With recent reports indicating that the Knicks are open to trading Carmelo Anthony to the Los Angeles Clippers without receiving any of the Clippers top 3 players (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan) in return, it becomes more and more likely that number 7's tenure in New York is reaching its conclusion. This is coming soon after Cleveland rebuffing New York's earlier trade offer in the week of Kevin Love for Anthony, so you would probably rightly assume that New York are preparing for the full rebuild ahead of the February 23rd. trade deadline by testing as many waters as possible using their leading scorer as bait.
What's interesting about this particular 'Melo trade rumour (after all, the 7-time all-star has been the subject of many a trade discussion while playing as a Knick, despite his no-trade clause being a particularly infamous part of his New York contract), is that by asking for no stars in exchange from the Clippers, New York have finally realised a full-blown tank is a key part of their future. And that's not exactly a bad thing.
For the record, I don't think Carmelo Anthony is why the Knicks are playing so badly. If you think the Knicks are bad now, I promise you they'll be worse once Carmelo leaves. His abilities as a scorer are well-known, and teams very rarely do better once a player responsible for over 20 points a night hits the bricks. It's more that Carmelo is a symptom of what's wrong with the way the Knicks structure and build their team (namely trading for veterans and throwing over-priced contracts at players past their prime for the sake of "remaining competitive"), and his departure will, hopefully, usher in a new method of team-building through accumulating picks and developing younger players.
In other words, the tank, baby.
Few would argue that Porzingis, not Anthony, is the future of the franchise, so why not make him the focus of the team? Phil Jackson earlier in the off-season spoke of needing dynamic, high-usage players like Derrick Rose around Porzingis so as to take some in-game pressure off the 21-year-old Latvian whilst facilitating his development. I remember this actually sounding pretty logical on paper, but with the benefit of hindsight it's apparent this experiment didn't work as expected. Rose, despite posting good offensive stats this year, would rarely play as the distributor people expected him to be, would seemingly get tunnel-vision whenever he barrelled towards the rim, and just straight-up seemed to not pass to Porzingis very often. Again, Rose's shortcomings aren't the worst thing in the world: if this trade goes ahead, New York will most likely let Rose walk in free agency this year, and the reason why brings me to what I think is the most likely trade in this Knicks/Clippers scenario:
Carmelo Anthony goes to the Clippers, New York gets Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and possibly either a draft pick or JJ Redick.
It's a slim possibility the Clippers will want to move Redick - his improvement each year has been a hallmark of professionalism (to which he credits his Kobe-esque obsessive work ethic) and the floor spacing he provides is an integral aspect of the Clippers offence, but LA might have to sweeten the deal along with potential picks if New York are gonna bite. At 38 years old, Crawford doesn't really have much of a place on a Knicks team looking to rebuild, so he probably won't be staying for long. A draft pick (or picks) would be the most valuable part of that hypothetical, and it's unlikely New York trade Anthony just to get rid of him unless opportunities to draft some youth are also on the table as well.
And now, the argument for Austin Rivers.
Let's just get this out of the way.
Yes, this is the same Austin Rivers included in the potential trade package for our once-in-a-generation scorer. I am aware of this.
A couple of years ago, any trade idea involving Doc Rivers' turnover-prone progeny for 'Melo would've been downright laughable. But that was then, this is now, and now is a world where Austin Rivers is having his best numbers yet with the Clippers, starting in lieu of an injured Chris Paul, and Carmelo is entering his twilight years still desperate for an NBA championship. Knicks need depth at the guard position, and despite being the subject of a number of highlight packages in the past where the Benny Hill theme would be highly apropos, Rivers is competent enough to fill that need. He wouldn't solve the immediate problem of "who do we start at point?" that would occur if (but most likely, when) Rose walks, but he's decent enough to play a role.
Maybe the Knicks use their pick to draft a young point guard. Maybe they focus more on the development of their D-League guards, like Ron Baker and Chasson Randle, who've shown promise when briefly inserted in games. All that's likely at this point is the Knicks committing to the long-term rebuild, without Carmelo Anthony. Times change: you can either adapt to them or continue to throw away ridiculous contracts.