Losses, unwelcome as ever, continue to pile up, forcing both 'Melo and the Knicks to see their original plan isn't built for long-term success—which is good.
Residing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division isn't what the Knicks had in mind as a follow-up to their 54-win 2012-13 campaign. They were supposed to be better, or at least the same. Still a top-five team in the East.
Plenty of season is left, and playing in a dismal Eastern Conference favors a potential turnaround, but whispers of Anthony's dissatisfaction are already bubbling to the surface.
While speaking on ESPN New York 98.7 FM in New York, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith declared that 'Melo, who will hit free agency this summer, is already plotting his escape out of Orange and Blue. Naturally, Smith's words caused quite a commotion. The Knicks don't have a viable backup plan outside Anthony. There is only him, and losing him could force them to endure another string of postseason-less basketball.
Fortunately for the Knicks, 'Melo shot down the report, suggesting he hasn't made a decision on his future more than a half-year before it's an issue. Falling so far, so fast could actually have helped their situation.
Seeing the Knicks as they are, in this putrid state, is a good thing. A great thing.
The kind of thing that destroys morale and obliterates hope at first, but spurs a promising chain reaction in the long run.
Multiple superstars are the standard.
The Miami Heat didn't start something new when they joined forces in 2010. Superteams were purchased and cultivated long before then. Pat Riley and friends merely took superstar-hoarding to a different level.
Imitations have since cropped up everywhere. The Los Angeles Lakers tried to outwit the Heat's blueprint last season to no avail. Mikhail Prokhorov's Brooklyn Nets went name-chasing this summer, from the starting lineup to the coaching staff, in hopes of dethroning the Heat. Disastrous consequences have since followed. Even the Houston Rockets are attempting to ride superstars forward.
New York has tried to do the same. First came Amar'e Stoudemire. Then Anthony. Next, Tyson Chandler. Finally, there have been projects like Andrea Bargnani and J.R. Smith.
Injuries, age, injuries, unrealistic ceilings and injuries have cramped New York's taste for star power. Masking their lack of healthy, legitimate big names has been Anthony, who has led a roster of Joe Sixpacks to the playoffs each and every spring. That's what he did for the Denver Nuggets; it's what he's done for the Knicks.
Championships haven't piled up, and MVP trophies haven't found their way to his mantel, but 'Melo's teams have won. Denver was a 17-win team when he arrived in 2003, and he transformed the franchise into a 43-win playoff outfit.
Suffering through this current shellacking has given Anthony a glimpse into how the other, less glamorous half lives.
"We are the laughingstock of the league," 'Melo said while the Knicks were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, per the New York Daily News' Peter Botte.
No one likes losing, ringless superstars especially. Never before has 'Melo been in this situation: staring down free agency while leading a team that isn't good enough.
Clad with the knowledge his Knicks aren't meeting expectations, that they're failing miserably, Anthony has reportedly begun recruiting Rajon Rondo, who will become a free agent in 2015.
Rondo's high school coach, Steve Smith, gave USA Today's Jason Jordan the details:
No, I think he should be fine. He took a long time off and he's rehabbed the right way. Whether he stays in Boston or not who knows. I know, talking to Melo (Carmelo Anthony), he's recruiting Rajon to come to New York. Melo thinks he'll come too. You never know about that stuff though. I think either way, Rajon will be fine.
Personally pursuing Rondo would 1) reinforce the notion that 'Melo hasn't packed his bags already and 2) indicate he understands the Knicks need more stars. That they need him to use his powers of persuasion.
That he alone isn't enough to end a four-decade championship drought.
Less Isn't Always More; Sometimes It's Everything.
Anthony hasn't started recruiting Rondo or anyone else. Wink, wink.
"C'mon, man. In my book, that's tampering," he said of Smith's assertion, via ESPN New York's Ian Begley and Ohm Youngmisuk.
Notice the absence of a definitive no or any sort of denial. Then realize we cannot accuse Anthony of anything. Just as him swaying Rondo on the Knicks would be tampering, assuming that Anthony is, in fact, tampering would be presumptuous.
But let's say, when the time is right and the act legal, he's prepared to recruit Rondo, among others. That's not so much a theory as it is fact. Anthony has said he wishes to retire in New York, and that he wants the Big Apple to be a destination of choice. Making the Knicks that destination of choice may require some sacrifice on his behalf.
Signing Rondo, or another star, in 2015 is possible. But it's not easy.
New York has under $2 million in guaranteed contracts on the books for 2015-16, according to ShamSports.com, a number that is beyond misleading. Once you factor in Anthony's salary (if he re-signs), Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith's player options, and Iman Shumpert's qualifying offer, the Knicks could be approaching $40 million. Or more.
Ensuring they have enough for Rondo and others may dictate Anthony accept less bacon this summer. Completely out of the question? Maybe not.
Sources told the New York Post that Anthony would accept less money to escape New York if a collapse continued:
Sources have indicated to The Post if the Knicks’ collapse continues this season, Anthony is likely to take less money and avoid a losing situation in New York. Anthony himself Thursday implied he doesn’t want to be in a non-winning environment.
To leave the Knicks, 'Melo must take more than $30 million less somewhere else. If he's ready and willing to play under a four-year contract worth $96 million for, say, the Los Angeles Lakers, it's not unrealistic to think he could give the Knicks a "hometown" discount—less than $129 million over five years—for the sake of bringing in additional talent.
Watching his team lose while bearing witness to the longstanding success of star-laden teams like the Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, among others, could be the kick in the shorts 'Melo needs.
Recruiting other stars, like Rondo, is just the beginning. Proving he's willing to take that next step, to make that next sacrifice puts the finishing touches on his sales pitch.
One additional star won't solve all New York's woes. Maybe two would. Flexibility to sign one and a respectable supporting cast might, too.
Financial plasticity, the means to build a winner is on Anthony. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took less to play alongside one another. New York's heinous start could finally be the motivation 'Melo needs to do the same.
Consider New York's lousy beginning an epiphany for Anthony, who has never missed the playoffs.
Faced with losing in excess, he's already started to manipulate his play style. He's attempted fewer than 16 shots in each of his last three games, and his assist opportunities rival that of Paul George, a recognized point forward.
But it's not working. Nothing he's doing is.
When he shoots too often, he's berated for doing too much. Attempt to rely on his teammates, and he's too passive. He just can't win. Not by doing it all himself and, to this point, not by trusting his teammates.
Seeing all he's up against, Anthony could run. He could bolt for the Lakers or another team with ample cap space promising him the world.
Or he could stay.
Fueled by a desire to win, silence critics and yeah, achieve the level of athanasia ending a four-decade-long championship drought provides, Anthony won't go anywhere. Losing now will convince him to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Knicks and himself, whatever it may be, in attempt to turn this franchise around once and for all.