NEW YORK – Just when it looked as if the Melo-drama was finally over, we have this fascinating postscript.
Carmelo Anthony joined Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, of course, with eight months of maneuverings mercifully ending with the nine-player trade with Denver that made Madison Square Garden his new home on Feb. 22. But a Monday visit from Utah brought with it a retroactive hypothetical, as Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor made Knicks president Donnie Walsh aware for the first time that it could have been Deron Wiliams wearing the Knicks jersey and not Anthony if those days and dealings had gone differently.
As O’Connor told Walsh approximately an hour before the game and would later repeat in an interview with NBA Confidential, he targeted the Nets’ and Knicks’ assets and decided to play the waiting game. Somebody would lose in the Anthony sweepstakes, and that team would immediately hear from O’Connor to discuss a marvelous Plan B.
New Jersey played that role in the end, jumping at the chance to give the Jazz the same package they’d presented to the Nuggets in order to land Williams after Anthony went to New York and signed a three-year, $65 million extension.
O’Connor said other teams had inquired about the All-Star point guard in the days leading up to the deal, but not the Knicks or the Nets. New Jersey general manager Billy King said the possibility was first raised after Anthony was traded.
“(O’Connor) called me just to say sorry about (not getting) Melo,” King said by phone on Wednesday. “We talked about that, and he made another proposal not including Deron. I countered with something including Deron. He said, let me think about it, then he countered another way, then said, ‘let me talk to the owner and let’s talk in the morning.’ He calls in the morning and says, ‘we’ve got a deal.’”
While Walsh is certainly thrilled to land Anthony, he admitted the notion of landing Wililams would have been appealing had he known he was on the market. Asked if things might have turned out differently if he was privy to that information, Walsh said with a shrug when asked by NBA Confidential, “it might have.”
It’s not a knock on his view of Anthony so much as it is a reflection of Walsh’s opinion of Williams, who will be available yet again after next season as a free agent (he has a player option for the 2012-13 season). And when that time comes, this revelation should be remembered.
While so many have penciled fellow 2012 free agent and New Orleans point guard Chris Paul as the next star to hit Broadway, I wouldn’t be surprised if Walsh targeted Williams before him (there are other reasons as well, as noted by CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger in this piece). It would be the best of both worlds, having first landed the dynamic scorer in Anthony only to follow some 17 months later by stealing the point guard prize from the cross-town Nets just as they start a new era in Brooklyn.
With a franchise in rebuilding mode like never before after losing its star player and iconic coach in the span of two weeks, O’Connor took a few minutes to discuss the details of the deal and life after Jerry Sloan after his team‘s 131-109 loss to New York.
Q: I was impressed with the way in which you did that trade and have been very intrigued to pick your brain on it. Can you just talk about how you saw it and how it came to be?
A: “I just think it was, for the long term, good for the franchise. I think it was something that we needed to do. I think I’ve said it before at the press conference, that Deron never said he didn’t want to come back or he wouldn’t come back or ‘that’s it,’ but we felt like we never heard that he really wanted to come back either. So with the fact that the trading deadline was 55 games into it, and there was the uncertainty of next year, I think we felt like…When you give up your best player in the prime of his career, it’s difficult to do that, but I thought what we received in return was future benefits.”
Q: When did you first start strategically looking at it?
A: “I’ve been looking at it for a while.”
Q: Specifically, though, in relation to the Nets and the Knicks. I was talking to Donnie about it, and it sounded like you essentially waited to see how Melo’s situation transpired and went to the loser in those sweepstakes.
A: “Yeah, we were looking at that. I thought Denver did their shopping online, so to speak. When they investigated everything that they investigated, I was following suit. And I thought the three things that we needed were to get a good young player – a good, big, young player if we could. To get a point guard that could keep us competitive, which I think we did obviously. Tonight was an exception.
“And then hopefully to get some draft picks. We fulfilled all of those things going forward. When we looked around the league at quote-unquote ‘destination points,’ I didn’t see anything that was a better deal than this. I think the assets that both the Nets and Knicks had were things that intrigued us (one source close to the situation says the Jazz likely would have insisted on Knicks rookie guard Landry Fields being part of the deal).”
Q: You hear about how other executives, just like the media, being shocked by the trade because you kept it so quiet. And then you hear them saying, ‘Well, geesh, if I would’ve known…’
A: “That’s the thing that bothers me. Anybody who called me I talked to them about it. I investigated everything. But I made the calls to a couple of people about certain things. I mean look, I’m not trying to defend it, because I think I got what we wanted. But when you listen to those things, you go…(pauses)
“There were a couple of other teams that certainly inquired and certainly looked at (Williams). And then I asked, ‘Would this player be made available if we made any decision on this,’ and they said, ‘no,’ and I said, ‘OK, let’s move on.’”
Q: When was your first contact with the Nets? Did you really wait until the Melo situation was over?
A: “We had talked to Billy about a lot of different things. Billy was doing his due diligence too. He wasn’t just sitting there waiting. He knew he had assets and I’m sure he contacted a couple of other people with those kinds of players.”
Q: To switch gears on you here, how are doing in the post-Jerry (Sloan) life? You’re talking about a long time day in and day out working with one coach. How are you doing on that front and how has (new coach) Ty (Corbin) fit in?
A: “We were together for almost 12 years, and I’m not sure how many Gms can say that. It’s difficult. It’s a growing process now for Ty, and he’s doing a terrific job with it, but it’s certainly…From a personal standpoint, you always knew that the guy had your back. You always knew it. He didn’t need to tell me it. He just did it. And I hope that he felt the same way about me and that we’re all in this together. It’s not ‘personnel is over here and coaches are over here.’ Maybe because I coached for 12 years and spent time with Larry Brown, it’s all about trying to do it the right way and you’re all doing it.”
Q: Do you look at it as a painful experience because of how abruptly it ended?
A: “It was difficult for it to end that way. But again, it’s like if you go back and read what was said, he always said that there’s going to be a time when I just might wake up and say, ‘That’s it.’ And he said it maybe 10 times to the press. Give him credit. I think he felt like he was hurting the ball club.”
Q: In what way?
A: “I just think he felt like he wasn’t giving everything that he gave. He was running on fumes and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like what he was doing. He just said, ‘That’s it.’ And you know what, we tried to talk him out of it the next day. He didn’t want to hear it. That was it for him.
“It happens. Whether it’s Tom Landry or Don Shula or it’s Red Auerbach. Those guys meant so much to the franchise that there’s an adjustment period.”