By John Schmeelk
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On Tuesday night, the final details of Carmelo Anthony’s contract came out, and the information should be extremely disappointing to Knicks fans. They should still be happy that their star is back and that the Knicks will be very competitive for the next four to five years, but it is going to be very hard to get to a championship level during that same time frame.
In the end, Anthony took a 3.8 percent overall pay cut, which equaled an additional $1.5 million for the Knicks to spend next offseason. The Knicks would have likely had enough to offer a second max deal to Marc Gasol next offseason even without that pay cut. That is less than even the biannual exception that teams get to spend, and not a ton more than the veteran’s minimum.
If Anthony had taken a 10-15 percent cut it could have freed up enough money to add at least another rotation player, or perhaps even another starter. Ask the Heat the difference that a player like Mike Miller makes, or the Spurs how much difference a player like Boris Diaw or Patty Mills can make.
In other words, the help that Melo gave the Knicks was cosmetic. It serves Anthony’s image well but does little to actually help the Knicks build a team around him. In the end, he stuck to his word and took less to stay with the Knicks, but it is hard to take seriously what Anthony said on All-Star Weekend:
“As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I get paid. If I stay in New York, I get paid. As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern. My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. I want to compete at that level.”
He continued, “Without a doubt, any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I’d do it. I told people all the time, always say, ‘If it takes me taking a pay cut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. (James) Dolan’s steps saying take my money and let’s build something strong over here.“
Clearly, money still meant a great deal to Anthony, which is his right. He shouldn’t be criticized for that. None of this means that Anthony does not want to win. Nor does it mean that he is selfish. He was under no obligation to take a pay cut and he has every right under this NBA CBA to maximize his earnings.
More power to him. He got his, just like he did the first time he came to the Knicks via trade with the Denver Nuggets. Most people on this planet would have done exactly the same thing. Comparing his lack of willingness to take a discount to Dirk Nowitzki’s, Dwyane Wade’s or Tim Duncan’s is unfair, since all three of those are past their prime. Melo is right in the middle of his.
But now, Anthony can never complain about not having enough help around him to win a title. He has signed on for that. A lot of people like to say, “You can’t win a title if Carmelo Anthony is your best player.“ Now Melo might have to live with that label because the Knicks are going to find it very difficult to give him the players he needs to win a title due to his salary structure. The Knicks lost players and picks the first time they acquired him, and they lost cap space and flexibility when they re-signed him.
Again, this is not to criticize Anthony; these are simply facts that he is now going to have to live with.
Approaching this new contract decision, I called this offseason a legacy decision for Anthony. Putting myself in his shoes, my biggest concern would have been trying to change the perception he has among many fans that he is selfish and not a winning player. (For the record, this is something I disagree with.)
The only way you change that perception is by winning a championship. If I were Anthony, my entire offseason decision-making process would have been maximizing my chance at a title, whether in New York or elsewhere. Anthony balanced his priorities a different way. In the end, and for the second time, Anthony decided that getting paid as close to the max as possible was more important to him than increasing his chances of winning a title.
There’s nothing wrong with that choice, but it is a choice he is going to have to live with. I wonder if he is going to be happy with it in three or four years if he can’t get past LeBron James in the Eastern Conference.
Many have pointed out that it isn’t fair that stars have to take less to increase their chances of winning under this CBA. In the grand scheme of cosmic fairness that may be right, but the system is what it is and all the teams and players are operating under the same set of rules. You have to live with it and adjust your decision-making process accordingly. Ask NFL players if they think it’s fair that their contracts aren’t guaranteed. NBA players still have a pretty good deal, exceeded only by Major League Baseball.
Phil Jackson also deserves some criticism here. After being a poor negotiator with Steve Kerr, he did not drive a hard enough bargain with Anthony once his options were drying up. Not only was the discount that Anthony took minimal, but he also gave Anthony a no-trade clause — something extremely rare in the NBA — and an out after four years.
The no-trade clause gives the Knicks little flexibility to extricate themselves from this path if their 2015 free-agent plan goes bust, since Anthony would be able to cherry-pick what teams he would be willing to play for. It would destroy all leverage the Knicks would have in a potential trade situation and limit their return on their star.
The out after four years is less of a concern, since by that point Anthony will likely be in decline and will likely be overpaid under his current contract. If he wants to get out of New York, the feeling will likely be mutual and the Knicks will be happy to see him leave.
These are my last words on Anthony’s contract.
It is what it is and the Knicks are going to have to live with it going forward, for better or worse. I realize that a lot of Knicks fans won’t be happy with this story. I went back and forth with them on Twitter yesterday for a good hour.
I’ll close by saying this: I am not an Anthony hater. I’ve been a Knicks fan since I could understand basketball in the late 1980s. I’m a season-ticket holder. I don’t get rich writing this blog, one I try to write from a Knicks fan’s perspective — not as a traditional media member. I write because I love the team. All I want is to see them win a title. My loyalty is to the colors. So take it however you will, but that’s where I stand.
Now, let’s move forward.
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