2010 NBA Preview: #11 to #15

New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire adjusts his glasses during an NBA preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Paris on October 6, 2010. The Timberwolves won the contest, part of the annual NBA Europe Live tour, by the score of 106-100.  UPI/David Silpa Photo via Newscom

This year, I’m going to preview the NBA season by starting with the lowest of the low and working my way up to my Finals picks. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff also-ran, I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason.

#15: New York Knicks
The Knicks missed out on LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh this summer, but they did land Amare Stoudemire, and also acquired Raymond Felton to run the point. David Lee is gone, but New York did get a good young player in Anthony Randolph to take his place. In other words, this Knicks team is going to look a lot different than last year’s club, and probably for the better. Newcomers Ronny Turiaf, Kelenna Azubuike, Roger Mason, (promising) Russian center Timofey Mozgov along with Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas will round out Mike D’Antoni’s rotation. Cap-wise, the Knicks are still in good shape. Eddy Curry’s $11 M expiring deal can be used as trade bait or the franchise can just let it come off the books, creating around $18 million in cap space next summer, which they could use to sign Carmelo Anthony if he hits free agency. The only big contract on the payroll is Stoudemire’s deal, and the Knicks really need him to stay healthy in order to get their money’s worth. This looks like a franchise on the rise, but they need to land one more star to threaten the upper echelon of the East.

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Yao Ming’s minutes will be limited…all season

Rocket's Luis Scola #4 and Yao Ming #11 as the Lakers beat the Rockets 89-70 during game seven of a Western Conference semi-final playoff basketball game between the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on Sunday May 17, 2009 in Los Angeles Photo via Newscom

Per the Houston Chronicle

Yao will play no more than 24 minutes per game, Rockets vice president and athletic trainer Keith Jones said. There will be no exceptions. If Yao has played his 24 minutes and the Rockets have the ball and eight seconds on the clock to make up a one-point deficit, Yao will not play those eight seconds.

Yao’s playing time will not average 24 minutes; it will end there. If he plays 22 minutes in one game, he will not play 26 the next. For that matter, if he plays two minutes one game, he will not play 26 the next. When Yao reaches his 24 minutes, he will be through for that game.

The article goes on to suggest that things could change in the playoffs, but the Rockets are bound and determined to get their big man to April fully healthy.

After missing just two games in his first three seasons, Yao has missed 173 of the next 410 games over the following five seasons, or 42% of his team’s games. What good is a franchise center if the guy can’t make it through the season without some sort of season-ending ailment?

That’s why the Rockets are so intent on limiting his workload. They hope that by reducing his minutes throughout the season, it will enable him to be healthy enough in the postseason.

Stein: Carmelo isn’t on the trading block

Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony scores against the Utah Jazz during the fourth quarter of the first round playoffs game two at the Pepsi Center on April 19, 2010 in Denver. Utah beat Denver 114-111 to even the series at 1-1.  UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

According to Marc Stein, the Nuggets are telling interested teams thanks but no thanks.

Yet sources tied to five potential Anthony suitors, reached in recent days by ESPN.com, all relayed the same story about the Nuggets’ response: They’re pretty much ending these conversations before they even start by saying that they don’t want to engage in Melo talks.

Ujiri’s Denver superiors instead want him to lead the club’s mountain climb of a bid to try to reconnect with the 26-year-old scoring machine before they even consider trading him, hoping that some sort of positive karma exists in the reunion of Ujiri, a former Nuggets scout, and Anthony, who both arrived in Denver in 2003 and spent several formative seasons together in the organization.

I explored the various trade scenarios last week, and the main issue is that whatever team that trades for Anthony will want a long term commitment. Carmelo wants the three-year extension, so an extend-and-trade is the best way to go for all parties involved. So why he technically doesn’t need to sign off on a new trade destination, the still-unsigned extension gives him the power to do exactly that.

Ujiri has been described as a very positive person, so he’s doing his due diligence here in the hopes of convince Anthony to stay while he tries to reshape the roster. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If Carmelo starts the season as a Nugget, he’ll likely finish it as a Nugget. It will be very difficult to trade him in February if the Nuggets are in the middle of the playoff pack in the West. (Just look at what happened to the Raptors.)

Exploring the various Carmelo Anthony trade scenarios

Denver Nuggets NBA player Carmelo Anthony arrives at the 2010 BET Awards in Los Angeles June 27, 2010. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SPORT BASKETBALL)

With the news that the Nuggets’ latest meeting with Carmelo and his camp didn’t go that well, it’s time to start looking at Anthony’s short list of teams to see what they can offer in the way of trade.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nuggets are looking for “young players and draft picks,” so we’ll keep that in mind as we discuss the various trade scenarios.

That Wojnarowski piece also listed five teams as potential landing spots for Anthony: New Jersey, L.A. (Clippers), Houston, Golden State and Charlotte (due to Anthony’s shoe deal with Brand Jordan). Let’s fire up the Trade Machine and go team-by-team to see what they can offer. Keep in mind that it’s virtually impossible to get equal value for a disgruntled star, so most of these trades are going to look better from the point of view of the team receiving Anthony. That’s just the way it is.

New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets
New Jersey has four young(ish) players that might appeal to the Nuggets: Brook Lopez, Derrick Favors, Terrence Williams and Devin Harris. I don’t see the Nuggets getting Lopez out of this deal, but one idea is a simple swap of Troy Murphy and Derrick Favors for Anthony, with one or two first round draft picks to sweeten the deal if necessary. This would leave the Nets very thin at power forward, but they’d get a Top 15 player to build around while retaining Harris, Williams and Lopez. The Nuggets would get a power forward with a ton of potential to form a nice one-two punch with their best young piece, Ty Lawson.

If the Nuggets aren’t sold on Lawson for some reason, they could ask for Harris, Williams and Kris Humphries (to even out the salaries). Harris, Favors and Humphries is another possibility. So is Harris, Favors and Williams, which looks like the best of the bunch. The Nuggets could hold onto Favors and Williams, and if they’re set with Lawson at point guard, move Harris in another trade.

Would the Nets give up Harris, Favors and Williams? They should. It’s not often that a player of Carmelo’s stature comes on the market while in his prime. Teams should do whatever they can to get him, and worry about fixing the roster later.

Los Angeles Clippers
Hmm. Maybe the Clips will get their star after all. If they do, they have Anthony’s wife, LaLa Vasquez, and her burgeoning ‘entertainment career’ to thank.

To make the numbers work, it appears that Chris Kaman would need to be involved in any trade for Anthony, unless the Nuggets were willing to take on Baron Davis (but he doesn’t exactly fit the ‘young player’ criteria). So how about Kaman, Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu? I’d be shocked if the Nuggets were able to wrest Blake Griffin away from the Clippers, so this may be the best they can do. L.A. could throw in a first round draft pick or two to get the Nuggets to bite. Denver could even throw in Chris Andersen if it wanted to dump more salary and give the Clips a center back in the deal.

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Carmelo’s camp asks for a trade

Nuggets Carmelo Anthony #15 in the fourth quarter as the Lakers beat the Nuggets 103-94 during game five of a Western Conference final playoff basketball game between the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on Wednesday May 27, 2009 in Los Angeles Photo via Newscom

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has the details:

Denver was furnished with a short list of teams and told to get to work. Yes, this is how William Wesley and Leon Rose of CAA work now, thick with threats and ultimatums and a swagger suggesting that the sport belongs to them. After Anthony told owner-in-waiting Josh Kroenke that he still wanted out of Denver during a Sunday meeting, the Nuggets appear done trying to sell their All-Star forward on a contract extension.

This wasn’t a productive, nor particularly pleasant, meeting and multiple sources said it could turn out to be the point of no return for Anthony and the organization. Sources insist it’s no longer a matter of if the Nuggets trade Anthony, but when, where and for whom he’s traded for.

One thing I really like about Wojnarowski is how he infuses a little opinion, even if the story is more news than commentary.

So where might he land?

The Nuggets made it clear to teams they want young players and draft picks for Anthony, league executives said. The New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the two most probable destinations for Anthony because they have assets that appeal to Denver. The geography works for Anthony because of his wife LaLa Vazquez’s entertainment career.

Golden State and Houston are contenders, too. What’s more, the Charlotte Bobcats are a sleeper because of Anthony’s Brand Jordan shoe deal and the team’s ability to give the Nuggets a salary-dump proposal.

What about the Knicks?

With nothing to trade for Anthony, though, New York isn’t considered a strong contender in the eyes of Denver management.

Don’t tell that to a Knicks fan who recently commented on this post, saying that my idea to offer up Danilo Gallinari and Anthony Randolph was “absurd.” That just goes to show how differently two sides can view the same player(s). The Nuggets seem to view Gallinari and Randolph as ‘nothing,’ while that aforementioned Knicks fan thinks they are the second coming of Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins.

Later today I’ll go team-by-team and come up with a few (objective) trade scenarios.

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