By Jason Keidel
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An iconic, selfless, first-ballot baller with five rings opted into the final year of his contract, at perhaps half his value.
Another player, 11 years into his career and with no rings, opted out of the final year of his contract, at perhaps twice his value. And that’s the one we talk about.
When the confetti was brushed off the hardwood, along with the ephemeral envy of the team game, we forgot about the San Antonio Spurs. Their name and game are incidental, a blip on the NBA EKG of celebrity obsession. Likewise, Tim Duncan, who eschews money for the more spiritually gratifying goal of legacy, is similarly forgotten.
But when Carmelo Anthony, who has a fraction of Duncan’s skill, will, and wisdom, opts out of his contract with the Knicks to dip his toes in the free agent waters, we can’t stop babbling about his options.
The irony, of course, is that we spend all this time asserting our old-school ethos, insisting we’re the rare fan who dwells in the We over the Me, yet we don’t give a damn about Duncan, despite the surgical destruction his team just put on LeBron James.
Now, Knicks fans by and large are heartbroken over the idea that their beloved Melo could bounce from MSG and NYC, ostensibly taking with him any chance for a championship. It’s an odd outlook considering in four years Anthony has done nothing to end the 41-year title drought.
Let’s even be more vulgar about this. If Anthony indeed leaves, it will be the best thing to happen to the Knicks since they won the 1985 NBA Draft lottery, and the gold-plated path to Patrick Ewing.
Anthony was scheduled to make $23 million this year, which he evidently thinks is a pittance. Meanwhile, Duncan has five chips and makes half Melo’s salary, but to hear the public’s breathless indignity, has a fraction of Carmelo’s cachet. And while the nature of fandom is the illusory assurance that our team is doing the right thing, the collective stubbornness over Melo, in defiance of all the facts, is shocking.
Fans make the fatal assumption that since NBA teams need a star to win that the Knicks need this star to win. Anthony is officially on the back-nine of his career, so it’s just absurd to assume that if he couldn’t get a whiff of the trophy on the front-nine he’s better equipped to lead a team to a title now.
I don’t speak for nor do I speak to Phil Jackson. But it’s logical to assume he’d love for Melo to leave the city. He can’t say it because of the neurotic bromance New Yorkers have with Anthony, but if Anthony signs with Chicago or Houston or even Miami, Jackson’s life becomes exponentially easier.
The upcoming season is already lost, a dark mulligan on the way to a more glowing dawn. Once the rest of their anvil contracts fall from the mesezoic Knicks’ necks, they can rebuild the right way, which means not spending $129 million — the most the Knicks can offer Anthony — for a ball hog who’s best years are either behind him or dwindling before him.
We New Yorkers pride ourselves for our collective, eclectic wares, our highbrow bent and sky-high IQ. Yet when it comes to Anthony, the natives are restless and senseless.
When the Orlando Magic (and now Houston Rockets) implode then it’s Dwight Howard’s fault. When the Lakers lose it’s on Kobe Bryant. When the Heat melt it’s on LeBron.
Yet when the Knicks lose the last person we point to is Anthony. It’s as though he gets a perennial pass for his personal and team failures. That’s what happens when we go all-in on a local hero. We become blinded by our fantasies, projecting our hopes and rosy hues on someone who never justified our optimism.
If you’ve heard Carmelo interviewed this week, he has spoken entirely in individual cliches about growth and market size. He talks about the best situation for him, but not the best team, about how he can build his legacy in the glittering, historical hues of victory. Like his on-court persona, his off-court proclivities are to shine alone.
And what happens if Jackson doesn’t offer Anthony a max contract? Then he also made a woeful business declaration. No team can offer him more than $95 million over four years, which would only happen if he can use the Knicks as leverage. And he can only get the Knicks to top nine digits with a stack of stellar offers from the competition.
Charles Barkley often said that anyone can score in the NBA. And while Melo can do it better than just about anyone in the league, the litany of scoring champions with bare knuckles is almost endless. Jordan and Kobe could win the twin titles by dint of their defense as well as their ability to fill the basket. No one is confusing Carmelo with Jordan or Kobe or LeBron, all of whom were hardwood chameleons who worked both ends of the court with monolithic, maniacal fervor.
Anthony is lost in his one-dimensional game, an Alpha name with a Beta game. He’ll get paid, if that matters. And it seems to matter to Melo more than anyone, rings be damned. The Knicks can lose just as easily without him, and save a King James’ ransom in doing so.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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