By Ari Wagner of Fullcourtfreepress.com
The week began with the New York Knicks on the outside looking in, at least as a fan base. The Zen Master, Phil Jackson may be up to something and he showed part of what could be a winning hand this week and is still in the running to land Carmelo Anthony. Even if the Knicks lose Anthony, Jackson is making it seem as if everything is going according to plan.
Almost as if in ceremony with each other, longtime friends and Olympic Gold Medal teammates, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony opted out of their contracts and became free agents this week. With Anthony and James on the open market the media-buzz began and the rumors piled in.
Chicago and Houston reportedly have deals in place that could clear cap space to land one of the two and pair with their current All-Star rosters creating an instant shift in power within the NBA. Houston has already dumped the contract of Omer Asik to New Orleans and is rumored to have Jeremy Lin awaiting his ticket out of town.
Anthony has reached out to unnamed high profile athletes in the Chicago area to find out what it’s like to be a celebrity in the Windy City. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has contacted Anthony's former coaches to get a grasp on what coaching Anthony is like.
The Los Angeles Clippers have expressed interest in LeBron James and with his relationships between All-Star point guard Chris Paul and Clipper's head coach Doc Rivers; L.A. actually has plenty of chips on the table. They could clear salary cap but it would take parting with DeAndre Jordan and other pieces to land James and create their own Big 3 of James, Paul and Blake Griffin.
Let’s be real, James is likely to re-sign with Miami and help begin a re-build of the roster with GM Pat Riley this offseason after being exposed by the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals.
Phil Jackson has signed on for $12M a year and recently hired his buddy, Derek Fisher, a first-year head coach to a huge $25M deal. The two have zero combined years’ experience at their craft yet signed very lucrative contracts. Jackson has publicly come out asking Carmelo Anthony to take less money so the Knicks have more salary cap to work with and sign other players.
It seems a little unfair for Jackson, who seems to be spending money and making money to call out his star player who is proven at his expertise, to take less money when he and his head coach who do not have any prior experience were able to sign huge deals.
But Phil doesn’t care; he is the ‘Zen Master’ and has more rings than he can wear while Anthony has yet to even sniff one.
Just when you thought that New York will have absolutely no ability to obtain a quality or even mid-level player in this summer’s free agent market to pair with Anthony is a pathetic notion that could have been avoided, Jackson went out and made a trade. In essence he brought in four quality guys for one.
Shipping off Raymond Felton who has been spending more time in state court than he has been on the basketball court for a proven floor general who can run the triangle offense in José Calderon. Calderon is a strong shooter from outside with a knack for finding the open man and leading the charge as a true point guard.
Let us not forget that when he was on Toronto with Andrea Bargnani Calderon was able to get the best out of Bargnani and with the Knicks forced to pay him this season adding Calderon looking even more valuable.
Losing Tyson Chandler is a downgrade when you only get Samuel Dalembert in return. Nevertheless, the Knicks also received two second round picks with the deal and as the trend continues for Jackson, it is all going as planned.
Jackson selected Cleanthony Early with the fourth pick in the second round and Thanasis Antetokounmpo with the 21st pick in the second round. Each of these picks are quality players and talent that should not have slipped to the Knicks. Jackson, the ‘Zen Master’ that he is, stayed cool and was able to extract great talent with the trade and the draft.
Early is a fierce competitor leading Wichita State to an undefeated regular season last year and is a player that has a scent for the net. Scoring at will in the collegiate rankings Early will be able to be a spark off the bench right away in the NBA despite being drafted in the second round.
Antetokoumpo is the older brother of Milwaukee’s ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis, whom is considered one of the best young talents in the NBA. He is coming off a very solid year in the NBA developmental league and his length and athleticism creates matchup issues and makes him a great defensive stopper off the bench. If his brother can be anything similar to him, he will be the steal of the draft and furthermore if Early is as good as advertised in the NCAA he will be also the steal of the draft.
Jackson, although still a seedling in his executive career is looking like he will sprout very quickly which is right on pace for the New York fans base. The Knicks still have their work cut out for them in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes considering there are plenty of good destinations for Anthony to land and New York is not at the top of the list in terms of current roster.
For starters, Amare Stoudemire has decided to opt in to his fifth and final year of his contract worth a ridiculous $23.4M. Then to no one's surprise Andrea Bargnani has told the Knicks he will exercise the final year in his contract which creates a cap hold for the Knicks.
“Yeah, but Melo opted out of his $23.3M deal so we can still go out and add a solid max-deal right?” asks random Knicks fan.
In short, no. Despite Anthony and his $23.3 million salary hitting free agency this summer, the Knicks still enter this summer capped out due to massive contracts owed for the 2014-2015 season.
Going back in time, you can rationalize Staudemire's $100M deal all you want if you are Knicks front office. Still, he is currently seven years younger than Tim Duncan - who is performing at an all-time level - and Amare will be paid $13M more than Duncan next season.
Instead of being a corner stone part of the Knicks in his tenure, Staudemire is now the reason Jackson cannot spend this off season. Knicks financially could have landed LeBron James and kept Carmelo Anthony if Andrea and Amare's contracts did not exist. Or if the two were free agents next summer they could make a play at James, and who knows James could easily sign a one year deal with Miami and we can go through this same whirl-wind again.
Let’s focus on what Jackson can try to control this summer internally. $30M more than any other team and a 5-year-deal instead of four is what New York can uniquely offer Carmelo Anthony. New York is the biggest market in the world and winning in the big city is something very few have ever done.
Phil Jackson is one of those very few and also one of the most accomplished basketball minds alive. Jackson has hired a player's coach in Derek Fisher and is an offensive minded GM that will demand to get every ounce of potential from the players on his roster.
Jackson must sell Anthony on the future - and of course money - where other teams like Chicago and Houston can sell him on tangible win now opportunities.
Anthony is 30-years-old in the prime of his career and may not want to wait another season to contend with the hopes that Phil Jackson and the Knicks are able to bring in an elite level player. Which is obviously no guarantee, yet neither is the longevity of Derrick Rose’s knees in Chicago or the ability to coexist in Houston with Harden or Howard. The $30M in salary that New York can offer to Anthony and his family is a guarantee.
In essence there are two scenarios to be aware of as a Knicks fan. The first is one that involves Carmelo Anthony and that will take an extra year to develop. Available players next summer could be LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo or even Marc Gasol and each would bring added value and a nice skill set to pair with Anthony.
Melo would sign a five year maximum contract that would keep him in New York and with the FIBA World Cup this summer he could potentially recruit his fellow teammates to join him in New York. This is rumored to be how the big 3 in Miami started their talks and with the elite level cast on the USA team, if Anthony can convert one or two, the Knicks would be a force in the East.
Jackson used his second round picks wisely Thursday night and the hopes that the awful contracts of Amare Stoudemire and Bargnani can produce quality play this season the Knicks could actually make a splash in the weak eastern conference.
The second situation would not involve the likes of Carmelo Anthony if he were to sign elsewhere this summer. This is a very real potential and it has actually seemed as if Jackson has even tempted Anthony to leave by making it obvious he would like him to take a pay cut.
If Melo leaves the biggest draw next season at Maddison Square Garden would be if Lamar Odom can pull himself out of the depths that he has sunk into over the past few years and watching Spike Lee curse out a referee during a 20 point loss in mid-January.
On the flip side Jackson has inherited the majority of the players on the roster aside for Calderon, Odom and the two rookies coming in. With Melo leaving it will allow him to really build the look that he wants with complete salary cap freedom in the 2015 summer. Jackson can go to any scouting or recruiting dinner with both hands full of NBA Championship rings, including the rare Knicks championship ring.
If Anthony leaves for another team he will likely have to give $5M a year for 4 years in pay deductions to play with a contender as well as leave the $30M the Knicks can offer him on the table. If you do the math, multiply 5 million x 4 years – which is $20M – then add the $30M the Knicks can uniquely offer, we are talking about somewhere near $50M that Anthony will be forfeiting.
Make no mistake about it; Anthony’s decision will drastically impact the look and play of the franchise for the next five years or more. Whether the future involves Carmelo Anthony or not, without immediate cap space the rebuilding process will truly begin next summer and Knicks fans will have to suffer another year of patients.