Carmelo Anthony’s free agency was somewhat overshadowed by LeBron James. Well, everything in the NBA was. James’ mere presence on any team was going to shift the title conversation. That was the power of James’ decision.
Anthony’s decision between staying in New York or possibly leaving for a team like Chicago had a little more nuance.
While Anthony had been to the Playoffs in every single year of his career but one (last year), he had never quite experienced the same level of postseason success as his draft mate in James. Anthony had been to the Conference Finals just once. His career was full of false starts in the Playoffs and frustrating defeats. That goes for being both in Denver and New York.
This, it seemed, was his chance to go remake his postseason legacy and latch on with a winning team like the Bulls. If Derrick Rose was healthy, that is a title team. Anthony is the kind of scorer that team sorely lacked.
Anthony ultimately decided to stay with the Knicks. Many believed the reason was money. New York had the advantage in that department (not to mention his wife’s career interests were in New York as well) thanks to the NBA’s collective bargaining rules. So even though this was a Knicks team going through a bit of a transition having missed the Playoffs last year and changed general managers and coaches, Anthony decided to stick around.
He told Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com the reason had everything to do with winning and not the large paycheck he will collect:
“I want to win. I don’t care about the money. I believe Phil will do what he has to do to take care of that. I don’t think we’re that far away. People use ‘rebuilding’ too loosely.”
Certainly, $124 million makes it easier to sleep well at night when winning still seems at least a year away. And it is true the Knicks will have boat loads of cap room to spend on big-name free agents in 2015 and 2016 if that is the route they choose to go. New York could still get involved in trade discussions too.
Then again, the Knicks have never been a team to trust with cap space. They struck out on LeBron James after two years clearing up the mess created from Isiah Thomas’ free agent follies — remember Jerome James and his five-year, $29 million deal? — and settled on Amar’e Stoudemire. That is a contract they are regretting now as he has failed to mesh with Anthony and injuries have slowed Stoudemire down.
And then you ahve to consider who is in charge too.
Anthony may have all the confidence in the world in Phil Jackson. The plain fact remains that Jackson has never managed a basketball team from the front office. He has never had to make that balance of the salary cap and finances that general managers regularly have to do. And he is doing this all for the first time with the pressure of being in New York and win-now expectations.
At least he can be relieved that Anthony is bought in — although there are already rumors he feels he can force his way out if the time comes.
Then there is coach Derek Fisher. He was playing for the Thunder a year ago and no one has any idea if he will stick it out as a coach. Jackson will certainly be there to guide him, but Fisher has to be the voice in the locker room. He is a great unknown for the future of the organization.
Add it all up, and it makes the winning over money argument a bit shaky for Anthony. He might really believe in what the Knicks are building. But, at this stage of his career with so few accolades next to his name, Anthony had maximum leverage to go chase a title. Instead he stuck it out in the Big Apple and the big mystery of these new-look Knicks.