Last night on Twitter, ESPN laughing boy Bill Simmons had some solid lines about the Knicks’ supposed reluctance to include Timofey Mozgov in any trade for Carmelo Anthony. “Stop asking for Mosgov! OK? STOP IT! He has a chance to be the 23rd best center in the league. HE IS UNTOUCHABLE! Stop it!” “No, no, no… we can’t give up Mosgov! We’ve made our final insultingly bad offer, that’s as far as we can go! NO MOSGOV!” Not bad jokes, though it might have been nice if he’d spelled Timofey’s name correctly. But the jokes were beside the point. Mozgov shouldn’t be the stumbling block to a deal, but the last-minute, just-one-more, come-on-you-might-as-well inclusion by Denver of Mozgov’s name is just the latest example of how far this trade has gotten away from the Knicks. The trade is almost certain to happen at some point this week, and Carmelo Anthony will be a Knick. But getting to this point has been a disaster, and it didn’t have to be.
Howard Beck of the Times, as usual, has it exactly right this morning: This is not a Donnie Walsh trade; it is a James Dolan one. Regardless of whether or not Isiah Thomas is back in charge — as Adrian Wojnarowski’s terrifying Yahoo! column yesterday implied — it’s clear this decision has been taken out of Walsh’s hands. Forget not extending Walsh’s contract: We have no idea, at this point, why he’d even want to come back.
Remember, at no point has Carmelo Anthony ever said he would sign an extension with Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets, and at no point has he ever said he would sign an extension with the Nuggets. He has only said he’ll sign with the Knicks. The Nuggets know this, the Nets know this, the Knicks know this, and Anthony knows this. Walsh has held this trump card for months and has waited the situation out, aware that no matter what happened, this fundamental fact — Carmelo will only sign an extension with the Knicks — meant that if he was just patient, he couldn’t lose. If the Nuggets wanted something, anything, for Carmelo, they would have to get whatever they could from the Knicks. The Nets could offer the Nuggets half of Polyus Gold and it wouldn’t have mattered: That deal was never a real one, because Carmelo was never gonna sign with the Nets. He was only gonna sign with the Knicks. Everybody knew this. The Knicks could not lose. They could give the Nuggets a pittance this year for a couple months of Carmelo, or they could wait and sign him in the off-season, keeping the roster Walsh constructed together. Walsh didn’t have to do anything. He had the winning hand.
And then Jim Dolan came busting in. Convinced as always that he knows best — or anything at all, really — Dolan took the Knicks’ bargaining advantage and set it on fire. (This is Dolan’s way: As we put it in our mag column last week, “Walsh has put the tires back on the car. Now Dolan wants to drive again.”) The Knicks went from, “The Nuggets have no choice but to trade Carmelo for whatever we want” to, “Wait, we’re trading Gallinari and Chandler and Felton?” to, “We can’t let Timofey Mozgov be what holds this deal up.”
Dolan did this IN THE SPAN OF ONE WEEKEND.
Every piece of Knicks-Carmelo news since Friday has been depressing, one more move away from the position Walsh shrewdly put the Knicks in. The Knicks were reconstructed by patience and guile and, for once, having grownups back in charge. It took Walsh two years to clean up a decade of mess. Dolan might have undone it all in a weekend.
It is not that the current trade is an inherently awful one: After all, the Knicks are still offering less than the Nets were. (Which is probably why Prokhorov made his “a very good tactical decision” comment about “forcing” the Knicks to raise their offer.) Here’s what the trade looks like, if Mozgov is included:
Knicks’$2 2014 first-round pick
Renaldo Balkman (welcome back, man!)
The Knicks are giving up a lot in that trade, but it’s not insane. It leaves the rotation like this:
SF: Anthony/Shawne Williams/Balkman
PF: Stoudemire/Sheldon Williams
C: Turiaf/Earl Barron (likely signed from D-League)
That’s not a horrible team. That’s not a team that’s likely to get out of the first-round of the playoffs, but it’ll be fun to watch, and obviously having Anthony is going to be a kick.
But the Knicks never needed to trade Gallinari, or Mozgov. If the Knicks would have held their ground, would Chandler/Felton/first-rounder/Curry for Carmelo/Billups worked? (With some salary cap flotsam here or there.) At first blush, you’d say, “Oh, the Nuggets wouldn’t go for that,” but why? What choice did they have? The only reason the Knicks offer looked uncompetitive was because the Nets — knowing Anthony likely would never agree to an extension to make the trade happen — could “offer” to give away Derrick Favors and Devin Harris and four (four!) first-round picks for Carmelo. The Knicks’ side of the trade only looks meager compared to the Nets’ imaginary scenarios. Compared to what teams usually get when their backs are against the wall, when they have to trade a superstar or risk receiving nothing at all, that initial Knicks haul seems low, but not shockingly so. Maybe Walsh blinks and gives up Mozgov then, as a final “Okay, let’s make it happen.” But Gallinari was never supposed to be in this in the first place. It wasn’t Walsh who made Gallinari a part of this: It was Dolan. When you don’t know how to negotiate, you lose ground you never realized you were ceding. When you toss out Gallinari when you absolutely do not have to, it’s just a tiny step to, “Well, you’re not gonna let Mozgov stand in the way of this trade, are you?” At that point, you’ve already lost.
The Knicks will not be destroyed by this trade: Anthony’s going to be awfully fun to watch, and it does make them more likely to bring in a Chris Paul or a Deron Williams in a couple of years. But what everyone’s missing is that Carmelo, the way matters were going, the way he was driving this conversation, was going to be a Knick no matter what. Walsh knew that. So he plotted accordingly. And then Dolan came in and blew all that apart. Because this is what he does. Why in the world would Walsh stick around now? This is what he gets for fixing the franchise?
The Knicks are going to have Carmelo Anthony on their team, perhaps as soon as this week, perhaps as soon as today. But the way it happened, it’s difficult not to think that the last week has put the Knicks’ future in serious peril.
This is the biggest acquisition the Knicks have made this century. Anthony might be the best Knicks player since Patrick Ewing. So why does this seem so terrifying? Why does this feel like some sort of looming disaster?
Oh, yeah. That’s why.