By John Schmeelk
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Phil Jackson was finally asked Wednesday about Carmelo Anthony returning to the Knicks on a max contract. His answer should ring like music to Knicks fans ears.
He prefaced his remarks by referring to what the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have done in recent years.
“I think a precedent has been set, because the way things have been structured now financially for teams, is that it’s really hard to have one or two top stars or max players and to put together a team with enough talent you’ve got to have people to make sacrifices financially. So we hope that Carmelo is true to his word, and we understand what it’s going to take, and we will present that to him at that time,” Jackson said.
He went on to talk about the possibility of Melo resigning, or leaving:
“If it’s in the cards, man, are we fortunate. If it’s not in the cards, man, are we fortunate and we’re going forward anyway,” Jackson said.
Does that sound like a man that’s scared about Anthony leaving the Knicks? It could simply be a negotiating ploy, but it is a good one, based on everything Jackson and Anthony have said about his impending free agency over the last few months is simple.
That said, Anthony will not be back with the Knicks on a max contract because they won’t offer one to him. In the end, there is a much better chance that he walks to another team than returns. The Knicks can still offer him one more year than other teams, but their advantage in terms of dollars per year will either be mitigated or eliminated completely based upon Jackson’s goal of having enough money to surround Anthony with the talent necessary to win a championship.
While this position increases the chance Anthony leaves for a more talented roster, it is the exact attitude Jackson should have. There’s no point in bringing back Anthony if there aren’t enough remaining resources to build a championship-caliber team around him. The franchise would be much better off letting him walk, trading away all their assets for picks, tanking in 2015, and making a run the following season with tons of cap space and some young talent. There’s a path to a championship in that method as well. The floor might be a lot lower without Anthony in tow, but the ceiling is a lot higher than a situation where a declining 34-year-old Anthony is taking up 40 percent of the teams’ cap four years from now.
So where’s the middle ground? The Knicks can come in with an offer of five years and $90 million, paying Anthony more than what LeBron James made last season over the course of a contract that would take him to the age of 35. It would give the Knicks a ton of flexibility to bring in two other max players, or at least close to that, and surround him with the necessary talent to win a title in New York. Anthony would still be bringing home a fortune and have a chance to win in New York, a legacy clincher.
Or, Anthony will leave for a team more equipped to win next season, and get similar money from a team like Houston or Chicago. It seems like Jackson is ready to roll with that punch if it comes. It would be a tough pill for Knicks fans to swallow but one they would be thankful for in 2015-16. They might even be able to get some value back for Anthony in a sign and trade situation.
It’s a thin tight rope that Jackson has to talk, but if he traverses it perfectly, the franchise will be set up extremely well in the long term. Stuff like this is the reason Jackson is making $10 million a year, and he will waste no time earning it. Jackson is wise not to put the franchise in the situation where it is desperate for anything, including having Anthony back next season.
The Knicks have a path forward no matter what their franchise player decides to do.
Follow John on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports at @Schmeelk
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