Where do Knicks go from here? A post-Melo landscape

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Monday, September 25, 2017

Carmelo Anthony will be off of the Knicks' roster by Monday. Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott are headed to New York. Now that the Anthony trade to theOklahoma City Thunderhas finallybeen agreed to, let's take a look at what it means for the Knicks going forward.

Let the rebuild around Porzingis commence: There's no question the Knicks are Kristaps Porzingis' team going forward. With Anthony out of the picture, Porzingis should see an increase in field goal attempts (14.9 in 32.8 minutes per game in 2016-17) and usage rate (24.3 percent in 2016-17) in the upcoming season.

Of course, not having Anthony around will allow defenses to focus more closely on Porzingis. But the 22-year-old will have the chance to play through growing pains without the burden of outsize expectations, as no one expects the Knicks to compete in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18.

Just how Porzingis handles a leading role will be key for New York going forward. Some numbers from last season suggest he'll be just fine.

The Knicks actually were more effective when Porzingis played without either Anthony or Derrick Rose, who nowis with theCleveland Cavaliers. Per ESPN Stats & Information data, New York was more than five points better when Porzingis played without Rose and Anthony than when all three were on the floor (a plus-1.2 net rating without Anthony and Rose; minus-4.3 net rating with them).

Porzingis probably will look brilliant at times but also will struggle for stretches this season. That's only normal - and perfectly fine. But the focus now for the Knicks is the big picture. The win-loss record won't matter as much as the development of Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and the other young Knicks.

If New York really is committed to building around a young core, this trade is the first step in that process.

How do Kanter and McDermott fit? The Knicks had hoped to get a first-round pick in any package for Anthony, but completing a deal before training camp clearly became a priority. Could New York have received a better return for Anthony if it had waited until mid-December, when free-agent signees can be traded? Maybe.

The package the Knicks ended up with certainly wasn't strong. But it does allow them to move forward from the distractions surrounding Anthony (which mostly were not of his own making) and rebuild in earnest.

It's too early to say whether Kanter or McDermott will be a part of the team's future.

Kanter, who averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds for Oklahoma City last season, could prove to be an interesting pairing with Porzingis on offense. He also could be useful off the Knicks' bench. But he has been a subpar defender through six NBA seasons (Kanter ranked 63 out of 66 qualifying centers in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus last year), and he's joining a Knicks team that was in the bottom third of the NBA in defensive efficiency last season. Not good.

Kanter also is the fourth center on the Knicks' roster, along withJoakim Noah, Willy HernangomezandKyle O'Quinn. So it would surprise no one if the Knicks moved one of the big men to clear the surplus. After all, assuming Kanter exercises his player option next season, the Knicks would be spending a combined $72 million on him and Noah over the next two seasons. That doesn't seem like an ideal use of cap space.

What about McDermott? He averaged 9.0 points in 22.8 minutes last season for the Chicago Bulls and the Thunder, hitting 37 percent of his 3-point attempts. The Knicks certainly can use strong outside shooting, but McDermott, like Kanter, has been a subpar defender in his three NBA seasons. He ranked 70th out of 70 qualifying small forwards in defensive real plus-minus. Again, not exactly what New York needs at the moment.

One thing seems certain at this point: the trade just makes head coach Jeff Hornacek's job a bit more difficult. The coach wants the Knicks to think defense first but doesn't appear to have the personnel to execute that vision.

On the plus side? The 2018 second-round pick New York acquired for Anthony should be an early one, considering it will be conveyed via the Bulls.

What about the money? The Knicks were probably never going to get a great return in this trade. Anthony's age (33), no-trade clause and large contract thinned out the market for the 10-time All-Star. Also, the entire league knew the Knicks needed to move Anthony. So there was very little chance they'd get a strong offer.

One thing that worked out well for New York? The club didn't take back any long-term contracts, which was one of its goals from the outset. Instead of Anthony's $28 million player option in 2018-19, the Knicks now have Kanter's $18.6 million player option potentially on their books.

McDermott is in the last season of his rookie contract, and the Knicks have until Oct. 16 to extend him. But they're more likely to wait to see how/if he fits into their long-term plans before making a big investment. The club already has nearly $67 million committed to Noah, Hardaway, Courtney Lee and Kanter (via his player option) next season. If the Knicks keep Kanter and decide against re-signing McDermott, they'll have saved about $8 million with the Anthony trade. But they still would project to be over the cap in that scenario, and the savings would mostly be negated by the first-year salary of their 2018 first-round pick.

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