By John Schmeelk
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Even if the end result was re-signing with the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony’s second contract in New York could have started poorly.
His apparent hesitation had fans beginning to think he only wanted to return for the maximum contract. New Yorkers are a self-assured bunch, and they want their players to want to be here, not just show up because of the money.
Then there was the issue of the max contract itself. During the All-Star break and then at other times during the season, Anthony verbalized how winning was his top priority moving forward, not money. Anthony already hurt the Knicks the first time he came here by forcing them to trade a number of assets instead of waiting to arrive via free agency. The impression was already smoldering that in the end, Anthony doesn’t care so much about the team and winning as long as he got his.
Forcing team president Phil Jackson to sign him to a max contract would have only reinforced those opinions and started Anthony’s second stint off on a bad foot with a city that already holds its stars to an unbelievably high standard. If reports are correct, Anthony decided to take around $122 million over five years, which would put his all-important 2015 cap number (when the Knicks have space) about $2 million south of what he could have earned under a max contract.
Ideally, Anthony would have given the Knicks even more space by accepting around $110-115 million over five years (that would equate to $3-4 million of extra space in 2015, which could have netted another good rotation player), but Jackson appeared content with Anthony’s sacrifice. In the end, Anthony got close to a maximum deal, and far more than any other team could have offered, plus the public relations bonus of being selfless by accepting less money for the good of the team.
Whether genuine or not, his attempt at replicating LeBron’s online statement won’t hurt either, though I doubt it will have the same long-term legs. Someone smart was advising Anthony, and some good vibes from the fan base will be the result.
This wasn’t a PR coup like LeBron’s return home to Cleveland, but it certainly will help Carmelo’s image. Those things, however, tend not to last too long if the player doesn’t win.
So now the hard part starts.
It has been well-documented how difficult it is to win with a player making max or close to max money. Knicks fans won’t be patient. Anthony has already been here for four seasons, only winning one playoff series. New Yorkers expect more from their stars than that, especially those that play at Madison Square Garden.
There aren’t a lot of good fits available in the 2015 free-agent class, spare Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. The Knicks only have three young players that could improve to the point where they can be very helpful parts soon: Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and Shane Larkin. (I can’t include Thanasis Antetokounmpo in that conversation yet, though he has flashed during summer league.) Anthony does have flaws (primarily on defense) that the team must keep in mind when building.
For Anthony’s part, he has to buy into the triangle, share the basketball and not only be the team’s leading scorer, but also their leader. This is now the Melo Era for the next five years, for better or worse.
The team will rise and fall with its star, and its star will rise and fall with them.
For Carmelo Anthony, it’s off to a good start.
Some early impressions from Knicks summer league:
– Cleanthony Early has shown he can hit a jump shot or two, and some athleticism finishing at the basket. But he has not shown that he can create his own shot off the dribble. That was one of the reasons he dropped in the draft and it’s obvious to see why. He needs to figure out a way to score against the quicker guys he’ll go against at small forward.
– Shane Larkin seems much more concerned with getting the team into the triangle and running it properly than showing off his own skills. I like the approach, but it hasn’t allowed Larkin to show off his raw athleticism or quickness. He should be able to break down the defense and get to the basket to create for himself or others. His defense has been impressive.
– Thanasis Antetokounmpo has flashed a lot of defense, and hacking in the summer league so far. He has also shown some passing ability and a lot of hustle and effort. He might need one year of development in the D league, but he could be a valuable roleplayer down the road.
– Finally, it was a smart move to being back Cole Aldrich. He has shown himself to be a good defender and rebounder, not to mention a good passer out of the high post, which is something that is very valued in the triangle offense.
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