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Breaking Down What It Will Take for NY Knicks to Keep Carmelo Anthony Long-Term

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Breaking Down What It Will Take for NY Knicks to Keep Carmelo Anthony Long-Term
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Carmelo Anthony will have the option of leaving the New York Knicks soon enough.

After this season, 'Melo can opt out of the last year of his current contract and explore free agency, a right he told The New York Observer's Rafi Kohan he plans to exercise:

I want to be a free agent. I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It’s like you have an evaluation period, you know. It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.

Before you go writing a sequel to the departures of LeBron James and Dwight Howard, know that Anthony won't necessarily leave New York.

The Knicks can offer him the most money, roughly $129 million over five years. Anthony also wanted to play for them and has embraced the big-city culture. They're his team, and leaving them and the lifestyle they come with behind would be difficult for him.

That doesn't mean he's a lock to stay, either. He wants to win. If he can't win in New York now, and it doesn't look like he'll win in the Big Apple later on, he could leave.

It's up to the Knicks to make sure it doesn't get that far.


Keep Iman Shumpert 

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Some part of Anthony understands how inept the Knicks have been at developing and retaining their own talent.

When he first arrived, he knew the team's farm was mortgaged for him. Danilo Gallinari? Gone. Wilson Chandler? Sayonara. Numerous draft picks? Bon voyage. Most of their depth? Au revoir.

Kohan writes that Anthony understood, yet didn't fully grasp, the situation he was coming into: 

To hear Anthony tell it, coming to the Knicks has always been part of a long-term plan. Upon arrival, he knew the depleted lineup—a result of the February 2011 deal that brought him to town—would take time to reassemble, and then there was the matter of adjusting to life in New York.

Given his background, Anthony believed he had thick enough skin to handle the city’s harsh win-now spotlight and sports tabloid culture. He was wrong.

People in New York, they expect higher than they should expect, let’s just be quite frank, Anthony says. Which is good. That’s what makes New York New York. But it was like, O.K., maybe I gotta put another layer [of skin] on.

Depth is no longer an issue for the Knicks, who despite the number of question marks attached to their roster, have a near bottomless rotation. But it's a rotation comprising mostly of aging vets signed at discounts and talents the Knicks are gambling on or have purchased. Anthony himself was bought and paid for, not developed from within.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Shump is key to keeping Anthony.

Presently, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the only players—excluding undrafted-roster hopefuls—on the docket New York itself selected. Drafted less than four months ago, Hardaway barely counts. The Knicks don't know what they have in him yet, and we don't know what their plan for him is either.

Shumpert's case is more curious. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith previously said James Dolan wanted to trade him. Sources have since corroborated his findings, with The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring writing that Dolan was infuriated Shumpert played in just one summer league game over the offseason.

This is the type of tyrannical stupidity that has come to define the Knicks. Dolan rules with an iron fist and the inborn sensitivity of an ice-cream addict recently dumped by her long-time boyfriend. It's this same "you or me" drivel the Knicks must abandon with Shumpert.

A source told the New York Post's Marc Berman in May that Anthony "loves" Shumpert and figures him to be a future star. After all that's happened since then, I feel confident in saying 'Melo is one of the few, if not only, reasons Shump, New York's best two-way player, is still around.

Absolutely everything the Knicks have done, everything Dolan has OK'd or spearheaded, has been with Anthony in mind. Using that logic, it seems unlikely the Knicks would trade Shumpert, unless it's for another star—which it won't be. He alone isn't enough and the Knicks are thin on expendable assets to package with him.

Only this is unchartered territory. In the battle for control, Dolan always wins. Would he trade Shumpert anyway, solely because he's the boss and power-craving junkie? Right now I say no, but with him you never know.

Dealing anyone Anthony actually values would be insane at this point. Pulling the trigger on a likely low-profile Shumpert trade that won't improve New York's standing much is even worse.

Look at all the great teams. Almost every single one of them houses a player with deep-seated ties to the organization.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
"Home-grown" talent can be priceless.

The Miami Heat have Dwyane Wade. The Chicago Bulls have Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. The Oklahoma City Thunder have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The San Antonio Spurs built a dynasty around a "home-grown" Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Same goes for the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant, though in fairness, he was traded for.

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New York must hold on to Iman.

Championships aren't just bought. In almost every case, contenders are founded upon at least one player who was there from the beginning. 

Four decades of title-less basketball later, the Knicks should know this. Shumpert may not be the next Kobe, Wade or Westbrook, but he's an in-house talent with promise the Knicks didn't have to sell their soul for. By professing his allegiance to the young combo guard, it's clear Anthony understands the need for such pieces.

If keeping 'Melo in orange and blue is the end goal, the Knicks must come to terms with this, too.


Win Division; Get Out of the Second Round

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Failing to win the Atlantic Division and/or getting out of the second round doesn't guarantee 'Melo would leave. But it sure makes his decision to stay a helluva lot easier.

Almost everyone and their cousin's pirate's parrot have the Brooklyn Nets ripping the division crown from these Knicks (Full disclosure: I'm not one of them). ESPN's SCHOENE projection system also has the Knicks finishing 37-45, a prediction Anthony scoffs at.

“Sometimes there’s glitches in the computer,’’ he said, via Berman. “That’s all I can say.’’

Chances are, 'Melo really believes that. And how could he not? The Eastern Conference got stronger, the Knicks included. Subtracting 17 wins from their 2012-13 total is brash.

That doesn't mean New York's work is done. Nor does it mean proving the "computers" wrong is enough. Rendering the critics who have the Knicks finishing behind the Nets wrong is a better place to start. Defending their division crown while getting to the Eastern Conference Finals is an ever better goal to shoot for.

The Knicks haven't made it out of the second round since 2000. Anthony himself hasn't tasted a Conference Finals berth since 2009 with the Denver Nuggets. To get him to stay in New York, the Knicks must convince him he can win there. And there's no better way to convince him they can win than by actually winning.

A championship would be great, but it's not necessary. Anthony understands how the NBA works.

"Barkley, Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller—you mean to tell me they’re not great?" Anthony asked Kohan rhetorically. "Yeah, a championship validates that. But these guys are great.”

Make no mistake, 'Melo wants to win a championship, but it's not going to take a title this season to keep him in New York. The prospect of winning one later on would suffice.


Shifting Gears

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Stop looking to 2015 as a safe haven. Refuge from this debacle cannot be found there.

Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler reported in July that the Knicks were planning to let 'Melo build his own squad in 2015, when the team has plenty of expiring contracts coming off the ledger and the ability to dump others in favor of an almost-clean slate. That's great—to a point.

Two summer's from now won't be all it's cracked up to be. Potential restricted free agents such as Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard, among others, probably won't see the light of a semi-open market. 

Rajon Rondo will be available, as will Marc Gasol. But is the promise of investing money in a point guard with a history of knee problems and a center who, in 2015 will be 30, enough to resonate with 'Melo? Not to mention the Knicks could swing and miss, and we saw what happens then in 2010—they throw big money at consolation prizes.

Formulating a better plan is imperative. It's also not easy, and my suggestions are wearing thin. 

Ahem.

Much of it will be out of New York's hands. If LeBron decides to opt in for another year with the Miami Heat after this season (possible), the chance to pitch him on the Knicks could keep 'Melo in New York.

There's also the unlikely option the Knicks restructure in time to become players next summer. To do that, they'll need to dump the expiring deals of Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani in 2014 (piece of cake). Then they'll need to do the same with Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith (pretty easy). Finally, they'll need to find a willing taker for Amar'e Stoudemire's expiring pact, worth more than $23.4 million (I'll see myself out).

Striking an unforeseen trade midseason or earlier would also show the Knicks aren't placing too much stock in 2015. Anything that shows him they're committed to figuring this thing out sooner rather than later will.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
The time has come for the Knicks to get even more creative.

Doing so, however, is easier said and mapped out than done. New York has over $86 million in guaranteed contracts on the books this year and, including Anthony, they could have more than $93 million on tab for next season. Their options are limited.

But that's true a little less than two years from now, too. Sure, they'll have the money to spend, but the talent they crave may not be available. That essentially means the Knicks are trying to sell a then 31-year-old Anthony on a similar situation to the one he's in now. 

Good luck with that.


Do the Knicks Have It In Them?

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They do.

New York is perhaps the most ambivalent team in the Association right now. Impassioned fans see that as an insult, when it's not.

As is, the Knicks could be really good. Or they could fall short. That's a legitimate possibility. A heart-rending one as well. Because if the Knicks fall short now, they don't have the flexibility or resources to immediately regroup.

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What they have is 2015, and possibilities that could bring something greater or much of the same. And much of the same isn't going to cut it anymore. 

Anthony may stay no matter what. Understand that. Extracting the uncertainty from his decision, though, dictates he see more. It implores the Knicks to do more, whether that be exacting every last bit of championship potential out of this current team or shuffling the deck even further.

“I came to New York for a reason,” Anthony told Kohan.

Almost three years later, it's time for the Knicks to give him one to stay.

 

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