By Jason Keidel
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After their corpses were scraped off the San Antonio hardwood, the Miami Heat became the most dissected and disrespected team in sports.
People who should know better are pounding their fists on the dais, demanding the team be detonated. Miami has reached four consecutive NBA Finals, yet they are a disaster, one bad bounce from fifty losses next year.
They’re too old. They’re too slow. They’re too comfy. They’re too rich. They’re too lazy. They’re too fat and fatuous on the fumes of four straight trips to the NBA Finals.
This is what happens. When the presumed, favored team with the best player falters, the labels are swapped and mangled and misguided. What did Miami do? What will they do? How could they falter so badly to such an unassuming foe?
Let’s be clear, the Heat didn’t lose. The Spurs won. Yes, that’s an essential distinction. And please listen to Pat Riley, who knows something about the champions. He’s a winner — which is why he left the Knicks. He said it’s time to retool, not rebuild.
And now we hear from the rumor mill that Carmelo Anthony is the answer to Miami’s woes. Makes sense. A team needs passing and defense and then gets a guy who can’t pass or play defense.
Forget the obvious basketball illogic. It’s clear the masses are still high on the fumes of the Melo mythology, gorging on the Syracuse days and the faux homecoming parade we gave him, despite the fact he was essentially raised in Baltimore and the reality that he hasn’t sniffed a title in 11 NBA seasons.
Quick, name the players New York surrendered for Anthony. Exactly. No one remembers, which speaks to how unimpressive they are. Yet the Nuggets have a way better record than the Knicks since the trade — in the infinitely tougher Western Conference. The Knicks can’t even make the playoffs with a supposed superstar in an anorexic Atlantic Division.
Is it all Anthony’s fault? Of course not. The Knicks are a poisoned franchise, and the toxins are spawned by the worst place — the owner. But if you’re a max player with max money you need minimal results. And thus a playoff berth is mandatory. One healthy superstar can get you 40 wins. LeBron led the 20-win Cavaliers to 66 victories. But when Melo misses the playoffs, it’s the coach’s fault, the GM’s fault, the roster’s fault…
Carmelo Anthony is a wildly gifted scorer. He’s always been talented, but never transcendent. And if you’d like to argue that he would be perfect in Chicago, where the Bulls play stifling defense but need some scoring, that makes a modicum of sense. But this Miami madness should stop.
You’re asking Melo to check half his check and his ego at the door, and then defer to two or three players. All in the sole name of victory. Does that sound like Carmelo Anthony? Doesn’t it feel like he’d rather be a king in New York than a prince in Miami?
LeBron James, at his core, is a giver, a selfless hardwood savant whose on-court IQ would make Bobby Fischer blush. No one playing today knows the winning parquet algorithm better. LeBron may want Melo in the abstract, in the way we’d love to visit Paris or Portugal, until you glare at the invoice.
Forget the ephemeral bromance every fourth year. There’s a quite a chasm between vaporizing Cambodia in the Olympics and playing 82 games together, plus a plethora of playoff games. Being buddies and roommates are a different endeavor. That’s not to say LeBron can’t win with Carmelo, but he needs Serge Ibaka more than George Gervin.
Dwyane Wade, whose body or soul vanished during the Finals, is owed $40 million over the next two years. He knows he won’t get that money anywhere, anytime again. So why opt out? Pat Riley can preach to the Big Three until his tongue falls off, but asking all of them to take another pay cut for Carmelo Anthony feels and smells like a pipe dream.
Even if the rumors were true and Miami and Melo longed for each other like high school lovers, the finances are mangled practically beyond repair. James, Wade, and Bosh would have to be simpatico again and add another Alpha to the fold. It was surreal the first time, and feels unreal this time.
And why would Melo do it? The Knicks can pull far more stacks from the vault than anyone, over $30 million more. Forget our debates about his game. It’s hard for anyone, from selfish to selfless, to forgo that kind of cash. Just ask Robinson Cano.
Phil Jackson has offered the perfunctory platitudes. But what would you give to know his real take on Carmelo Anthony? No doubt the Knicks want him and can legitimately use someone of his gifts. But Jackson, who built his bejeweled resume on team play, knows that Melo can’t make the Knicks a title contender as the Alpha. Who would know better than the man with 13 rings?
If you look objectively, Melo’s migration south would surely help a team — the Knicks. Jackson has to toe the company line and say he’s imploring Anthony to stay in New York because he’s so popular among Knicks fans and feeds the misguided notion that since you need a star to win a title you need this particular star to win a title.
But if Anthony leaves he does Jackson’s job for him. He would leave the Knicks in infinitely better financial shape and after next season, the Knicks will have the latitude to sign several stars. With a rookie coach and old roster, the Knicks are looking at a wasted season, anyway. They would win more games if Carmelo stays, but it doesn’t justify the price tag for keeping him.
The only entertaining part of this story is the titans running both teams. Pat Riley and Phil Jackson have jousted over some sacred part of NBA history before. But it’s hard to imagine both men fighting over a player whose game doesn’t light their collective fires.
Not even the Knicks’ president really wants to be here. Jackson’s heart is still in Los Angeles. But he came for the money. And Melo will stay for the money. He’s not going anywhere. And neither are the Knicks.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.
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