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.
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.
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:
J.R. Smith's 8 for 43 start at MSG is worst home start by an NBA player since DeShawn Stevenson was 6 of 43 for Nets in '11-12, per STATS.— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) November 18, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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:
I'm hearing Nash's pain is forcing him 2 seriously consider calling it a career. He'd still get $ this yr & next & LA'd get cap relief next— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) November 19, 2013
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.
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.
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.
"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.
Where should Anthony sign next summer?
But the slightest dose of reality shows what a monumental challenge that truly is.
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.