Continuing one of the most tumultuous offseasons in league history, the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder agreed on Saturday to a trade that will send 10-time All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder in exchange for center Enes Kanter, forward Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round Draft pick, according to league sources. The deal will be made official on Monday.
The deal will pair the 33-year-old Anthony with league MVP Russell Westbrook and four-time All-Star Paul George, acquired by the Thunder in July for guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis, giving OKC an powerful offensive trio that now must be viewed as a legit contender in the crowded Western Conference, along with the Rockets and, of course, the defending champion Warriors.
Ironically, it was Houston that had tried all summer to pry Anthony from New York in hopes of pairing him with Chris Paul and James Harden. But the Knicks were never enticed by Houston’s many iterations of two- and three-team deals, which would have centered on Rockets forward Ryan Anderson.
New York had no interest in Anderson, who has three years and $60 million remaining on his deal. Nor were the Knicks moved by the many other players the Rockets believed they could get from third teams to include in potential deals along with Anderson — like Milwaukee guard Matthew Dellavadova or New Orleans center Omer Asik.
The Knicks wanted to make sure they could clear salary cap space for the 2019-20 offseason, when most of the old deals done under former team president Phil Jackson would be gone one way or another. So, for example, they weren’t interested in offers from Portland, which included young vets on long deals like Maurice Harkless and Evan Turner. Portland did not include its up-and-coming center Jusuf Nurkic in any offers to the Knicks.
The 2018 second-rounder could also be high in that round next June, with the Bulls in rebuilding mode after trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota on Draft night last June.
The Knicks finally made the move in part to avoid any potential headaches if Anthony were not traded by the time the team’s training camp begins next Tuesday. Anthony has been very effective over the years living in the fishbowl that is New York City, where he and his family became a fixture at many local events over the years. But the daily grind of rumors and questions that would have followed both Anthony and his younger teammates would have worn down a team looking to finally turn the page and build fully around young star forward Kristaps Porzingis.
Anthony had expanded his list of teams to which he’d accept a trade this week to include the Cavaliers and Thunder, after limiting his choice of teams to the Rockets all summer. Anthony had a no-trade clause in his Knicks contract — inexplicably conceded by Jackson as part of the five-year, $124 million deal awarded to Anthony in 2014 — and had to give his consent before New York could consummate any deal.
Kanter, the 25-year-old center who has established himself as one of the better scoring big men in the league, averaged 14.3 points in just more than 21 minutes per game in OKC last season. And he’s on a short deal, which pays him $17.8 million this season, with a player option for 2018-19 at $18.6 million. This is Kanter’s third team after being taken third overall in the 2011 draft by Utah. The Jazz traded Kanter to OKC in 2015 as part of a three-team deal with the Thunder and Detroit.
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OKC was criticized for matching a four-year, $70 million offer sheet the Blazers gave Kanter in the summer of 2015, but Kanter was outstanding offensively for the Thunder the following season, finishing fourth in the league in Offensive Rating and 10th in PER. He is, however, a decidedly subpar defender, which is why he’s struggled to crack starting lineups since coming into the league.
McDermott has yet to find his footing in the league since coming to Chicago in a Draft night deal with Denver, which took him 11th overall in 2014. He was, however, averaging 10 points a game off the bench for Chicago last season when the Bulls sent him, forward Taj Gibson and the 2018 second-rounder to the Thunder in a deal for guards Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne and forward Joffrey Lauvergne.
McDermott can still shoot — he hit 37 percent on 3s in Chicago last season — and the Knicks will need floor spacing to complement both Porzingis and newly signed free agent Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Cleveland was not able to engage the Knicks on a deal despite Anthony including them on his approved list this week. The Cavs had no interest in moving either center Tristan Thompson or the unprotected 2018 first-round pick they got from Boston in the Kyrie Irving deal last month. Even though Thompson has three years and more than $52 million left on his contract, his defense and rebounding were enticing for the Knicks, who’d turned down potential deals with Cleveland earlier in the summer that centered around Kevin Love.
Golden State is still a prohibitive favorite in the West, but the Thunder’s Westbrook-George-Anthony trio will be formidable offensively, creating mismatch problems most nights while making rim runs to the basket much easier for the likes of center Steven Adams.
The renaissance could be short-lived, as Westbrook, George and Anthony can all opt out of their respective deals next summer and become unrestricted free agents. George in particular is a gamble, as he had told the Pacers before the trade that he planned to sign with the Lakers next summer. But that’s a subject the Thunder will revisit next year. Starting next week, it’s all in for 2017-18.
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