Would we have made the playoffs? That's speculative at best, as is all of this discussion and so it's mostly pointless. I feel in a trade scenario you can only really compare the value given up for the value received. No speculation on "what if he waited for free agency". There are way too many variables to accurately say "Melo should have waited until Dec. 1st, 2011 to sign with the knicks and then we'd be in a better place". While that may be true, it's also unreasonable to expect that would have been the outcome of *NOT* doing the deal. Someone else would of made the trade hoping he'd sign, Maybe Denver goes deep in the playoffs with him make the finals and he decides he'd rather stick it out in Denver. Maybe Boston or NJ or the Clippers make a huge play for him and he signs else where. Maybe the entire season (or more) is lost in the lockout and he signs with China and can't escape. Maybe, maybe, maybe... Just too many variables at work.
If we compare talent levels of given up players to what we got in return, I think we flat out "Won" the trade. 2 super star level players for a bunch of guys that barely fill out a roster? That's a no brainer.
And back to the intangible benefits of the trade; I think allowing Carmelo and co. to go through those experiences last year will be crucial in building their chemistry going forward. And crucial to this season's success. Instead of all those hiccups going on now at the beginning of a short season they are mostly done with. Moving forward from here is much easier with Carmelo and Billups already in place.
We are actually a leg up from where Miami was at this point last year because of it. We saw the struggles that they had last season in getting going and we saw that with the Knicks as well after the trade. But now that a season is done with I fully expect that the Knicks have it together enough to be competitive with Miami.