With Clock Ticking On Core Four, Carmelo Anthony Makes Sense For Clippers

With the New York Knicks almost certainly lottery-bound, rumors of a Carmelo Anthony trade have surfaced once again. The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as a contender in the Melo sweepstakes. Should they try to get him?

The trade deadline is in less than three weeks and with the that comes another season of Carmelo Anthony trade rumors. The New York Knicks are now 22-30; despite a 16-14 record through their first 30 games, they have fallen off the map since.

The slow fading of the Knicks’ playoff hopes means renewed motivation for Phil Jackson to try to move on from Melo. The Knicks have discussed trades with the Los Angeles Clippers that would not involve the big four of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan or J.J. Redick.

The discussed package would center around Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. Both players would be needed in the deal to match Melo’s salary. While the Knicks have been interested in Rivers for a while, they are not as interested in Crawford.

The Clippers will need to find a third team to take on Crawford to get Melo to Los Angeles. The deal seems very favorable to the Clippers, especially if they can retain Redick. However, Doc Rivers might be unwilling to trade a guard with Chris Paul out.

Given their questionable depth, is trading for Melo worth it?

Coming In: The Aging Superstar

The basic box score numbers paint a very favorable picture of Carmelo Anthony. He is averaging 22.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. However, his True Shooting Percentage is a below-average 53.5 percent.

After a career-best assist average of 4.2 per game last year, his drop off in that regard is concerning.

Melo has also struggled to defend this season. His Defensive Real-Plus Minus of minus-1.73 is 74th out of 79 NBA small forwards. His Defensive Rating of 110.6 is also far below the Knicks’ 107.9 overall–which is still 23rd in the league.

On the other hand, Melo is still Melo. He remains one of the best mid-range scorers in the league and can take some of the scoring load from Paul and Griffin down the stretch of the season.

He has also shown a propensity to be incredibly effective as a secondary option during his many Olympic runs. That ability to play off of others has occasionally come to the forefront this season with Kristaps Porzingis growing on offense:

Although Knicks fans have been frustrated by Melo often taking shots away from Porzingis, Melo can still be very effective on offense. Taking a smaller role on offense may also be more palatable for Carmelo if he gets to play with more established stars in Paul and Griffin.

Going Out: Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and … ?

With the Clippers near the hard cap, negotiating a trade for Melo becomes increasingly more difficult. The Clippers also cannot trade a first-round pick until 2021, so the Knicks would need to be sold on whatever players would be coming their way.

Austin Rivers would be the centerpiece of a trade for Carmelo. Rivers, still just 24, is averaging career highs across the board at 11.9 points and 2.9 assists per game, but 17.0 points and 3.9 assists per game as a starter.

His True Shooting Percentage this season is a career-best 54.1 percent, but a remarkable 58.5 percent as a starter.

Rivers is still learning how to create effectively for others, but his assist/turnover ratio of 2.03 is better than that of current Knicks starter Derrick Rose (1.80). Rivers also has a better Defensive Rating and Real Plus/Minus than Rose.

Rivers  is locked in for next season at a reasonable price of $11.8 million and has a player option for $12.7 million in 2018-19. His improved shooting and defense make him arguably a better fit already for the Knicks than Rose and at a lower price.

The Clippers would also have to move on from Jamal Crawford to match Melo’s salary. The Brooklyn Nets are one team that is far below the salary floor. They might be willing to take Crawford in return for a future draft pick.

A 2021 Clippers first might not appeal to Phil Jackson, but it could be worth a look for Sean Marks. Either way, the Clippers will have to involve another team unless Phil Jackson changes his mind about Crawford.

Should Doc Go For Broke?

This might be the last go-around for the Clippers’ core. J.J. Redick will hit free agency this offseason. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both have early termination options for next year and could hit free agency this season.

If the Knicks are willing to trade Anthony for Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Wesley Johnson (needed to match Melo’s trade kicker), Doc Rivers should do everything in his power to make that deal work.

The core four of Paul, Griffin, Jordan, and Redick work incredibly well together. However, they have fallen short due to a huge hole in their lineup at small forward. Carmelo Anthony might not be a perfect fit, but he gives the Clippers their best chance at contention this season.

With most of their core at least potentially headed for free agency, the time for a big move is now.

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