The Celtics have consistently denied they want to trade Rondo. But once this trade deadline passes, and it isn't clear if he will even play before February, Rondo will have only one guaranteed season left on his contract. Like with Anthony when he applied pressure to the Denver Nuggets by threatening to leave in free agency, the Knicks wonder if Rondo will be able to have a say in where he might be traded if the Celtics end up fearful he'll leave in free agency.
That may seem contrived, yes, but this isn't a made-up scenario. It is a genuine option. You have to give the Knicks this: It has worked before.
If that fails -- and who knows how Rondo will mesh with this Celtics team, it could work well and he could want to stay -- the Knicks fully believe they will get one or two of the following in free agency in 2015 when they expect to have large salary-cap space: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Tony Parker or Rondo when his contract is up. Under certain circumstances, James himself could be a free agent again that summer.
This is what the Knicks do. They did it when they traded for Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Zach Randolph during the disastrous Isiah Thomas era. They did it going into 2010 when they were sure they'd have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson in New York. They ended up with Amar'e Stoudemire, the only player among that group whose previous team didn't offer him a guaranteed max contract.
Even as the rushed pairing of superstars has failed recently with the Los Angeles Lakers and, it currently appears, with the Brooklyn Nets, the Knicks appear to want to continue their efforts to go that way.
Wednesday the polished and slowly-built Thunder got 29 points from Kevin Durant, 24 from Serge Ibaka, 18 points from Reggie Jackson and a triple-double from Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are 23-5 now, tied for the best record in the league with the Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers, all teams led primarily by players they drafted or acquired early in their careers and developed. All three of those teams have beautiful-looking futures.
Perhaps the Knicks shouldn't be blamed. Being a free-agent destination is a rare advantage, even if it is the era when the small-market majority has block voted to make it much tougher to assemble super teams. It's way more fun to hunt for big game, even when you plan the hunt for two years, than it is to gather and trap.
Even now the current team might as well swing for the fences and try to make the playoffs because there's no draft pick coming this season. That's why head coach Mike Woodson continues to stay on the sidelines. The Knicks don't have a good replacement for him available and next summer they can shoot for the stars and offer their coaching position to top names such as Jeff or Stan Van Gundy or use their vacant president position to go after Phil Jackson or something along those splash-worthy lines.
Wednesday, Woodson was once again let down as his team looked to lay down defensively, barely putting up a fight despite the Christmas stage.
"I'm a competitive guy and I want our guys to be competitive," Woodson said. "They weren't good enough, that's why the game was so lopsided."
"The game plan," J.R. Smith said, "was to take [Durant] out of it."
Durant scored nearly a point for every minute he was on the floor. The game plan, indeed, has failed. Many of them do, every season 29 teams' game plans eventually fail. The Knicks are usually among them.
When game plans fail, the prudent move usually is to change them and try something else. The Knicks will have that chance coming up.
But the signals the Knicks are sending is they're just going to change the names and rehash the same routine. One of these cycles, they might figure, it's bound to work.