The Fate of the Franchise Hangs in the Balance as the Knicks are at a Crossroads With Carmelo Anthony


July 12th, 2014: New York Knicks Small Forward Carmelo Anthony signs a 5 year/$124 Million extension to stay with the franchise — a move that locked him into wearing blue & orange through at least the 2017-2018 season (2018-2019 if his early termination clause is not exercised.)

Whether this was a ‘smart’ move or ‘dumb’ move is a topic for a later time, however, I would like to premise this discussion by disclosing the fact that I am a die-hard Knicks fan who thinks Carmelo Anthony is the single-best scorer in the NBA, has been for the past decade, and will continue to be for the forseeable future.

Put your fruit away, I didn’t say ‘Best Offensive Player’ — i said ‘Best Scorer’. Big difference. No-one, even the most biased of Knicks fans, is going to argue that Melo’s overall offensive game is on par with the Durants/LeBrons/Currys of the world. Simply put: if there’s a gun to my head and the only way I live is if the champion I choose wins a 1-on-1 game of basketball, first to seven points: I am picking Carmelo every time without blinking.

Now, sitting at 10th place in the Eastern Conference Standings with a record of 22 wins and 25 losses — Phil Jackson and the rest of the Knicks front office needs to sit down and have a serious conversation about liquidating the assets of their franchise player.

I say this with as much sincerity as I do regret. Whether we Knicks fans want to admit or not, Melo is our guy. The Knicks whiffed on ‘The Summer of LeBron’ in 2010, and ultimately settled on Anthony being the cornerstone of a ‘Big 3’ including Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.

Melo finally had his supporting cast, and was supposed to propel his career to unprecedented levels and lead our beloved team to the promise land.

It never happened.

He’s got the talent, he’s got his money, he’s got the “Mecca of Basketball” at his fingertips — yet, he and the Knicks fan base have been stuck in purgatory ever since he walked in the door.

We want the taste of victory for him and as much as we want it for ourselves. We want everyone to genuinely believe us when we scream to the heavens that Melo is still an NBA superstar. Unfortunately, Knicks fans may never get the chance.

Carmelo is now 31 years old, and needless to say: he’s not getting any younger. Ever since signing his gargantuan extension, Anthony has played in only 82 of 129 (63.5%) of the team’s regular season games — his absence due to surgery on his knee, and most recently: a sprained ankle suffered after stepping on an official. Per what Melo told Stephan Bondy of The New York Daily News, everything is fine:

"“I’ve had (the pain) early on in the season. I’ve had a stretch where, especially in November, when we were playing every other day. So we had to monitor that. But we got through that and as December went and came, that’s when I started getting my legs back, even early on in the month I started getting my legs back,” Anthony said. “Then the ankle injury, I don’t want to say that probably sparked everything. I’ll get through this phase for sure. This is not nothing that I’m worried about. Even the coaches and the staff is not too concerned about that.”"

We hear you, Melo, but while “the coaches and the staff is not too concerned about that” — we are.

We’re concerned because this Knicks team, as currently constructed, is not going to be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy anytime soon — let alone win a single playoff series — and you, a 31-year-old at the tail end of your prime, just played 151 minutes over the course of the last six days before sitting out Tuesday night’s loss vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. You’ve missed 15 of your last 23 shot attempts, and your P(layer) E(fficiency) R(ating) of 20.5 is the lowest its been since 2008.

I don’t want to make this sound like an indictment or that he’s washed up, but, the man simply cannot carry the load of an entire franchise anymore — both physically and statistically. If Carmelo wants to win a championship before he retires, he needs to be the second or third best player on a team — end of story.

So where does that leave us?

The Knicks can’t just snap their fingers and have 50 trade offers waiting for them — because despite the NBA salary cap increase this season and the scheduled jump for next: Carmelo is owed $22,875,000 this year, $24,559,380 the next, and the number only keeps getting larger as his contract progresses. Regardless of how high the cap number gets for 2016-2017, Melo’s contract is going to be a burden.

Therefore: there are only two places he can land — organizations that not only could and would be willing to make room for him, but, teams Melo would waive his no trade clause for — as no bottom-of-the-barrel franchise is going to mortgage their future to acquire a salary cap-crippling star at the tail end of his career/he obviously won’t agree to join any team who has to dump everything to obtain him:

The hypothetical trade screenshots do not include any draft pick compensation via the Melo recipient, which both would certainly entail — but, you can’t tell me these offers landing the Knicks two “sky’s the limit” stud rookies (Justise Winslow/Bobby Portis) wouldn’t tickle their rebuilding interest. More importantly, Carmelo (who will be 32 by year’s end, !35! by the time his deal expires) and the big contract-matching trade pieces will be off the books at year’s end (second year in the Rose trade).

In this situation: You now have a Knicks team centered around the bargain four-year rookie deals of Kristaps Porzingis and either Justise Winslow or Bobby Portis with massive cap flexibility AND a (likely) presence in the first round of the 2016 draft, which they currently do not have because of the preposterous Andrea Bargnani trade (fleecing) initiated by Toronto GM Masai Ujiri.

Why would Miami and/or Chicago take on this financial burden? Because like it or not: Melo is still on “Who do we have to kill to make room for him in a trade?” status. Not to the extent that a LeBron James/Kevin Durant/Steph Curry would carry, but, these two “win now” fringe title contenders suddenly become legitimate threats the moment they acquire Anthony.

In conclusion: I feel confident saying Carmelo has 1.5 seasons of “elite” status left. He’ll always be Melo and get buckets until the sun goes down, but, there is absolutely no chance his efficiency on this current Knicks roster will remain constant as time progresses, let alone improve. It’s kind of the way “getting old” works.

Does Phil Jackson truly think this team can win a title in this time frame? If so, then this conversation is irrelevant because

  1. He’s hiding a signed free agent contract from Kevin Durant in his office desk drawer, or…
  2. Knicks management thinks Melo can continue to perform at an “elite” level for 35+ minutes per game  — as New York, after Wednesday night, is now 0-5 this season without him in the lineup.

If not, then the Zen Master must broker a deal to get four quarters for his dollar bill before he’s left holding nothing but a handful of pennies in two year’s time.

I can feel your anxiety as you’re reading this, fellow Knicks lovers, trust me: I don’t want to let go of him either. His acquisition single-handily revitalized the spirit of the fan base and turned us all from beaten-down bipartisan fans to hopeless basketball romantics overnight.

I leave you with this: ‘Father Time’ is undefeated. He just took Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant to the woodshed, and he’s coming for Carmelo Anthony next. Act now, Phil Jackson, or have your legacy go down the sixth avenue of Knicks GMs before you — a dark, dead end of mediocrity and “what if…”