Tom Bogert, CBS Local Sports
Bad teammate. Not a leader. Selfish. Ball stopper. Doesn’t play defense. Doesn’t make his teammates better. Can’t win with him. Coach Killer. Why can’t he be more like LeBron James?
Carmelo Anthony has been inundated by any variation of this cacophony of analysis, from fans and media alike, for the majority of his career. But it typically doesn’t come as explicitly and publicly from any of his bosses as it has from Phil Jackson this year.
It’s simple: Carmelo Anthony deserves better than Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks.
Anthony has never been anything but proud to wear the Knicks mostly ignominious jersey, never been anything but proud to call Madison Square Garden home since the team mortgaged nearly the entire roster to trade for him ahead of the soon-to-be-Brooklyn Nets.
Naturally, it’s fair to wander into the conversation of blaming Anthony for his fortunes. After all, he pushed for a trade to New York the season before his free agency then decided to resign with the Knicks in 2014 despite a barren roster.
The impetus behind Anthony’s trade to New York was him not signing a contract extension in Denver. The Nuggets then (smartly; a foreign concept to anyone in management for the Knicks) noticed his value and got everything they could for their star rather than losing him for nothing in a few months. If the Knicks didn’t pull the trigger on that trade, the then-New Jersey Nets, desperately wanting a star for their move to Brooklyn, were circling. The Nets ended up trading for Deron Williams, something the Knicks might have done if they lost on the Anthony sweepstakes.
For some reason, fans seem to side with the billionaires who own NBA franchises rather than the labor they hire. A regular response is ‘shut up, you’re getting millions of dollars to play a game’ without noticing the billions the men behind the checks are worth to own a professional franchise as a toy.
Anthony has seldom had anything even faintly resembling a championship level roster around him. The only team to point to, aided with about seven beers to blur up the vision a bit, is the one he dragged to the Western Conference Finals. That team was populated by Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith. It’s not exactly LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
Then in New York, Anthony had to maneuver around the inevitable breakdown of Amar’e Stoudemire, which happened in season one of his five year deal. The Knicks’ one big season in Anthony’s tenure was in 2012-13 under Mike Woodson. They put Melo at power forward, surrounded him with shooting and Tyson Chandler and Anthony pushed the Knicks to 54 wins as he won the NBA scoring title.
For some reason, management decided to scrap that formula. The Knicks haven’t been .500 since. Reminder: that team was comprised by Chandler, Raymond Felton, the corpse of Rasheed Wallace and the aforementioned Earl Joseph Smith III while being coached by Woodson. Nothing about that screams a winning bingo card.
The Knicks haven’t been .500 since. Now, Anthony is dealing with losing on top of Jackson semi-regularly deriding him publicly in his backwards Yoda-style of speaking.
That was in reference to a critical Bleacher Report column on why teams can’t win with Anthony. A few months prior, Jackson’s confidant Charlie Rosen wrote a critical piece on Anthony and suggested he’s outstayed his welcome, something that the Knicks’ star reasonably took exception to.
Throughout these passive-agressive exchanges, Jackson has come off looking the worse. He continues to arrow not-so-veiled ambiguous shots in the direction of no. 7 with the efficiency that most of Anthony’s critics lament of his shooting. Jackson uses social media, then lurks back to middle America where he gets to escape questioning.
Anthony? He’s stuck answering an incessant stream of questions with whenever Jackson decides he wants to get frisky online. Anthony is obliged to speak with the media and they’ll ask. He’ll handle it as well as any human really can, deflecting as well as a riot shield but sometimes the shrapnel gets through and he snaps back. It’s only human nature, if you had to answer 15 questions every day on different shades of the same issue, how would you react?
Also, this foolery has reportedly given potential free agents yet another reason to not sign with the Knicks. Which makes perfect sense, who would want to work under that construct? If Jackson was as much of the front office savant he thinks he is, then he would’ve had the foresight to obviate such an occurrence.
As always with the Knicks, it starts at the top. James Dolan’s reign has been an ominous cloud that continues to haunt the tenants of Madison Square Garden. We all thought he’d done the smart thing by hiring someone of Jackson’s pedigree, but now it’s ostensibly yet another misstep by Dolan.
Is the Knicks’ petulant owner living vicariously through Jackson? Because Jackson’s alleged esoteric, arcane knowledge of basketball has resulted in moves that haven’t been too dissimilar than what Dolan might do if he tried his own unqualified Jerry Jones effort of appointing himself general manager.
Jackson has been that annoying dude in your fantasy football league who comments on every single draft pick with any array of condescending, passive-agressive comments that range from “woah” to “what an awful pick” yet never seems to find himself doing much winning. Look at his track record as an executive, who’s he to sit atop his mountain of millions foolishly donated to him by Dolan and pontificate about his antiquated offense?
Let’s start with the good he’s done: drafting Kristaps Porzingis. There’s no doubting that Porzingis has, at the very least, given the fans a tenable reason for hope rather than the mirage of names dangled ahead of them since Patrick Ewing walked out the door for the last time.
Lest we forget there was noise that Jackson would draft Jahlil Okafor is available or trade the pick if not. And we’ve see how well Okafor’s time in Philadelphia has gone. There were also reports that Jackson gave the thumbs up for a three team trade that would have had the Knicks trading down to the 9th pick, only for the Charlotte Hornets to pull the plug. Yet again, Michael Jordan saving Jackson’s backside.
Now, onto the much more densely populated end of the Jackson-as-an-executive spectrum: the bad.
With the power of hindsight, the Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith fire sale to Cleveland has been horrific. When it happened, Jackson had the benefit of the doubt and some goodwill with the fans.
In actuality, what happened was that the Knicks gave the Cavaliers two integral role players to their championship roster while the Knicks returned Lance Thomas and a 2019 second round draft pick. Yep, the Knicks still haven’t been able to cash in on that too. The deal looks even worse considering that the Denver Nuggets were able to shake two first round picks out of Cleveland for Timofey Mozgov just two days later.
Jackson’s coaching hires currently range somewhere between “let’s give Jeff Hornacek the benefit of the doubt” and “absolutely woeful”. Remember: Kurt Rambis was a serious candidate to replace Derek Fisher on a permanent basis.
This summer, it was borderline inconceivable to sign Joakim Noah to an albatross four year contract when his body had already begun to break down, clear for all to see. No doctors necessary. Noah has been a disaster since day one. But, don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll regain his athleticism and cure his frangibility by year three of this $74million contract!
Speaking of Noah, the only reason the Knicks had the ample cap room to sign him was a residual from the Derrick Rose trade in which the Knicks sent Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant. The Knicks received damaged goods who has made more headlines off the court than on it. He started the season on a civil trial on a sexual assault charge, that he won, then continued through the season in which he straight up disappeared from the team without telling anyone.
Who would Jackson rather have right now, Lopez or Noah?
Lastly, if he had the stones to trade Anthony, he should’ve done it when he had a modicum of value. And it should’ve been done with just a little more class than whatever this is.
If Carmelo Anthony does ultimately acquiesce to waiving his no trade clause, I do hope he goes to Cleveland. I do hope he wins a title and I do hope that Phil Jackson is watching.
Maybe he’ll even tweet about it.