Will New York Knicks' 2013-14 Season Push Carmelo Anthony out the Door?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 20, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on during the second half against the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden on November 14, 2013 in New York City. The Rockets defeat the Knicks 109-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The thinning ranks around superstar Carmelo Anthony have ravaged the New York Knicks' present, but the threat posed to the franchise's future looms even larger.

Anthony, the reigning NBA scoring champion, has said he plans to opt out of his current contract at season's end. Despite laboring to get himself to the Big Apple, New York's sluggish start and lack of usable assets moving forward could send Anthony sprinting away from the Empire State next summer.

The Knicks are bad: 3-7, tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference.

But bad enough to push Anthony out the door? That's likelier than Knicks fans want to admit.


Physically Taxing, Mentally Exhausting

No, that's not a reference to watching these Knicks in action.

It's the unrelenting pressure that New York places on Anthony.

His 35.1 percent usage rate since the start of 2012-13 is the league's highest over that stretch. Only four other players (Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James) have even cleared 30 percent.

However, Anthony's even more unique among that group. While the rest can strike as a scorer or setup artist, Melo doesn't have that luxury. He's neither a particularly skilled passer nor surrounded by capable recipients.

So, Anthony's become a chucker. The worst kind of chucker: helpless.

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 13:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks is defended by Cartier Martin #20 and Jeff Teague #0 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 13, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

He's averaged 22.2 field-goal attempts since the start of last season. Bryant (20.4) is the only other player firing off more than 20.

It gets worse.

Perhaps uncomfortably aware of how little help he has on the roster, Anthony told Peter Botte of the New York Daily News that he's not doing enough:

For myself, maybe I’m second-guessing myself. Maybe I’m a little bit passive out there, trying to do things that (are) out of the norm and trying to make people better at the wrong times.

That’s where I’m second-guessing myself and I’m second-guessing my shot—and ‘should I take this or should I pass this?’ I’ve got to get out of that mentality quick.

How has it come to this?

Andrea Bargnani has been the team's second-best scorer (14.9 points per game). J.R. Smith (27.9 field-goal percentage) was less of a burden when he was serving his five-game suspension:

Raymond Felton (hip), Tyson Chandler (leg), Kenyon Martin (ankle) and Amar'e Stoudemire (dealer's choice) don't have the bodies to help. Iman Shumpert doesn't have support from coach Mike Woodson or the front office. Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. is still finding his way.

Belittling Anthony's assist numbers (2.8) has been as trendy as NBA postgame press conferences.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 11:   Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks speaks during a press conference following a loss during the Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers during the 2013 NBA Play
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Why? It's easier to criticize than to come up with worthy targets for his passes.

Therefore, Anthony continues to take a beating on the low block. He's too strong for smaller defenders and too fast for bigger ones. That damage adds up, though—especially when compounded by his team-high 39.7 minutes a night (tied for second-most in the NBA).

Whatever he thought he would find in New York hasn't been there. He's made three playoff trips with the Knicks and has a single postseason series win to show for them.

With New York holding the NBA's 25th-ranked net rating (minus-6.0 points per 100 possessions), this stormy start could get worse before it begins to let up.

Is Anthony willing to endure more years of mental anguish and physical pain? It's not like he'll be lacking other options.


If Not N.Y., Then Where?

B/R featured columnist D.J. Foster came up with seven potential landing spots for Anthony's talents next summer.

Some of the teams seem more realistic than others, but the Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and San Antonio Spurs could all make a Melo pitch.

Even Knicks superfan Spike Lee would have a hard time painting New York's picture as brighter than that of these teams.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 31: Director Spike Lee attends Day Six of the 2013 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 31, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for the USTA)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Dirk Nowitzki has promised a pay cut in his future, and the offensive possibilities for a Melo-led Mavericks team are endless. Between Anthony, Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, it's a true pick-your-poison puzzle. Make the wrong read and Jose Calderon (career ratio of 7.1 assists to 1.7 turnovers) will make the right one every time.

If Anthony heads to South Beach, that means LeBron James will have bolted. Nevertheless, either Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade would still be a better running mate than what Anthony has now.

ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst reported earlier this summer that the Lakers plan to pursue Anthony. L.A. can offer similar marketing opportunities as NYC along with the roster of his choosing. According to Hoopsworld, only Steve Nash ($9.7 million) and Robert Sacre ($0.9 million) have guaranteed contracts for 2014-15.

That's assuming the 39-year-old Nash makes it through this season first:

The Cavs (4-7) haven't fared much better than the Knicks, but Cleveland has time on its side. This team has four top-four picks from the last three drafts (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett) and Hoopsworld indicates that the team boasts a potential load of cap room for next summer.

Chicago might be the most intriguing name of the bunch, but it'll need to make major moves to get in this race. The Bulls have over $64 million committed to next season's payroll, so an amnesty of Carlos Boozer might be needed.

While perhaps far-fetched, a possible trio of Anthony, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah makes it worth exploring.

Philadelphia's already made more noise than some expected it would all season. First-year coach Brett Brown has his team playing hard and Michael Carter-Williams (17.4 points, 7.6 assists) looks like the steal of the 2013 draft.

Throw in a healthy Nerlens Noel, potentially two lottery picks from the stacked 2014 draft and possible room for another max contract, and Anthony could give this some serious thought.

GREENBURGH, NY - AUGUST 06:  Michael Carter-Williams #1 and Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers pose for a portrait during the 2013 NBA rookie photo shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 6, 2013 in Greenburgh, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expr
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Spurs sound promising, but this wouldn't be the same San Antonio team. If Manu Ginobili walks away, Anthony could still see a title contender. If Tim Duncan rides off into the sunset and takes Gregg Popovich with him, however, it will be tough to have those same title thoughts.

Admittedly, that's a lot to digest.

The point is, Anthony has options. Some, on paper at least, far more attractive than sticking around in New York. Yes, James Dolan, even if the Knicks plan to pursue Kevin Love in 2015.

So, should Anthony seek out greener pastures next summer?


Facing Pressure or Reality?

The Knicks do have a major selling point to deploy.

New York is Anthony's basketball home. There's a reason he worked so hard to get back to the place where it all started.

The walls might feel like they're closing in, but that's something that he embraces.

Oct 17, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (center) warms up prior to the game against the Washington Wizards at Baltimore Arena. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

"That is one of the reasons why I wanted to come here to New York, just so I could take on those pressures and those challenges," Anthony told Newsday's Al Iannazzone.

If Anthony delivered the Knicks their first title since 1973, he'd reach sports immortality. The same inefficient, volume-scoring, stat-padding baller would live on as a legend of the game.

But the slightest dose of reality shows what a monumental challenge that truly is.

Dolan issued a win-now edict for a second-rate roster. This roster and coaching staff could be gutted once the owner accepts this team's true ceiling.

Stability is a foreign concept for this franchise. Dysfunction is business as usual.

There are only so many empty promises that Anthony can buy. He sees the standings. He knows the clock is ticking.

"It’s a messed-up feeling, a hurt feeling," he said told the Associated Press (h/t CBS New York). "Got to figure it out. That’s the only thing I can say about this. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

Quick, of course, meaning now. There's not enough money in the world to make him sign on for five more seasons of this. Not with so many other options available.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information courtesy of Hoopsworld.


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