Raging Bull: Counting the Cost of a Carmelo Anthony Trade

From Flickr via Keith Allison

From Flickr via Keith Allison

As the Chicago Bulls vainly struggled  to score against the Sacramento Kings (ranked 28th in defensive rating)  it was hard not to think, “They really need Carmelo Anthony.”

Certainly, his multifaceted scoring abilities would be a great boon to an offense that often looks like a clogged heart working overtime to futilely pump thickened blood through plaque-covered veins. The Bulls always appear to work so hard to accomplish so little. Anthony would be the equivalent of a quadruple bypass.

Yes, in principle, the notion of acquiring Anthony makes perfect sense. Adding the reigning scoring champion to the league’s second-worst offense has to help. It’s why some say the Bulls should land Anthony at all costs.

And that’s where flags need to be raised. How much is it going to cost to bring him in, in terms of current players, future players, and money? If the benefits of bringing over Anthony are outweighed by the cost, it’s not worth it.

If you bring up cost there’s a fallacious argument that gets lofted out there on the subject that says, “Well I guess you just want to win regular season games and don’t care about championships,” as though the choice is over winning a ring or not winning  one.

No, the choice is between what the Bulls would have to pay to get Anthony, and what they get in return for it. If the net cost makes them better, and thus closer to winning a championship, they should do it. If they get worse, it’s not. In other words, you have to do a cost-benefit analysis.

First, let’s consider the cost, and let’s start with teams that have recently made similar trades.

Over the last few years there have been three teams that have made a big move to land a second star to put them in a position to win a championship:

  1. The New York Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony to play alongside Amare’ Stoudemire.
  2. The Los Angeles Lakers landed Dwight Howard to compliment Kobe Bryant.
  3. The Brooklyn Nets have made three big trades to acquire Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz first, Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks second and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics third—all with rising star Brook Lopez in the fold.

At present the Knicks are 19-29, the Nets are 21-25 and the Lakers are 16-31. (You can argue that those teams have injuries etcetera, and you’d be right. But, I’d also say that’s precisely why the Bulls need to consider things thoroughly, and I’ll discuss that more a little later.)

The three teams have combined to win one playoff series since making their respective trades, and only one of the three, Brooklyn, would even make the playoffs if the season ended today. These trades did not put them in championship contention.

The Lakers weren’t even able to keep the star they traded to acquire, Anthony is thinking about leaving, and the Nets “window” is looking like it is shut before it ever opened up, and they’re possibly looking to trade away Williams.

Point being, trading for a second star not only doesn’t assure you of success, it carries a massive risk. Not only are all three of those teams that traded for stars have problems in the present, it looks difficult for them to suddenly turn things around in the future as well.

Brooklyn is in the saddest state, they don’t get a first-round pick this year, or in 2016. Next summer Atlanta has the right to swap picks with them. They don’t have any real cap relieve until the 2016-2017 season. They’re bad now and will continue to be bad for the foreseeable future.

The Knicks will see cap relief in the 2015-16 season, a tad sooner, but they are sending two of their next three first-round picks to the Nuggets, and that’s with only two players, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr., on their roster.

The Lakers owe their first-round pick in 2015 to Phoenix, and their pick in 2017 to the Orlando Magic. They get a measure of cap-relief this summer but not as much as advertised. According to Larry Coon, technically, they could sign Carmelo Anthony to an almost-max deal, but that’s only if they let ever other free agent walk.

In contrast, the Bulls have cap space coming up this summer. They have the chance to acquire Nikola Mirotic from Real Madrid (which may or may not happen). They still own all their first-round picks. They also have the Charlotte Bobcats pick (probably) coming this year, and a likely Sacramento Kings pick in the next year or two. (Yes, I’m aware that this could eventually turn into a second-round pick, but that would require a nine-year of destitution that no team has had since the merger).

It’s not so much a question of whether a second star generally helps to win a championship—it obviously does. It’s more a question of whether is assures a championship. And, on that count, it obviously doesn’t.

And Anthony isn’t exactly the kind of player who has proven he can galvanize a franchise. He’s only played in the second round of the playoffs twice and never past that. He’s only finished in the top five in MVP voting once, and never higher than third. He’s finished top 10 only twice. He has only finished top 10 in PER once (fourth in 2012-13), and he’s never finished top-10 in Win Shares.

Don’t misunderstand my intent here. I’m not saying he’s not a beneficial player. He is. I’m just pointing out that historically he hasn’t been as beneficial a player as he’s getting touted by some to be. He’s not LeBron James. He’s not the type of player who can carry a group of scrubs to the Finals the way James did in Cleveland.

You really have to honestly ask, what is left on Chicago if the Bulls acquire him?

If they trade for him, they’re going to have to give up current assets. Tommy Beer of Basketball Insider suggests this trade:

New York sends: Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and $2 million in cash

Chicago sends: Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich, Chicago’s 2014 first-round draft pick and their 2015 second-round pick.

Boozer and Hinrich would be to make the money work. The picks, Snell and Butler would be to make the trade work. Also, the Bulls would be taking on Felton’s bloated contract which would restrict them in free agency for years to come.

A starting five of Rose, Shumpert, Anthony, Gibson and Noah would be intriguing. Shumpert’s defensive instincts would mesh well with Thibodeau’s style. Anthony respects Thibs, and could adapt. The starting five would be nice.

The problem would be who comes off the bench? They’d still have Dunleavy, but they couldn’t bring over Mirotic. They probably couldn’t keep D.J. Augustin. They’d have Erik Murphy and change. So what happens when injuries occur? You know they will. It’s the Bulls.

That’s what’s happened with the other teams that have failed. They put too much stock in their starting five, assemble a ragtag bench, and the teams get so top-heavy they can’t sustain an injury. Then, when the injuries happen, they collapse.

Depth matters, and gutting your bench for a superstar has been counter-productive of late. That’s why I said earlier, the injuries aren’t really a good reason to excuse the teams who made trade struggling now. They put themselves in this position by the trades they made.

Depending on what the Bulls have do, though, they may not have to trade for Anthony. Per Coon, Anthony would cost $22,458,401 if the Bulls gave him his max-possible deal. So, why not do that?

In order to acquire that much money, even if they didn’t trade, it would effectively mean a trade to get him because the Bulls would have to jettison so much salary to land him, they’d still be gutting the team.

They’d have to amnesty Boozer (which hey, that’s win-win). They’ve already traded Luol Deng. They’d also have to trade Taj Gibson in a salary dump. And, in signing him, they’d be required to forego bringing over Mirotic, at least for this year, and possibly permanently if that delay results in a new deal between Mirotic and Real Madrid.

So in effect, even just signing Anthony in free agency could leave the Bulls with Noah being the only serviceable big left on the team. (If Mohammed stays for another year, he’s far from serviceable). The Bulls could bring in vets on the minimum or use draft picks on the position, but it’s going to hurt. You’re just not going to replace Gibson with a vet minimum player. Boozer might be frustrating at times, but he’s much better than what’s going to be there in place of him.

The reality is that vet minimum players are available for the minimum for a reason.

Rookies take time to learn and develop, and there’s always a risk involved. The Bulls could use both picks on power forwards, but they’re not going to instantly be quality producers. And, they get those two picks either way.

Think of it this way: If you were Gar Forman before the Deng trade, and you got a call from the Knicks offering Anthony for Deng, Gibson, Boozer and Mirotic, would you take it? Because in effect, that’s what you’re giving up to sign Anthony.

That’s a lot to pay, even if the Bulls can keep all the picks they’re owed. Can they persuade Anthony to take less money like James did in 2010? If they can lower the cost it makes more sense. If not they need to consider if they would they be better off keeping Gibson and Mirotic, and chasing a secondary star like Lance Stephenson in free agency.

There’s a real danger of buyer’s remorse when it comes to Anthony, whether it’s from trading for him directly or selling out everything to land him in free agency. Either way, it’s not a no-brainer, and to say otherwise is just an excuse to not use your brain.

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3 Responses to Raging Bull: Counting the Cost of a Carmelo Anthony Trade

  1. Mattgrafx@aol.com'
    Matt February 5, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    As a fan who admittedly doesn’t look much beyond the next year or two, I want them to do it if the opportunity is there. Depth matters, but it’s your starters/stars that win playoff series in the NBA. Yes, it is risky, and two big “ifs”… The Bulls FO is not known to take risks, but IF they are willing and IF Carmelo wants to come here, we have a shot. I’m not the Bulls’ GM, but if I could, I’d rather give up future assets if I’m playing to win now because the best chance for a championship run with Derrick/Carmelo/Jo would be in the next two years. The trade mentioned above seems reasonable, but I’m not sure that trade motivates the Knicks to make a deal, even though there is the real threat of losing Carmelo for nothing, because It is possible for the Bulls (and other teams) to sign Carmelo via free agency. The Bulls would certainly lose Taj, (as well as not so much lose, but say farewell to Boozer via amnesty or expiring trade, and Hinrich expiring) but would keep the rights to Mirotic, and if they are smart with money, can possibly bring him over for the MLE. (more “ifs” of course). In that scenario, they’d fill out the roster with their pick(s) and low cost free agents – Thibs seems to be able to work miracles on players that are willing to put the effort in.

    Knowing the Bulls can actually do that without help from the Knicks, might give them some leverage for a trade right now or after the season. The Knicks are probably no better than a first round exit in the playoffs as constructed and I wondered if Mirotic/picks/expirings would work for NY, but there is no marquee name they can “sell” in that grouping (similar to possible problem with the suggested trade in the post)… how about Rondo? Just based on the rumors you hear around the league, it seems as if Rondo is available for the right price – would the Celtics want Mirotic and expirings for their rebuilding team? Having him plus their high first round pick might be enticing enough to get Rondo to NY, maybe with Jeff Green, whom they have been trying to move. How about an impossible blockbuster trade: Bulls get: Carmelo; give Boozer, Dunleavy, Mirotic, Sac pick, Charlotte pick (or their first rounder this year). Charlotte gets: Boozer, Dunleavy, Sac pick; give Gordon, Sessions. Knicks get: Rondo, Jeff Green, Charlotte pick or Bulls’ first round pick; give Carmelo. Boston gets: Gordon, Sessions, Mirotic; gives Rondo, Jeff Green. All contingent upon Carmelo signing a new contract with the Bulls. Mix it up different ways with different teams, but the main idea is to get Rondo to NY and Carmelo to the Bulls using future Bulls’ assets to make the wheels go round.

    There’s a 98.3% chance that none of these things happen, but I think it would be worth the risk if the Bulls could acquire Carmelo, preferably without having to lose too many of their current players. No matter which way the Bulls would have to do it, a team that starts Derrick, Jo and Carmelo seems to have a better shot at a championship run than most other possibliities I can think of for the Bulls, short of them trading Carlos Boozer for Kevin Love :)

  2. Kelly Scaletta February 5, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    Well the trade was suggested by a Knicks writer, so I’m it’s actually skewed in favor of the Knicks. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Mattgrafx@aol.com'
    Matt February 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    I appreciate that you guys take the time to write these stories – I enjoy reading them, and once in a while responding to them!

    I’m not complaining too much about the suggested trade – it seems okay for both teams, but what about the casual fans, the ticket-buying public, etc.? The Knicks seem to want a marquee-type name they can promote if Carmelo leaves, so I was trying to see if something could work along those lines. More to the point of your post, though, I am okay with the risk, and I don’t think we would be in as bad of a position as the Knicks and Nets are right now, (I’m not sure the LA situation is comparable). It looks like the championship window would be the next 2-3 years, so I hope the Bulls could use Mirotic/draft picks over having to trade away Taj and or Jimmy, but I think the Bulls and Thibs would manage either way.

    Unfortunately, I fear that it will be like 2010 – chasing a guy we really don’t have a chance to sign, and then whomever we do get (if anybody) would be deemed a consolation prize.

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