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Knicks Unlikely To Sign Melo In Off-Season

Last night ESPN.com posted an update on the Carmelo Anthony trade talks, and between that and an article yesterday stating that Donnie Walsh plans on resigning Wilson Chandler, Knick fans (and some writers) clearly don’t understand that due to the salary cap, we can’t keep Chandler, Gallo and others, PLUS add Melo.  The confusion lies in a misunderstanding of what’s known as “Bird Rights” (named after Larry Bird), which allows a team to go over the salary cap to sign their own free agents.  Many, including pathetically the New York Post, have stated that then the Knicks could just sign Melo as a free agent and then give Chandler a big new contract.  It doesn’t quite work that way.

Let’s check out what Larry Coon, NBA capologist expert, writes:

31. How much do free agents count against their team’s salary cap?

The free agent amount depends on the player’s previous salary and what kind of free agent he is:

Kind of free agent Previous salary Free agent amount
Larry Bird, following the fourth season of his rookie scale contract Below the average salary 300% of his previous salary*

So this year Wilson Chandler is making $2,130,482, which is below the NBA salary average (which is $5+ million), meaning over the summer, before we sign him to a contract, he’ll count for $6,391,446.  Let’s look at what our salaries look like for this year and next, courtesy of ShamSports’ excellent site:

Player                                      2010/2011                 2011/2012
Amare Stoudemire                $16,486,611               $18,217,705
Eddy Curry                             $11,276,863                N/A
Raymond Felton                    $7,000,000               $7,560,000
Ronny Turiaf                           $4,000,000               $4,360,000
Timofey Mozgov                     $3,567,096               $3,343,896
Danilo Gallinari                      $3,304,560               $4,190,182
Kelenna Azubuike                 $3,300,000                 N/A
Wilson Chandler                    $2,130,482                $3,099,851*
Anthony Randolph                $1,965,720                $2,911,231
Roger Mason                          $1,400,000                N/A
Toney Douglas                       $1,071,000                $1,145,640
Bill Walker                                 $854,389                  $916,100*
Shawne Williams                     $854,389                   N/A
Andy Rautins                            $600,000                 $788,872
Landry Fields                            $473,604                  $788,872

Total salaries:                       $58,434,714               $44,222,498

The two salaries with asterisks next to them aren’t included in the $44,222,498 total at the bottom.  With Chandler, that amount is what his one-year qualifying offer would be, which is the minimum that the Knicks can sign him for without renouncing his rights.  However, that amount only is used for cap purposes if Chandler actually signs a contract for that little, which is highly unlikely.  So instead, the $6,391,446 mentioned above would need to be added.  The asterisk next to Bill Walker is because the team has the option of whether to keep him or not.  At that price, considering he’s actually been used and you can’t get a player for much cheaper, I imagined we’d keep him.

One other minor thing is that every team must have a minimum of 13 players, so if you’re below that amount then “phantom” players getting paid the minimum (around $450k each) need to be added.  So with only 11 players, we’d need to add one phantom to determine how much cap room we have to sign that 13th free agent player (aka Melo).  And actually, the way Shawne Williams is playing, we’d probably want to keep him, so since he has non-Bird rights, his salary hold would be 120% of what he’s making this year, or $1,025,267, instead of that phantom player.  That’d leave us at $52,555,311.

This past year the salary cap was slightly over $58 million.  The year before it was $57+ million, and the year before that it had been back up at over $58 mill.  Since it hasn’t dramatically increased in any of the recent years, and with a new collective bargaining agreement coming this summer that’s expected to be worse, we’re talking best case scenario is the cap is at like $60 million.  Leaving us with under $8 million to offer Anthony.  It’s hard to imagine Anthony accepting that little (particularly when you compare that to the $65 million 3-year deal he can get if he extends with Denver or whatever team acquires him this year).

To clear up enough space to offer Melo the max, Knick prez Donnie Walsh would need to basically give away Ronny Turiaf, Gallinari and say Anthony Randolph for 2nd round picks/trade exceptions.  In other words, even if we wait for the summer, we’ll still need to gut the team to get Melo.  Now after we sign Melo, we can then offer Chandler far more than the $6 mill in cap hold, so we won’t need to worry about him leaving.  Or if we renounce the rights to Chandler, then maybe if we just get rid of Anthony Randolph, we’d be close enough to the max for Melo.  However, as mentioned above, yesterday Donnie Walsh stated he was definitely gonna re-sign Chandler.

Not only is it financially impossible to sign Melo to the max this summer without gutting our team, but there’s also the very big question of whether or not we’ll even be able to get to that point.  Based on a lot of the comments on the ESPN article, many fans don’t understand that New Jersey will only take Melo if he does an extend-and-trade (a version of the more familiar sign-and-trade).  This isn’t him getting traded and then later he does the extension so he can change his mind.  The extension would actually be part of the deal (which is why he needs to agree to it in advance).  Some teams like Houston and Dallas have talked about being willing to trade for him even if he won’t sign an extension, but New Jersey has explicitly stated that they won’t.

So here are the possible scenarios if he doesn’t get traded to New York:

1. He gets an extend-and-trade with some other team, so he wouldn’t become a free agent in the off-season.

2. He gets traded to a team like Houston that’s okay with him not agreeing to an extension.

3. Denver doesn’t trade him, hoping he’ll decide to stay with him.

Now it may seem like options #2 and #3 give us a shot, but the truth is that the $65 million extension will stay on the table until the end of the year.  Right now he’s playing chicken, hoping that by saying he won’t sign it with just anyone, that he can get traded to a destination of his choice (New York or Chicago).  And it may work, so it’s not a bad ploy.  He could end up getting everything he wants: both the team of his choice and a crazy big max salary extension before the new collective bargaining agreement comes in and lowers salaries.

However, come June, when the agreement’s about to end, if he’s on Denver or Houston, he can’t play chicken anymore.  He’ll need to put his money where his mouth is.  Between the new agreement and the fact that free agents can’t sign for as much with other teams besides their current one, he would likely literally lose at least $20 million over the next three years.  Actually, since raises are based on your previous salary, this would cause him to keep losing more and more each subsequent year.  That’s a lot of money.  Right now it doesn’t hurt to not sign the extension (well, unless he actually does get hurt, then it’d hurt).  He can always do it later on in the season.  So it’s smart for him to hold off on it.  But when push comes to shove…?

Okay, I know this is getting exhaustive, but one last Melo comment to clear things up.  I, like many of you, grew up believing in the news.  However, after going through the whole LeBron saga this summer, it became clear to me that sports journalists care more about creating good stories than the truth.  That isn’t to say that they lie, but rather that they don’t follow the New York Times motto of “All the news that’s fit to print.”  So they find some guy who kinda knows LeBron, and that guy says it’s a no-brainer that LeBron should go to New York, thus the reporters can accurately say that a “source” said this without it being false, but they don’t care whether that’s how LeBron feels and thus if it’s a legit read on the situation.

Thus, it seems to me, that many of the Melo rumors, even on supposedly reputable sites like ESPN (who were as guilty, if not guiltier, as anyone in terms of passing off unsubstantiated LeBron info as real stuff) are likely nowhere near true.  Like a “source” can say that the Nets offered Sasha Vujacic for Melo, and that part will be reported, but not the part that Denver laughed in their faces.  Because the reported three-team trade mentioned by ESPN between Denver, New Jersey and Cleveland seemed ludicrous.

Earlier trade possibilities had New Jersey moving Devin Harris to the Bobcats, who genuinely need a point guard, thus making it a logical possibility.  The new report says that Denver, rather than getting Troy Murphy’s expiring contract, would get Harris.  Even though they already have a veteran point guard in Chauncey Billups (who wants to remain there even if Melo goes) as well as a young up-and-coming point for the future in Ty Lawson.  Hmm.  Even more curious is that Cleveland would give up like $11 million of its trade exception left over from LeBron, and in return they would have to pay the remaining $8 million of Murphy’s contract (oops, I mean they’d get him, but c’mon, they’ve already got a better vet stretch four in Antawn Jamison, as well as a young gun in that spot with JJ Hickson, meaning it’s the last position they need) in order to get one or two first round picks.  Plus, adding Murphy would put the Cavs over the salary cap, meaning they’d miss out on the few million that each team under the cap gets at the end of the year.  Thus, for one first rounder (maybe two) they’d be giving up the exception, plus costing themselves about $12 million.  During the summer, people were surprised when a first rounder was going for a few million.  Even if they got two picks, this’d be $6 mill/pick plus losing a potentially very valuable trade exception.  Unless they secretly hired Isiah as their GM, I can’t imagine they’d pull the trigger on this one.

So I don’t know what will happen with Melo, but I do know that if the Knicks’ brass wants him as much as the fans do, then they’re doing everything in their power to get him now since it will be infinitely harder to snag him over the summer.

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Tags: Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets Devin Harris Donnie Walsh New Jersey Nets New York Knicks Troy Murphy Wilson Chandler

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