By John Schmeelk
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Carmelo Anthony is not going to be a Knick next year. I know it’s a hard pill for many Knicks and Melo fans to swallow, but it’s inevitable.
I couldn’t care less what Frank Isola, Adrian Wojnarowski and other NBA reporters are writing. This is a matter of logic. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just how this thing is going to play out. Not buying it? Let’s proceed.
The first assumption that needs to be made is that Anthony’s first priority is to win. Obviously he wants to get paid, but Anthony has said on numerous occasions that he is willing to take less money on a contract if it helps him win a championship. It’s the right thing for Anthony to say and to do. If the Heat’s and Spurs’ trios didn’t take less money, those franchises wouldn’t be where they are today.
The only thing that will rewrite Melo’s legacy of being a me-first, ball-stopping, shoot-first player — whether it is accurate or not — is winning a title. It is and should be his first priority.
This falls in line perfectly with Phil Jackson’s attitude and statements about his star’s impending free agency. The Knicks want to win a championship, potentially even more than Anthony, and they’ve determined that it will be too difficult to put the proper talent around Anthony if he signs a max contract. In the latter years of the deal, Anthony would be taking up near 40 percent of the team’s salary cap.
While Anthony is a great player, he isn’t LeBron James, and he needs a strong supporting cast that makes up for some of his flaws. It would be hard or impossible for Jackson to get those players with Anthony on a max contract. It’s the right move for Jackson and the Knicks.
Wait a second. Both sides are on the same page, so this favors the Knicks, right? Wrong. It actually takes away the Knicks’ only real advantage in these negotiations: money. Even if the Knicks come in with a generous offer of $100 million over five years — about $25 million short of the max but still $20 million annually — it would only be $4 million more than what other teams could offer Melo in a max contract of their own: four years at $96 million. The yearly salary from other teams would actually be better than what the Knicks could offer.
Anthony would once again come back to the question that will eventually determine where he winds up: What team gives me the best chance to win?
There’s no easy answer, but it’s obvious to anyone that it isn’t the Knicks. With no cap space or draft pick this offseason, there’s virtually no chance that the Knicks win a championship in 2015. Anthony has three — maybe four — prime years left, and he cannot afford to sacrifice one to a rebuilding effort. He wants every chance to win as quickly as possible, but the Knicks can’t offer that.
The Rockets, meanwhile, have two other stars in Dwight Howard and James Harden, and were already the fourth seed in a stacked Western Conference last year. The Bulls were the fourth seed in the East despite the fact that they lost their two best offensive players to injury (Derrick Rose) and a trade (Luol Deng). They also have a difference-making coach in Tom Thibodeau.
Then there’s the dream of joining James with the Heat, or elsewhere. Even a team like the Wizards, with young guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, would provide a better chance to win than the Knicks. It’s true that none of those teams have the cap space to sign Anthony outright right now, but there are a lot of methods for them to get there that aren’t far-fetched. Odds are one team will be able to do it.
The Knicks might be on the right path with Jackson and Derek Fisher, but there’s no way to know for sure. Both guys are in roles they’ve never been in before. No one really knows if Jackson is a good GM or if Fisher is a good coach. Nor does anyone know who will be on the Knicks’ roster in 2015, the next time they will have a real shot to win a championship.
As much as Melo might like the bright lights of New York and the notoriety that comes along with it, would it really trump staying with an inferior team with an uncertain future on a lower annual salary?
The answer, obviously, is no. That’s why Anthony is going to leave. It is in his best interest, and could very well be in the best interest of the Knicks, as well.
There is a way forward without him, one that involves building a team the right way rather than simply waiting for free agency and swinging for the fences in the hopes that a pair of stars want to come here.
How? Read this space on Thursday.
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