The New York Knicks endured such a miserable stretch during the Isiah Thomas reign that we tend to forget the true definition of terrible. But in a city where winning is the only thing more important than style and caché, not even the scoring prowess of Carmelo Anthony can save James Dolan's fat wallet.
While the Eastern Conference continues to get stronger, the Knicks, perhaps predictably, are sadly on the sidelines, with tightened finances and a virtually unchanged roster. With all due respect to Andrea Bargnani -- the toxic and recently acquired former No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft who was routinely booed in Toronto during his worst pro season -- there's nothing about this team that's better than Miami, Indiana, Chicago or perhaps even Brooklyn, for the time being.
In the modern game, the price of obtaining a salary albatross -- or in this case, three of them -- will haunt a team for quite some time and keep it wilting somewhere between mediocrity and early postseason exits. Skyrocketing luxury taxes have prevented even the Knicks from dodging the perils of the salary cap. The long-term deals given to Amar'e Stoudemire (who will make roughly $45 million through 2015); Tyson Chandler (whose status as an albatross is perhaps debatable, to be fair), and of course, Anthony, have the Knicks strapped to the point where a second-round playoff exit seems like an accomplishment.
Meanwhile, Chris Copeland, arguably the team's most consistent playoff performer, despite staggered minutes, signed with Indiana for a reasonable two years at $6 million, where he will instantly bolster the Pacers' bench. This is one example -- of many -- of why the Knicks find themselves stuck in neutral heading into next season.
GM Glen Grunwald, with nearly $80 million owed to nine players over the upcoming season -- including J.R. Smith, who will resign -- is over both the salary cap and the luxury tax threshold. Because of the new CBA rule that prohibits teams over the cap from acquiring players via sign-and-trade, Grunwald has very little flexibility. Chandler and Stoudemire are both inked through the 2015 seasons, while Raymond Felton has a sweet player option for 2016. Grunwald's best asset aside from Carmelo is Iman Shumpert, who is still on his rookie contract and, ironically, the team's lowest-paid player.
This leads us right back to Anthony, who in his decade-long career has yet to reach the NBA Finals. Ultimately, he can choose to opt out of his mega-contract next summer and, in turn, allow the Knicks to start the entire process of building a legitimate contender over again.
Suddenly, that doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
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