This happened on Facebook earlier today, which I was perusing on my phone because the power was out because JCP&L hates customer satisfaction almost as much as Comcast:
In the immediate term, it’s fairly obvious that the Knicks are better off. The Knicks have a ride-or-die Carmelo Anthony and not a coming-off-injury Kobe Bryant. Putting aside the fact that north of $120 million would have most people ride-or-die for anything from the Knicks to Scientology, Melo is a top-5 scorer and under-appreciated rebounder.
Who knows what Steve Nash (one of my top-5 favorite players of all-time, a list topped by 5 time Champion Timmy D) has left, while the Knicks added serviceable point guard José Calderón in their first competent trade in recent memory. Still, as a Knicks fan, pessimism about the direction of the team is a reflex. Could they actually be better off than the Lakers?
The Calderón trade gets to the core of what could make me, as a Knicks fan, a little more optimistic about the future than a Lakers fan maybe should be. Phil Jackson appears to actually be in charge, and, lest we forget, did have a role in helping Mitch Kupchak build those Laker rosters that won titles. What has Mitch Kupchak done lately to inspire confidence from Lakers fans? He agreed to pay Kobe way over market value of the next two seasons. Scooping a 2015 first-round pick in exchange for absorbing Jeremy Lin’s cap hit in a year where the team is likely to stink anyway is a solid move, I suppose.
The Rockets pick could prove valuable. That franchise appears rudderless, having lost restricted free agent Chandler Parsons to Dallas (when they could have had him under control this season for under a million bucks). They jettisoned Lin to clear up cap room that they used to whiff on Chris Bosh. They added Trevor Ariza (?). We know that Dwight Howard can put a mediocre team on his back and James Harden can score, but, in a loaded West, that’s nowhere near enough. But, I digress.
While the Knicks (for now) still have their 2015 first round pick, the Eastern Conference is crappy enough and the Knicks likely to be mediocre enough to ensure that theirs is a mid-tier pick. Between the mid and late first round, the Knicks have recently found some solid players – Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert – but the odds of them drafting a game-changer are low.
Even if you concede that the Rockets will be a playoff team next year (I’m not convinced), the 2015 first round pick the Lakers sent to Phoenix in the Nash sign-and-trade is top 5 protected, and if the stacked West beats the hell out of the Lakers, that protection could come into play. The 2015 draft could end up being critical to the future success of the Lakers. They also have the 7th overall pick from this year, Julius Randle, already signed and playing Summer League.
The game for both of these teams is to clear dead cap weight after this coming season (Stoudemire, Barganani, Nash, and Lin) and lure free agents.
When I started writing this, I’d forgotten just how barren the Lakers prospective roster is. Other than Kobe, they only have 2 players under contract for the 2015-16 season: Randle and Robert Sacre. Swaggy P will likely re-sign and join them on that list soon. Yes, I just referred to him as “Swaggy P”.
The Knicks have $7.4 million committed to Calderón for the 2015-16 season, and J.R. Smith will almost certainly exercise his $6.4 million player option for that year, and, if nothing else, provide some entertainment to sports anarchists like me who find his antics amusing. They also have Tim Hardaway Jr., Shane Larkin, and Pablo Prigioni under control that season for under $2 million each. So, while both teams will have one star and plenty of cap space, the Knicks can offer some complimentary pieces already in place, albeit all guards.
In addition, they have Iman Shumpert’s Bird Rights, and while I’d be kind of surprised to see him return to the Knicks after next season – management hasn’t seemed terribly fond of him – it might be possible to turn those Bird Rights into some kind of asset.
All of this ignores the fact that Carmelo Anthony has the reasonable expectation of prime to very productive seasons ahead of him. Does Kobe? He’s five years older than Carmelo and wasn’t able to stay on the court last year. I’m sure Kobe, himself, has such expectations, but, when was the last time you heard Kobe Bryant described as “reasonable”?
Jesus, the Knicks actually are better positioned than the Lakers at the moment. Did I miss the Rod Serling monologue at the beginning of this post?