center Willy Hernangomez is their long-term option next to Porzingis, they could select a shooter, with potential options including European prodigy Luka Doncic or the incredibly athletic Michael Porter Jr. In the meanwhile, the Knicks should focus on playing Kristaps Porzingis along with their younger players, including 2017 draft pick Frank Ntilikina, free agent signing Tim Hardaway Jr., and the aforementioned promising big-man Willy Hernangomez, to see whether any of these players can be useful assets for them in the long term.
By trading Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have acknowledged that their franchise needs a reboot. While the assets they got in the trade are certainly not comparable in value to that of Anthony, the Knicks will still be in a favorable position entering the 2017–18 NBA season. With a future superstar in Kristaps Porzingis on the roster, Knicks fans will not have to endure a half-decade filled with losses like the Philadelphia 76ers did to get to their current state. If the Knicks stick to their rebuild and make necessary changes to their style of play, they should be back to winning in just a few seasons.